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As we police the world and become more of a police state each day, basic police functions are being neglected here at home. In Detroit, seven out of ten murders are unsolved. In Oakland, the police will no longer respond to a host of crimes, including burglary, theft, embezzlement and extortion. The problem is mostly manpower. Atlantic City has axed 60 cops this year, on top of 13 who retired without being replaced. Last year, Camden was rated as the second most dangerous city in America. Two years ago, the most deadly. Faced with this, Camden is about to lay off half of its cops. Flint, MI, has also fired nearly half of its police. Its murder rate is at record high. In Illinois, more than 300 policemen have been let go in 2010.
With unemployment getting higher and higher, there will be less tax revenues, meaning more cops will be laid off even as crime rises. In Newark, 167 cops have been let go. With more murders and carjackings, the National Guard has been proposed as a solution, yes, the same National Guard that occupied Newark’s streets with tanks during the 1967 riot, where 26 people were killed and 725 injured.
In Camden, Guardian Angels have shown up. In Oakland, there are private security guards patrolling downtown. Called “Ambassadors,” quaintly enough, they are unarmed, for now. Gun packing security guards are already all over America, however, though usually confined to private properties. Expect this to change. (In England, even bona fide cops are not armed as they patrol the streets!) After Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired 150 Blackwater mercenaries to roam New Orleans. Wielding assault weapons, many were fresh from the mayhem of Iraq.
Recently, I was in Newark’s Ironbound, a working class neighborhood of mostly Portuguese, Brazilian and Latin American immigrants. Wandering around, I paused in front of a cartoon rooster towing a Volkswagen. Was this some weird allegory of our power-down future? A diss against the car? Against Hitler? A 40-ish man, Jose, appeared to explain that pollo al carbon, grilled chicken, has become Karpollo, the name of his restaurant. Thus, a chicken pulling a car. Jose has been in that location three years. So how’s business, I asked. Not too bad, Jose said, though he had expected it to be much better. Many people in the Ironbound do construction work, so they’re seriously hurting. A few years ago, a man could easily make $900 a week. Now they’re losing homes and apartments. Many have moved out. With fewer jobs and cops, crime has gone up even here, for long one of the safer parts of Newark. “Just a week ago,” Jose pointed down the street, “a guy was carjacked with a gun, right at that corner!”
Jobless, you can always sign up for flag-waving genocide and foddership. Granted, the starting pay isn’t all that great, but it sure beats McDonald’s. Plus, you’ll get grub, fox holes and trauma care au gratis. Discharged in pieces, you’d be done, but if you could come back sorta whole, you may luck into a well-armed job to patrol the good old USA terrorizing all these home-bound slobs, whether muggers, pickpockets or protestors, desperate and often angry folks, you know, just like you.
If only we could stop maintaining hundreds of military bases overseas, we could save trillions and have money to fix problems back home, but Big Brother needs his corruption and his wars, so, in the meantime, America’s biggest export to China, our largest trading partner, is, guess what, soybeans! Our biggest imports from them are electrical machinery and computers. I should add that airplanes are our second largest export to the Chinese, so we’re not quite a banana republic, not yet, merely a tofu one.
In this gun and tofu economy, returning vets can also join gangs, or rejoin the ones they were already in. According to a 2007 report, “Gang-Related Activity in the US Armed Forces Increasing,” nearly all the major American street gangs are represented in our military. Gang members enlist to learn urban warfare tactics, steal weapons, sell drugs or recruit new members. After years of fighting two major wars, it’s hard to make recruiting quotas, I’m sure. Judges have also offered convicted gang members the option of joining the military instead of going to jail.
Enlist, gangbanger, and be part of the biggest gang of all! The Army of One recruiting slogan is obviously nonsense, except for Bradley Manning. A gay man, he’s the lone warrior against the Pentagon. Here’s hoping he doesn’t crack. A civil rights victory, the don’t ask, don’t tell repeal will nevertheless provide more bodies for the U.S. killing machine. I’m reminded of Edward Bernays’ devious scheme to get more women to smoke. Posing as suffragettes, fashionably dressed, svelte young ladies were told to lift “torches of freedom” from under their dresses, then puff them for the cameras.
Everywhere you look, there are smoking guns. Whether in Kandahar, Fallujah or Salinas, California, all these well-trained, well-armed men shooting at each other from all directions are a ka-ching nirvana for our military industrial complex. The more mass murders, the happier the CEOs and investors. As for collateral damages, well, better luck next life, dudes! If we don’t starve the Pentagon, carnage will be our last growth industry.
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, and the recently published novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.