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Class, Race, Gender & Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America, 4th ed

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Earlier editions of this book had Class as Chapter 2, but we have reorganized. Part 1 of the book now covers The Crime Control Enterprise and Its Workers (Ch 1) and Criminology and the study of Class, Race, Gender and Crime (Ch 2). Part 2 of the book is now Inequality and Privilege, with chapters for understanding Class and Economic privilege (Ch 3), Race and White Privilege (Ch 4), and Gender and Male Privilege Ch 5). (Chapter 6 covers the intersections of class, race, and gender, but it isn't on the website yet.)

Chapter 3, Understanding Class and Economic Privilege

The novel Snow Crash (Stephenson 1992) is set in an alternate United States at a time when the four things we do best are music, movies, software, and high-speed pizza delivery. Hiro lives in a 20’ by 30’ U-Store-It, formerly intended for people with too many material goods. The storage room has its own door and doesn’t share walls with other units, so he tells himself there are worse places to live.

Hiro is a freelance computer hacker; he also belongs to the elite order of Deliverators, those entrusted with the task of thirty-minute pizza delivery for the Mafia-owned businesses (specifically, CosaNostra Pizza franchise #3569). In contrast with his own residence, deliveries are to the burbclaves— suburban enclaves, gated communities. All burbclaves have the same layout because the “Development Corporation will chop down any mountain ranges and divert the course of mighty rivers that threaten to interrupt this street plan.” Some of them are Apartheid Burbclaves like White Columns: “WHITE PEOPLE ONLY: NON-CAUCASIANS MUST BE PROCESSED.” As he approaches the gate, a laser scans his bar codes and he rolls through the immigration gate and past “customs agents ready to frisk all comers—cavity search them if they are the wrong kind of people.”

Hiro’s partner, a skateboard courier named Y.T., gets arrested in the burbclave by MetaCops Unlimited (“DIAL 1-800-THE COPS All Major Credit Cards”), who also enforce traffic regulations for one of the major companies that operate private roads. Many of the Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities prefer to have their own security force rather than engage a general contractor. Security is a big deal because they’re “so small, so insecure, that just about anything, like not mowing your lawn, or playing your stereo too loud, becomes a national security issue.” The burbclave doesn’t have a jail, but “any half-decent franchise strip” has one, either the cowboy themed Hoosegow or The Clink, Inc. The MetaCops quickly see the sign: “THE HOOSEGOW: Premium incarceration and restraint services. We welcome busloads!”

While Snow Crash is frequently considered science fiction, its author considers it an “alternative present.” Indeed, the world he paints in the first pages of the novel satirize many features of the present day, including the shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy, rising income inequality, residential segregation, the popularity of gated communities, the privatization of justice functions, the predictable franchise-based world George Ritzer describes in The McDonaldization of Society (2004), and the growth in corporate power to rival the resources of states and many nations in the global village.

While Americans like to think of themselves as a “classless” society, the United States has both a highly stratified workforce and extreme inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. This class-based society is also spatially separated, divided into urban and suburban spaces, a new “geography of inequalities” (Body-Gendrot 2000). Urban spaces elicit a recurrent fear of crime and lack of trust in the public institutions responsible for law and order. In contrast, the white flight from the “urban jungle” by the upper and middle classes have facilitated the development of “gated” and “walled” communities separated socially, mentally, and spatially from the poor. In general, whites and minorities may be viewed as inhabiting worlds that rarely meet either socially or spatially:

The residential environment of suburban whites is overwhelmingly white (82 percent), native born (92 percent) and non-poor (94 percent). In contrast, the living environment of most minorities is non-white, foreign, and disadvantaged. City-dwellers are twice as likely as suburbanites to live in female-headed families, 56 percent more likely to be unemployed, and their incomes are about 26 percent lower than those in the suburbs (Body-Gendrot 2000, 31).

These social realities of urban and suburban worlds of class difference also yield very different rates of arrest. When 30 to 40 percent of boys growing up in urban America were being arrested, only about 6 percent of suburban youth under the age of eighteen had ever been arrested (Greenwood 1995, 92). These very real class differences in experiencing crime and the administration of juvenile/adult criminal justice have lasting consequences not only for these youth but also for the ways in which the larger society and its institutions come to view crime, criminals, and crime control.

As for life inside the overprotected, gated communities of suburbia, living has been redefined along with the meaning of community, engendering a sense of what used to be called the “me generation” and the notion that everyone must protect themselves and their families from the Other. This preference for living out in the suburbs and for the levy of separate taxes has caused drastic shortfalls in the fiscal budgets of urban America. In addition to the tens of millions of residents, mostly white, living in such autonomous, unincorporated communities there are also nearly 11 million households located in gated communities as of 2009 (Mohn  2012), about 10% of all occupied homes (Benjamin 2012).    

By the turn of the twenty-first century, Americans were spending about $65 billion for their private security, and the number of private police officers had exceeded the number of public. Much of the costs were not in the suburbs but in such inside cities as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and elsewhere because there is no access to the “defensible” spaces that are protected by new technologies of surveillance. Consequently, these urban areas claim to have private police on duty twenty-four hours a day because of the rising property values of such spaces and the needs of the affluent who live there. In this two-class divided society of rich and poor, “the privatization of safety . . . and the freedom to carry weapons in the public space (taken advantage of by one-third of U.S. citizens) distinguish the American landscape” at the turn of the twenty-first century (Body-Gendrot 2000, 32).

~ ~ ~

I am also the co-author of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, so a number of presentations deal in different ways with class as a main theme. One is Criminology Needs More Class: Inequality, Corporate Persons and an Empoverished Discipline. And the Saul Sidore Lecture at Plymouth State University was an early version of that's presented here. This is a presentation as my contribution to a yearlong series of lectures around the theme Manifestations of Poverty. This is cross-posted from my blog.

The Honors College at EMU held a series of lectures this past year under the theme of 'Manifestations of Poverty.' I had the privilege of presenting the first lecture, highlighting the justice - and criminal justice - issues surrounding poverty and inequality. Part one of this lecture looks at various measures of inequality in income and wealth, including how corporate 'persons' factor in. Part two looks at how inequality impacts criminology and criminal justice. The lecture makes extensive use of Occupy Wall St posters (via occuprint.org).

The presentation is embedded below, followed by links for the .pdf, .pptx and the video via iTunes university. This builds on a few earlier lectures that are linked to under the 'related' heading. 

Manifestations of Poverty: The Rich get Richer and the Poor Get Prison

 

Download .pdf of presentation (2MB)

Download .pptx of presentation (8MB - 35 slides)

The talk is available on iTunes: Part 1 (my introduction starts at 6 minutes in) and  Part 2 (links will open up in iTunes).

RELATED

Criminology Needs More Class: Inequality, Corporate Persons and an Impoverished Discipline (#occupy)

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Inequality, Corporate Power and Crime (Sidore lecture at Plymouth State)

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