Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Conor Friedersdorf is wondering:

I cannot help but wonder if there are American communities that would be well-served by the presence of Amnesty International human-rights observers to document the human-rights abuses that happen on a weekly basis; I cannot help but wonder what would happen if the folks who govern America from the federal to the local level were as determined to significantly decrease the murder rate in poor black neighborhoods as they are to prevent all violence at the RNC and DNC with professional police officers who do not abuse the delegates or the media or party officials.
For myself, I wonder: What's in it for them?

What's in it for Amnesty International to set themselves up in poor and minority neighborhoods and produce a grim litany of the problems that residence face on a regular basis? Greater legitimacy? More donations? A higher level of influence? Likewise, what's in it for officials from federal, state and local government to commit to making marginal parts of the country as safe as gatherings of the influential and connected? More tax dollars? Higher approval ratings? A greater political legacy?

Policing costs money. Ubiquitous, high-quality policing costs a LOT of money. And despite the general sentiment that one often hears expressed that claims that people are priceless, the fact of the matter is that we often look for the return on investment of the goods and services we offer to people, and where that return is perceived to be lacking, the investment dries up.

The observers from Amnesty International and the massive police presence are there because they serve someone's purposes, and those purposes are considered to be worth the monetary outlay needed to fulfill them. Poor communities don't have the resources to lay out that money themselves, which is part of what makes them poor in the first place. But another part of what makes them poor is they're not valuable enough to anyone else for others to foot the bill, either.

Human-rights campaigners would likely consider it a major victory if they were able to document clear rights abuses associated with the Republican National Convention. And heads would roll if there were a reasonably serious criminal act, "terrorist" attack or protest-fueled riot at the event. In short, people are watching, because they care what happens, and that scrutiny drives AI and the law-enforcement community to spend resources. That same level of scrutiny, or perhaps any level of scrutiny is absent from poor and minority communities.

When that changes, if it ever does, then we'll see the calculus of involvement change with it.

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