Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Proposed Exclusion Zone Policy Is Racist

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police is considering adopting a policy that prohibits people with arrest/criminal records from being in specific “high-crime” areas called “safety zones”. As the Charlotte Observer‘s Steve Harrison explains,

Here is how they would work: If CMPD found an area where there was an uptick in crime, the police chief could declare it a safety zone. Council members wouldn’t have to approve the zone.

If a person is arrested inside the zone, that person would be prohibited from returning. Within five days, the person could appeal the prohibition, on grounds such as the person is caring for children inside the area or the person lives or works there.

If the person pleads guilty or is convicted, he/she would be barred from the area for up to a year. If the person is found not guilty or if the case is dismissed for any reason, the person can return.

CMPD’s proposed “exclusion zone” policy is race-based segregation under another name.

Philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that astrology was occultism dressed up in pseudo-scientific terms: star charts and tables leant superstition the appearance of objective fact. CMPD’s exclusions zones are antiblack racism dressed up in pseudo-legal and pseudo-objective terms. Because there is no biological basis for race, race-based segregation appeals to an ultimately subjective judgment about people’s racial identities. But criminal status, that’s objective: someone either has or has not been arrested, charged, convicted, or exonerated. That’s a matter of legal record.

Though the legal record may be objectively verifiable, criminality is far, far from objective. Blackness is criminalized. NYC’s infamous Stop & Frisk policy was ended after statistics showed that black and Latino men were stopped at rates in exponential excess of their proportional representation in the population. The US justice system convicts and incarcerates black people at extremely disproportionate rates. The institution of the police was designed to police black people, and, as plenty of people have argued, the contemporary police is a mechanism for profiting from the surveillance, punishment, and incarceration of black people. Criminalization targets black people.

So, because CMPD’s proposal to exclude people with arrest and criminal records from specific geographic areas targets criminals, it also targets black people.

There’s a hint in this story, also from the Observer. In the past, the city has put an injunction similar to the proposed exclusion zone on the north Charlotte neighborhood called Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley is a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood between Uptown and University City…and, uh, not too far from the new light rail line currently under construction up North Tryon. Interestingly, Camp Greene, a black neighborhood in west Charlotte that was a prostitution exclusion zone several years ago, that’s now the frontier of gentrification. So, it appears to be the case that exclusion zones are a technique that moves poor black populations out of geographic areas that are ripe for redevelopment.

Some philosophers might call safety zones a “state of exception.” Giorgio Agamben popularized the term, which refers to a state of affairs so dire and threatening that the state declares it necessary to suspend normal rights and rules of governance: a problem so severe supposedly justifies the state’s use of any means necessary. As other philosophers like Falguni Sheth and Alexander Weheliye have noted, the state of exception has been pretty much the rule for black people. To riff on W.E.B. Du Bois, black people are thought to be a problem, the problem, and thus their very existence justifies the state’s use of any means necessary to contain and eliminate them. In this sense, CMPD’s saftey zones are just another variation on a very, very old theme.

As Lester Spence, Jared Sexton, and many other black studies scholars have shown, contemporary society marginalizes black people by rendering them immobile, both literally (in the case of CMPD’s exclusion zones or via mass incarceration) and figuratively, say, in economic terms. In an economy that runs on entrepreneurship, flexibility, and so on, the inability to freely circulate is an economic disadvantage. By impeding people from, say, caring for their children, this makes them more vulnerable to all kinds of disadvantage: if you don’t have reliable family or friends to care for your children, you either have to pay someone to care for your kids, or you risk losing them to the foster system. The CMPD policy is a technique for rendering black people immobile, and often thus subjecting them to further state surveillance, economic disadvantage, and other types of structural racism. So the exclusion zone policy isn’t just racist in motivation, it’s racist in effect: it reinforces and intensifies the racism that black people already experience.