Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Criminalization of Everyday Life

While I was inside, I was astounded by the kinds of things that take up police and court time. A couple of people nabbed for being in various parks after dark. One of them was walking his dog. Two young men accused of riding their bicycles on the sidewalk. Three people arrested for sleeping in a subway station. My roommate in the lock-up was an articulate and self-aware 60-year-old whose sin was that he bought a bottle of booze and had taken a swig on the street. In the cell next to us: two costumed Mariachis busted for busking on the subway. They were repeat offenders. Their weapons: a guitar and an accordion.

With zero tolerance, we have finally done it: We have criminalized everyday life. After all, in the course of their life people sometimes ride their bikes on the sidewalks. And once upon a time not too long ago, it was normal to go into the parks after dark. My friends and I did all the time, particularly if we had time to kill before or after the opera, the symphony, or a jazz or rock concert. We walked brazenly between subway cars. Some of us even – horror of horrors! – played music on the street or in the subway without a license. And, though my parents would not be happy to know it even now, we sometimes drank beer in public – making sure, in an important but legally meaningless gesture, that the bottle was in a paper bag. If I did any of this on a regular basis today, I’d probably be considered a behavioral recidivist and sent to Riker’s Island.
Full article.