Yale professor and ‘How Fascism Works’ author condemns Tampa’s crime-free multi-unit program

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Slides from the Tampa Police Department’s Crime-Free Housing Program.

Since 2013, the Tampa Police Department (TPD) has met with homeowners to guide them through eight-hour crime and eviction trainings.

During the trainings, the police showed each owner slides suggesting that those who commit crimes are other than human.

“Criminals are like weeds…” reads one of the slides of a presentation presented by former TPD Police Chief Brian Dugan. “They are taking root. They grow. They grow. They spread out. They smother good plants!

The next slide reads: “The BETTER way to kill a weed… is to uproot it! (Eviction serves that purpose.) ”The arm of a white person is shown in the background, pulling out a weed.

Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley calls the language “extraordinarily dehumanizing.”

“No police department should use this language about people in their city,” Stanley told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Stanley wrote the books How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” and “How propaganda works. “

“Calling humans weed is pre-genocidal,” he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

What he means by pre-genocidal is that before any act of violence or ostracism of a certain group of people, there is “a need to legitimize treating them in such a way that you do not should not treat the citizens you have sworn to protect. , Stanley said.

New Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the TPD has partnered with landlords to report tenants who have committed crimes, including some who have been arrested but have never been convicted of a crime. The language used in the aforementioned slides was part of the training of the program.

Of the 1,100 tenants reported by the program, about 90% were black. Most of the crimes were minor (including begging). Mayor Jane Castor, who started the program when she was police chief, defended it to The Times, saying it was reducing crime. But the Times pointed out that while crime was going down where the program was implemented, it was also going down across Tampa at the same time. The drop in crime at participating properties was accompanied by a 25% drop in reports of violent and property crime across the city, according to the survey.

Castor doubled down after the outcry and sent a letter to the NAACP defending the program and explaining why Tampa would maintain it. Now a a national coalition of civil rights and legal groups called on Castor and the city to end the program, under penalty of prosecution. City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes, who served as a Tampa police officer for almost 26 years, also questioned the program, ask Castor to suspend him for 90 days for evaluation.

Castor told the NAACP she had heard calls to suspend the program, but cited a nationwide increase in violent crime in her decision to ignore them. There is an increase in gun crime in the United States, but experts still disagree on the exact reason why, and there is no evidence that the Crime Free Housing Program specifically stops this type of crime.

“Now is not the time to cut back on law enforcement collaboration with the community to keep Tampa safe,” Castor told the Hillsborough NAACP.

Stanley says that regardless of any “law and order” argument, being deported for committing minor offenses is an archaic and brutal form of punishment.

“These are unbelievably horrible phrases from the [Times investigation] you sent me, which involve the treatment of humans who have committed petty crimes; it’s reminiscent of ‘Les Misérables’, or something you would have read by Dickens, ”says Stanley.

“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo described the degradation of the poor at the hands of a monarchical and severe class system in 19th century France. Charles Dickens wrote of similar struggles of the poor in England.

“It’s straight out of the annals of the worst treatment of the poor in modern history,” adds Stanley. “And that doesn’t add up – on the one hand, the punishments are meant to match the crime. And punishing people in desperation only increases crime. When people are desperate they will commit more crimes.

Stanley explains that it should be obvious to police and officials in Tampa that criminals are not another species. “These are human beings who do things, but they never lose their status as human beings,” he says.

CL contacted the city’s communications team to see if they had a response to Stanley’s condemnation of the program and its language, but did not receive a response. We also emailed the TPD with the same question and asked if the ‘weed’ language in the presentation was from the National Crime Free Housing Program, or if it was added to the presentation by the TPD. , but we have not received a response. We will update this post if we have any news.

Stanley pointed out the racial aspect of the program, saying it reminded him of “ethnic cleansing.”

“You drive people out of their own city, out of their homes, and you do it by essentially criminalizing poverty and treating them in a way that you would never deal with other types of people,” says Stanley. “No one will see a whole evicted middle-class white family whose children were caught shoplifting. That will never happen.”

Crime Free ProgramSlides from the Tampa Police Department’s Crime-Free Housing Program.

When asked why anyone would champion such an agenda, Stanley spoke of a disturbing past.

“This is the history of politics in America, you know, racial politics sells, and that’s how you win elections,” Stanley said. “You vilify a group like the ‘criminals’ and say you are going to crack down on them to fight crime.”

Stanley spoke of the disparate responses of US politicians to the opioid crisis – a predominantly white issue that has been treated with empathy and care – to the crack crisis, which has been faced with a “war on crime.”

Tampa isn’t alone in participating in crime-free collective housing programs. Since 1992 when the program was started by a police officer in Arizona, similar programs have spread across the country and have been the subject of controversy in other states for targeting tenants of color. The American Civil Liberties Union has followed in many cities depending on the racial aspect of the program.

“You know, we’ve lost sight of our humanity when we do this, when we call our fellow citizens a weed,” Stanley says, “And fascism is an ideology that justifies this anti-humanity. It is because it is a question of force and violence, and of “law and order”.

Slide Cirme Free TampaSlides from the Tampa Police Department’s Crime-Free Housing Program.

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