Policing the poor...
Policing the poor... Charles Mudede

It is not a big story but it is an important one. As Erica Barnett recently reported, Mayor Jenny Durkan is withholding funds for a progressive program that essentially keeps the offenders of petty crimes out of jails and the costly court system. This program is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). It began in Belltown in 2011, and is now nationally recognized. Indeed, its founder, and the director of a key organization that manages LEAD, Public Defender Association (PDA), Lisa Daugaard, won a genius award from the MacArthur Foundation in 2019. The program has also been noticed by the presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. But all of this was not enough for our Jenny Durkan.


From the Seattle Times:

The mayor says she hasn’t been wholly convinced by studies from 2015 that indicated LEAD was reducing arrests and saving taxpayer money, nor by metrics that show the program is serving hundreds of people. Her representatives say Seattle should proceed cautiously because LEAD lacks updated data on subsequent arrests and clarity about case loads.

Durkan wants hard proof that LEAD actually works, and so she's withholding funds that the popular program desperately needs (it's overloaded with cases) and instead, is spending nearly $90,000 of the city's money on, yes, a civic sector consultancy firm, Bennett Midland, that's based in New York City and promises to determine the "relevant performance metrics" of LEAD.

Of course Durkan is trying to kill LEAD.

And of course she, as a former prosecutor, has an un-override-able instinctual suspicion of an organization founded by defense lawyers. And of course she hates anything that works for the poor on their own terms, which are judged as merely excuses for the greatest offence imaginable for HR departments all over America: underperformance. But I want to address something else in this post. It is the persistence of the demand that regular and progressive social services conform to the metrics and indexes of the market. For Durkan's class, the poor are holes into which money is poured only to disappear forever. This understanding of underperformance (poverty) triggers the insistence on "deliverables, reporting capabilities, protocols, and... performance metrics."

Neoliberal leaders like Durkan always want the performance of progressive social services (for the homeless, for petty offenders, for the excluded) to be checked, tested, and closely monitored because they are seen as unidirectional. Resources and funds in these programs go only one way: to the economic emptiness of the needy. In this wrongheaded picture of the world, they (the needy) do not give a damn thing back to society. This is not the case with the so-called normal state of things, or the world according to people who think like Durkan.

The included—people who go to work, who have a mortgage, and the like—are inherently productive. They get something because they gave something. An organization associated with this relationship does not need to be aggressively tested, measured, checked for performance and resource allocation. It can do it itself. The business wants the most out its workers because it is providing a wage; and the worker wants to do as best as he/she can be because they need the life-sustaining reward of a wage. Could you ask for a more perfect or natural arrangement? The market, in this picture of society, cannot be wasteful. It is not parasitic but mutualistic.

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An organization like LEAD is not a part of the market and its apparently evident reciprocal (or mutualistic) relationships, and so it is up to hardnosed civil servants and their consultants in the private sector, to impose on social services performance protocols that are believed to be natural to the market and its logic of competition. This kind of thinking only leads in two policy directions: one, the deregulation of the market and, two, the increased regulation of social services.

But it only takes a few moments of thought to see that reflexive market discipline is nothing more than a fairytale. (Please, remember the crash of 2008 if you can—I'm sure Durkan can't, because she, as a prosecutor, found WaMu of no wrongdoing, despite it being at the very center of a vast criminal project that dispossessed millions of working-class Americans of wealth.) We are told again and again that the market can be left alone because its wage/service mutualism and self-imposed laws of competition insure a minimum of wasted resources and time. The excluded—the homeless and petty criminals—do not, however, have, in their relationship with social workers and services, a mechanism that minimizes waste and self-imposes checks on inefficiencies.

Resources in this relationship go in one direction, to the excluded, who do anything they can to not face and really resolve their defining flaw, underperformance. This is all Durkan means when her administration speaks of "ensuring that City funds are allocated to programs that accept and work towards specific performance targets." The poor and those who serve them must never be trusted.