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Weed and Seed: The Fortress Culture

America's inner cities are being militarized. And Operation Weed and Seed, initiated in 1991 by the Bush administration in order to subordinate social spending to the agenda of the Justice Department, lies at the heart of the assault.

Michael Zinzun of Los Angeles's Coalition Against Police Abuse puts it bluntly: "Operation Weed and Seed does nothing but further militarize our communities and criminalize our youth - criminalize an entire generation. It's this system's solution to a shortage of jobs and educational opportunities. Instead of social services, poor communities of color get collective punishment."

Many poor neighborhoods, particularly public housing projects, can now without exaggeration be compared to high-rise bantustans or, as Mike Davis so aptly put it in the pages of Crossroads , "strategic hamlets." In these "locked-down" communities, day-to-day life is micromanaged by the police and private security. Since Weed and Seed was launched, militarization of the country's ghettos has taken a turn for the worse. Weed and Seed, promoted as a way of providing social services, is actually a federal law enforcement program that turns ghettos into free-fire zones. So far, 20 cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle are participating in this latest federal "War on Crime."

The Clinton administration has done nothing to change Operation Weed and Seed's trajetory, but is instead expanding the program to include many more cities.

Operation Weed and Seed is classic counterinsurgency, and racist to the core. It portrays urban Black and Latino youth as the enemy, dehumanizing them as not even beasts, but "weeds" in need of eradication. After the L.A. rebellions in the spring of 1992, Bush touted Weed and Seed as the centerpiece of his domestic policy. Like Guatemala's scorched earth and relocation program, "fusiles y frijoles" ("bullets and beans"), Weed and Seed operates on the dual principle of force followed by co-optation. First, federal agents and elements of the National Guard, in conjunction with local law enforcement and vaguely defined "public-private partnerships," "weed" criminals from the inner city. Theoretically, these "liberated" areas are then "seeded" with federal grants to "prevent crime's reoccurrence."

Along with receiving "intended" social service money, many targeted areas become "enterprise zones" where businesses are exempt from environmental and labor regulations. According to Weed and Seed's founder, George Bush, this will "give people who call these neighborhoods home something to hope for." In 1992 the U.S. Congress proposed $2.5 billion in tax incentives for businesses that relocate to Weed and Seed targeted neighborhoods.

According to the Los Angeles Urban Strategies Group of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, $500 million is designed for use in "enterprise zones." This assistance to industry is hype, enterprise zones usually employ few people. In Los Angeles less than 1,000 jobs have been created by the city's five, much-praised "enterprise zones." Instead, these zones become little Third World enclaves of pollution, long hours, low pay and high profits.

Operation Weed and Seed offers much in the way of "herbicide," with only sparse "seeding." Even Justice Department spokesperson Mark Sackley admits, "Weed and Seed is a strategy, not a grants program." In other words, Weed and Seed is a containment policy masquerading as a grants program. Last year only 20 percent of the program's funds were earmarked for social services. The New York Times reports that many targeted areas, such as Chicago and Santa Ana, California, do not even have a social service component to their Weed and Seed operations. Of the money spent on social services, the Justice Department contributed only $13.5 million in new funds. The rest of Weed and Seed's cash, totally $500 million, was in fact "previously allotted" social service money from other departments such as Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

Far from addressing the roots of crime, such as poverty, alienation and epidemic proliferation of guns, Weed and Seed seeks to contain crime and suppress the symptoms of an unjust social order. The primary targets of this federal war plan are unemployed Black and Latino youth whose economic prospects are so dim one needs chemical stimulants to see them amidst the smog and endless chatter about globalization and "regaining America's competitive edge."As for the "aid" received by cities participating in Weed and Seed, it amounts to low-intensity warfare repatriated: mini police stations, federal agents combing the streets, massive paramilitary "anti-gang" and "anti-drug" sweeps, aerial and video surveillance courtesy of the National Guard and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In Weed and Seed-militarized housing projects such as Chicago's Cabrini Green, people live in mini-police states. All residents, much like Black people in South Africa, must show special IDs to enter their homes.

Many areas throughout the country, though not officially Weed and Seed sites are perhaps waiting to join the program, have taken their cue from the federal government and are militarizing public housing projects. Residents of these areas make no bones about feeling dispensable. "They are trying to control us, straight up," says BZ, surveying the wrought iron fence surrounding the Johnston Project in East Harlem. "That's all they want to do is herd us around. If they really wanted to stop the booming [drug dealing] they'd make some jobs and do something about the schools." Unfortunately, jobs and education only figure in the rhetoric of fighting crime. As Operation Weed and Seed shows, America's urban crisis is to be dealt with in what Franz Fanon called "the language of naked force."

Among Weed and Seed's most sinister elements is the "FAST" track prosecution system (Federal Alternatives to State Trial). This program allows for streamlined, high-velocity prosecutions and requres lengthy minimum federal sentences for even first-time offenders busted in targeted areas. Possession of 5 grams of crack in Weed and Seed country will get someone five years in the penitentiary.

Another counterinsurgency function of Weed and Seed is the leverage it provides over community activists and grassroots development. With the Justice Department pulling purse-strings it is less likely for federal funds to slip into ungrateful hands. In Seattle, 8 of 10 social service projects proposed by the city were rejected by the Justice Department for being "soft on crime" or not having sufficient police involvement. Among these programs was a foreign language translation service.

As was indicated by Clinton's campaign pledge to put 100,000 more cops on America's streets, the Democrats have fully embraced Weed and Seed. Attorney General Janet Reno praised Weed and Seed in her confirmation hearings. According to Weed and Seed spokesperson Mark Sackley, it's been "business as usual" since the Democrats took office.

Ultimately, there is no plan to eradicate crime in the U.S. - merely a strategy to contain and manage it. Though crime has a somewhat destabilizing and delegitimizing effect on the social order, it also functions to keep oppressed people in their place by keeping them terrorized and in disarray. Crime picks up the economic slack for a system which cannot offer decent work to all and will not offer sufficient aid to those left destitute. Weed and Seed, the centerpiece of this crime management strategy, will help turn large parts of the inner city into crime preserves where the "structurally unemployed" are kept out of sight, confused about the real source of oppression, busy killing one another and going to and from jail. This climate will help preempt any radical grassroots movement with a redistributive agenda.

Meanwhile, in the citadels of consumption, nicer quarters are being fortified with private security guards, sleepless video eyes and ever more exclusive types of architecture. This allows "public" police to stay on the other side of the tracks, pursuing their offensive capacity as the wardens of the locked-down ghetto. Accompanying Weed and Seed and the militarization of the urban space is the racist, get tough discourse of crime conducted in newspapers and the torrid vignettes of TV "docudramas" such as 911 . Militarism and fear are creeping into almost every aspect of city living and killing the soul of the street.

Reprinted from Crossroads

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