Okay, enough with the good news. Though, to continue shaking things up, I'm going to leave Philly alone and instead head over to our neighbor-across-the-Delaware, Camden, NJ. Camden has been honored not once, not twice, but three times this decade as America's most dangerous city, courtesy of annual FBI crime statistics. It seems, however, that last year Camden lost its top spot to St. Louis. Not to take such an insult lying down, it appears that Camden has responded by laying off close to half their police force. So, you know...that should help.
What I found most interesting about this story is that the layoffs have apparently prompted members of the Guardian Angels to start patrolling Camden themselves. I find this a fascinating turn of events. (I should also point out that the Angels also showed up in Philly during the height of the Kensington Stranger mania, just to bring it all around again.) You guys remember in RoboCop when the police go on strike and there's like an instantaneous looting free-for-all going on? That's basically what I envision as the result of an anarchist society -- likewise any society in which the general populous steeps in violence and anger and then stops respecting authority. The presence of Guardian Angels in lieu of city police seems like a pretty serious shift in lifestyle. On the one hand, Guardian Angels are not imbued by the State with any special police powers. On the other hand, they are a highly visible deterrent to shenanigans. Somehow there's a very different feel to a "police force," even unofficial, composed entirely of volunteer members. Also, according to the article, Camden police seem welcoming of the presence of the Angels, which lends a nice air of legitimacy to the operation.
The thing is, it's all fun and games as long as people dress up, go on patrol, and keep an eye on things. But will that be the extent of it? According to the national director of the Angels, Miguel Fuentes, the organization is there to "intervene" if necessary, and then we're going to find out what law and order is like under what amounts to a volunteer vigilante army. With the tacit approval of the "official" authorities, just how much "intervening" can go on without repercussions from the State? Like it or not, used in a defensive posture or not, necessary or not, police forces are institutional violence. The key in this particular context, though, is the "institutional" part. It won't take very much conflict between criminal groups and vigilante groups for the realization to dawn that they are all just guys. Whether for good or ill, the badge defines a certain line, a division between those who act with the blessings of the State and those who do not. When, due to budget shortfalls or whatever other reason, those with the badges are unable to maintain order, and if the responsibility doesn't fall to, then it has clearly been taken up by a perhaps paramilitary, but still clearly civilian, team of volunteers...just exactly how far away are we from anarchy?
Whatever the case, I'm just kind of thinking out loud here. For my own part, I'm actually quite in favor of the Guardian Angel presence in Camden, just as I was in favor of their appearance in Kensington. Social and political implications of the shifting of power aside, I actually am very much encouraged by a group who's mission does indeed seem to be in the community's best immediate interests. I hope their efforts are sucessful in suppressing rampant crime, I hope they all stay safe, and I hope, as I always do, that violence comes only as a very last resort, if it must come at all. Good luck, Angels!