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4. The Half-Moons of Repression

In the original Burgess diagram, the "half-moons" of ethnic enclaves ("Deutschland," "Little Sicily," "the Black Belt," etc.) and specialized architectural ecologies ("residential hotels," "the two flat area," etc.) cut across the "dartboard" of the city's fundamental socio-economic patterning. In contemporary metropolitan Los Angeles, a new species of special enclave is emerging in sympathetic synchronization to the militarization of the landscape. For want of a better generic appellation. we might call them "social control districts" (SCDs). They merge the sanctions of the criminal or civil code with land-use planning to create what Michel Foucault would undoubtedly have recognized as further instances of the evolution of the "disciplinary order" of the twentieth-century city.

As Christian Boyer paraphrases Foucault:

Disciplinary control proceed[s] by distributing bodies in space, allocating each individual to a cellular partition, creating a functional space out of this analytic spatial arrangement. In the end this spatial matrix became both real and ideal: a hierarchical organization of cellular space and a purely ideal order that was imposed upon its forms.

Currently existing SCDs (simultaneously "real and ideal") can be distinguished according to their juridical mode of spatial "discipline." Abatement districts, currently enforced against graffiti and prostitution in sign-posted areas of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, extend the traditional police power over nuisance (the legal fount of all zoning) from noxious industry to noxious behavior. Because they are self-financed by the fines collected or special sales taxes levied (on spray paints, for example), abatement districts allow homeowner or merchant groups to target intensified law enforcement against specific local social problems.

Enhancement districts, represented all over Southern California by the "drug-free zones" surrounding public schools, add extra federal/state penalties or "enhancements" to crimes committed within a specified radius of public institutions. Containment districts are designed to quarantine potentially epidemic social problems, ranging from that insect illegal immigrant, the Mediterranean fruit fly, to the ever increasing masses of homeless Angelenos. Although Downtown L.A.'s "homeless containment zone" lacks the precise, if surreal, sign-posting of the state Department of Agriculture's "Medfly Quarantine Zone," it is nonetheless one of the most dramatic examples of a SCD. By city policy, the spillover of homeless encampments into surrounding council districts, or into the tonier precincts of the Downtown scanscape, is prevented by their "containment" (official term) within the over-crowded Skid row area known as Central City East (or the "Nickle" to its inhabitants). Although the recession-driven explosion in the homeless population has inexorably leaked street people into the alleys and vacant lots of nearby inner-ring neighborhoods, the LAPD maintains its pitiless policy of driving them back into the squalor of the Nickle.

The obverse strategy, of course, is the formal exclusion of the homeless and other pariah groups from public spaces. A spate of Southland cities, from Orange County to Santa Barbara, and even including the "Peoples' Republic of Santa Monica," recently have passed "anti-camping ordinances to banish the homeless from their sight. Meanwhile Los Angeles and Pomona are emulating the small city of San Fernando (Richie Valens's hometown) in banning gang members from parks. These "Gang Free Parks" reinforce non-spatialized sanctions against gang membership (especially the recent Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act or STEP) as examples of "status criminalization" where group membership, even in the absence of a specific criminal act, has been outlawed.

Status crime, by its very nature, involves projections of middle-class or conservative fantasies about the nature of the "dangerous classes." Thus in the nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie crusaded against a largely phantasmagorical "tramp menace," and, in the twentieth century, against a hallucinatory domestic "red menace." In the middle 1980's, however, the ghost of Cotton Mather suddenly reappeared in suburban Southern California. Allegations that local daycare centers were actually covens of satanic perversion wrenched us back to the seventeenth century and the Salem witch trials. In the course of the McMartin Preschool molestation case -- ultimately the longest and most expensive such ordeal in American history -- children testified about molester-teachers who flew around on broomsticks and other manifestations of the Evil One.

One legacy of the accompanying collective hysteria, which undoubtedly mined huge veins of displaced parental guilt, was the little city of San Dimas's creation of the nation's first "child molestation exclusion zone." This Twin-Peaks-like suburb in the eastern San Gabriel Valley was sign-posted from stem to stern with the warning: "Hands Off! Our children are photographed and finger-printed for their own protection." I don't know if the armies of lurking pedophiles in the mountains above San Dimas were actually deterred by these warnings, but any mapping of contemporary urban space must acknowledge the existence of such dark, Lynchian zones where the social imaginary discharges its fantasies.

Meanwhile, post-riot Southern California seems on the verge of creating yet more SCDs. On the one hand, the arrival of the federal "Weed and Seed" program, linking community development funds to anti-gang repression, provides a new set of incentives for neighborhoods to adopt exclusion and/or enhancement strategies. As many activists have warned, "Weed and Seed" is like a police-state caricature of the 1960s War on Poverty, with the Justice Department transformed into the manager of urban redevelopment. The poor will be forced to cooperate with their own criminalization as a precondition for urban aid.

On the other hand, emerging technologies may give conservatives, and probably neo-liberals as well, a real opportunity to test cost-saving proposals for community imprisonment as an alternative to expensive programs of prison construction. Led by Heritage Institute ideologue Charles Murray -- whose polemic against social spending for the poor, Losing Ground (1984), was the most potent manifesto of the Reagan era -- conservative theorists are exploring the practicalities of the carceral city depicted in sci-fi fantasies like Escape from New York.

Murray's concept, as first adumbrated in the New Republic in 1990, is that "drug-free zones for the majority" may require social-refuse heaps for the criminalized minority. "If the result of implementing these policies [landlords' and employers' unrestricted right to discriminate in the selection of tenants and workers] is to concentrate the bad apples into a few hyper-violent, anti-social neighborhoods, so be it." But how will the underclass be effectively confined to its own "hyper-violent" super-SCDs and kept out of the drug-free Shangri-las of the overclass?

One possibility is the systematic establishment of discrete security gateways that will use some biometric criterion, universally registered, to screen crowds and bypassers. The "most elegant solution," according to a recent article in The Economist, "is a biometric that can be measured without the subject having to do anything at all." The individually unique cart-wheel pattern of the iris, for example, can be scanned by hidden cameras "without the subject being any the wiser." "That could be useful in places like airports -- to check for the eye of a Tamil Tiger, or anybody else whose presence might make security guards' pupils dilate."

Another emerging technology is the police utilization of LANDSAT satellites linked to Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Almost certainly by the end of the decade the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, will be using geosynchronous LANDSAT systems to manage traffic congestion and oversee physical planning. The same LANDSAT-GIS capability can be cost-shared and time-shared with police departments to surveil the movements of tens of thousands of electronically tagged individuals and their automobiles.

Although such monitoring is immediately intended to safeguard expensive sports cars and other toys of the rich, it will be entirely possible to use the same technology to put the equivalent of an electronic handcuff on the activities of entire urban social strata. Drug offenders and gang members can be "bar-coded" and paroled to the omniscient scrutiny of a satellite that will track their 24-hour itineraries and automatically sound an alarm if they stray outside the borders of their surveillance district. With such powerful Orwellian technologies for social control, community confinement and the confinement of communities may ultimately mean the same thing.


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