This week Seattle Police Department arrested more than 30 suspected drug dealers and gang member near Westlake Mall—the result of an undercover assignment dubbed “Operation Happy Holidays.”
But happy for whom? Not the 30 people who now sit behind bars. And ultimately, not really for anyone.
The arrests were made after increasing violence toward retailers and pedestrians in the Westlake Park area. While public safety and security is important, mass arrests and city sweeps to carelessly throw our deemed criminals into jail is just another reminder to me of the gaping flaws in the criminal justice system.
We have developed an idea within our society, that if we can’t see it—however momentarily—then we have solved it. If we don’t turn on the news, we don’t have to deal with the effects of an international disaster. If we stay away from controversial films, we aren’t responsible for leading the conversation. If we pluck all of the people “causing trouble” out of our streets, we will solve crime and eliminate violence.
But this out of sight, out of mind mentality is out of control.
People are arrested, jailed and released—a cycle of punishment without an emphasis on any real change. We can say Westlake Mall is safer right now without these people roaming the streets; a perfect place for our “happy holidays.” But such a mentality is selfish and fails to recognize the fact that those arrests were made of real people in real situations.
Throwing them into jail ignores unresolved substance abuse issues and mental and physical health challenges. Not only that, but we are perpetuating this societal idea that these people don’t deserve help, they deserve punishment. The idea that these people are so out of control that routine and regulation are the only things we can do for them.
Well it isn’t working. Incarceration is not a form of correction. It has become our barred babysitter for the troublemakers we can’t figure out.
According to Parade magazine, “about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release.” Our rate for incarceration is nearly five times the average worldwide rate. U.S. spending on corrections reaches approximately $68 billion a year, as reported in Parade.
Money that is spent, really, so we don’t have to look at people on the street that we don’t know what to do with.
Once arrested, people are met with an over-crowded prison that often houses its own system of abuse, oppression and violence—a breeding ground for the ideas and behavior we try so hard to beat out of people.
Arresting the 30 drug dealers and gang members in Westlake Mall won’t stop crime downtown. It won’t stop the drug traffic or gang networks existing through our communities. Honestly, it probably won’t even make a dent in curbing violence.
All it will do is perpetuate a crumbling system of incarceration and make us feel as though we have found a solution to a problem that in actuality goes much deeper.
But, sure, SPD, “happy holidays” to you and your operation.