Over at the New York Times‘ Fixes blog, Tina Rosenberg has a nice post about the so-called Colombia’s evidence-based crime-fighting.
The post actually praises Cali and it’s mayor, Rodrigo Guerrero, for the struggle to reduce crime and violence rates.
Turns out Guerrero decided to start treating violence like a disease and he conceives public policy as some sort of medicine engineering. I’d like to highlight this excerpt from Rosenberg’s post:
Cali started to look at alcohol in the blood of victims (few perpetrators were caught) — and found a large percentage of victims had very high levels. “My initial hypothesis was that this was drug trafficking,” he said. “But the traffickers were not going to wait for weekends to resolve their conflicts — and get their victims drunk.”
The astronomical murder rate was related to the cocaine trade, Guerrero concluded — but only indirectly. Cocaine created social disruption and intensified an already-violent culture. “Drug trafficking was like H.I.V.,” Guerrero said. “It interferes with the defense mechanisms — in this case police and justice.” Those institutions were corrupted and degraded to the point where practically no one paid a penalty for murder — a suspect was identified in only 3 percent of homicides and convicted in a small percentage of those.
Guerrero banned the sale of alcohol after 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (That 2 a.m. is considered early closing says a lot about the problem.)
The other decree banned the carrying of guns — enforced by checkpoints and pat-downs — on payday weekends and holidays.
Yes, these measures have helped reduce violence and crime rates, but I want to question the merits of Guerrero’s ‘evidence-based system’. Guerrero is a surgeon so one can understand the analogy crime-disease… except it has a nefarious underpinning.
Let’s all agree rights and liberties are for individuals and protecting them should be one of the guiding principles in public policymaking. Then, we come across the functionalist theory, which poses that societies are complex systems, and its top priority is to be functional (hence the name for the theory). When you think the greater good rests upon the improvement of the system no matter what, you stop caring about people’s rights — those rights become expendable annoyances. (You can see where this is going, right?)
Anyhow, treating a society as an individual person places the top priority of such a society in improving itself no matter what. It’s a slippery slope: we can throw in a curfew in here, ban alcohol there, cut the discos and clubs’ timetables, ban guns and they keep on amputating civil liberties until there’s nowhere else where to cut from.
Do you think I am overreacting? Let me introduce you to Colombian 101 policymaking — curtailing the most basic civil rights has worked like a charm, so it’s become the by-default policy: we can’t use our cars half of the week, children can’t go trick-or-treat on Halloween night, men can’t ride motorcycles as passengers (one of Colombian hitmans favorite MOs; nevertheless, policymakers didn’t consider women can point and shoot), there are timetables for buying alcohol (you’re not even allowed to get a beer after 10 p.m.) and some of the public transport buses have only-women areas (because, you know, no lesbian, gay guy or straight woman, ever, has sexually harassed someone else), and we have “men curfew” nights (if you have a penis, you’ll be fined if you’re to be found outside that Friday).
Ohh, what a genious crime-solving solution: we’ll end up locked up inside our own houses and there will be permanent curfew! So far, we’ve managed to avoid chopping people’s hands when convicted of theft-related crimes, but you wait and see.
Functional theory is wrong (as well as all of it’s resulting political arrangements) because it states human beings exist with the sole purpose of being of service to the system, and your worth depends on how good you are to the machine. You’re no more than a cogwheel or a gear. And if you’re of no service, you can be dismissed — this is the basis for so-called social cleansing.
I cannot embrace public policies that segregate on the basis of sex; this runs deeply against my secular humanist values — this is not the spirit that should embody any sane society’s rules. It is a recipe for disaster.
Yes, violence numbers are going down, but the end doesn’t justify the means. Throwing away civil liberties should be the last resource for any person in public office, not the go-to solution. I welcome looking at big data, the evidence and the numbers and figuring out public policies accordingly, but I strongly reject reactionary policies: I’d rather educational policies. I know they don’t render immediate results, but they can have longlasting ones.
I would think it twice before giving kudos to Guerrero’s system (and all the other Colombian politicians who followed suit).