sanctuary cities

There are people among us who are hunted, marginalized, and whose very existence in this country is considered to be a danger to others. We are of course talking about mutants, but we could as just easily mean illegal immigrants. After all, Donald Trump and others like him paint this small population as if they were sinister and super-powered criminals who are responsible for the woes of our society, as if they were actually capable of firing laser beams from their eyes or manipulating metal with thought. Yet even the mutants of Marvel Comics had a place where they could call their own, a safe haven away from the politicians and the paramilitary organizations hunting for their heads. For people like Storm, Wolverine, and even Jubilee, there was Xavier’s Mansion, and for undocumented immigrants there are sanctuary cities. Yet, what are these cities and what do they actually do to protect those who live there?

The House of M…igrants
A recent survey touted by Trump stated that 80% of Americans were against sanctuary cities. Of course that statistic turned out to be misleading to the point of inaccuracy. The truth is that a lot of Americans do not even really know what sanctuary cities are. To most it is just another vague and misleading buzzword like “engine malfunction” or “Sir Patrick Stewart.” So let’s start by demystifying the term a bit.

Vox, has a fairly satisfactory explanation of what a sanctuary city is. There are multiple places in the United States that could be considered a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, but most people think of places like San Fransisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc, but this is not just about large cities. ICE has identified 165 counties and cities across the country that have policies against cooperation in matters of illegal immigrants. Sanctuary cities do not go around actively harboring illegal immigrants, so much as they just turn a blind to their presence within the city’s limits. Technically any city or town that has a law or an unofficial policy that limits municipal funds or personnel from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers could be considered a sanctuary city. ICE cannot force local law enforcement officers to cooperate in detaining and handing over illegal immigrants, all they can do is make a request, and the distinction of sanctuary versus non-sanctuary usually comes down to how municipalities treat that request.

For local police departments and city officials this often leads to a dilemma. If a city police department ignores an ICE request to detain or hand over an undocumented immigrant, than the federal or even state government could retaliate by withholding funds, as Trump has attempted to do. This could be a real issue, as the Justice Department gives millions of dollars in assistance grants to local police, especially in cities such as San Fransisco, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and others. However, choosing to turn over undocumented immigrants, could mean holding them without bail, often for multiple days, and usually on minor or no official charges. Additionally, cooperating with ICE requests breaks down trust between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. If illegal immigrants believe that they are going to be deported every time they talk with the police as a witness or when they report a crime, than they will stop doing those things. That ultimately makes the job of policing harder, especially considering undocumented immigrants are already less likely  to report crimes to the police. That is why their population is at the highest risk of being victims of crimes -such as domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape- and not its perpetrators.

Come to think of it… that may be why Magneto can attack the X-Men so often and yet Xavier never calls the police. Mutants who are constantly vilified in the media and by the government have as much to fear from the authorities as they do from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In the Marvel universe politicians and hate groups cast them as literal dangers to society. Thus, if the police show up to a scene where a mutant is the victim, there seems to be no guarantee how they will be treated regardless of their fault in the crime. They could be arrested simply because they have giant metal claws coming out of their hands. Illegal immigrants may not have special or dangerous powers, but their fear is equally real, especially with the pervasive rhetoric of Donald Trump labeling them all as criminals and rapists.

Four Hombres of Apocalypse
A lot of the rhetoric surrounding sanctuary cities and the illegal immigrants who populate them has to do with the crime rates of those cities. Yet, the facts don’t bare out any sort of evidence that sanctuary cities are more lawless or more dangerous because of their undocumented population. In fact, the truth may be the opposite. Using an Immigration and Customs Enforcement data-set obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Center for American Progress analyzed various indicators that compared the success of sanctuary cities and non-sanctuary cities and came up with some interesting conclusions.

According to their statistical analysis there are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. In a small way, this makes sense as –we have already discussed– undocumented and documented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens. A look at census data between 1980 and 2010 shows that for men between the ages of 18 to 49, immigrants were 50% to 80% less likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States. Justice Department figures show that -across all ages and sexes- immigrants only make up 5% of the American prison population, yet make up 7% of the general American population. Trump and others sometimes point to the fact that 22% of federal inmates are immigrants, but that fact is misleading, as about one-third of those federal inmates are serving time for immigration offenses which are not covered by any specific state laws -thus they are not eligible for state prisons.

To return to the X-Men analogy, a person who is already part of a persecuted minority tends to do their best to stay out of trouble, rather than involve themselves in it. After all, if you are a mutant walking around you are going to be more wary of who you interact with or what situations you involve yourself in. Of course, there are always opposite and anecdotal examples that hardliners will trout to make their point, but when you examine the national trends and statistics you see that they tend to be the minority. Most illegal immigrants, like most mutants are just trying to live their lives, regardless of the target on their back. Maybe that is why sanctuary cities are just as safe -if not safer- as non-sanctuary cities or counties.

The Pays of Future Cash
Perhaps even more surprising, sanctuary cities perform better in certain metrics than their non-sanctuary counterparts. The annual median household income in sanctuary cities, on average, is $4,353 higher compared to non-sanctuary counties. On average, the poverty rate is 2.3% lower and unemployment is 11.1% lower in sanctuary cities compared to non-sanctuary counties. Now at least some of these discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that sanctuary cities tend be larger metropolitan areas with more opportunity than smaller -and more rural- non-sanctuary areas. However, it is also proven that immigrants -even illegal immigrants- have positive economic impacts on the areas in which they inhabit.

An increase in economical indicators in sanctuary areas has at least some correlation with the availability of cheap labor, but also with the availability of ambition. Immigrants -especially illegal immigrants- who risk everything to come to America do so to make a life for themselves. In fact, according to a study conducted at Harvard, undocumented immigrant men are more likely to be employed than documented immigrant men, who themselves are more likely to be employed than men who are US citizens. Undocumented immigrants now account for about 5% of US labor. And with more people employed -and not on welfare, because having no documents literally means that you cannot apply for welfare- than that is more money that gets pumped back into the local economies of those sanctuary cities. That means more people purchasing, and paying taxes -because yes illegal immigrants do pay billions in taxes.

In Marvel Comics there is only one small gene that separates humans and mutants. However, in our world there is no difference between “average” Americans and undocumented immigrants. We are all looking for the same opportunities, the same comforts, emotions, and the basic protections that all humans are owed.Professor X created his school and his opened his home as a safe space for a persecuted population. He knew that given the chance the mutants under his care would flourish and find their purpose in life. Together he believed that they could build a safe community where everyone was given a fair chance, and that equality among regular humans and mutants would ultimately raise up both groups up together.

Sanctuary cities, like Professor X’s mansion, are nothing more than places where those who are being hunted can feel safe. They are places where illegal immigrants can expect at least some basic considerations, where they do not have to always fear that ever siren or every person on the street could mean their end. We do not have a small marginalized population that can fly or walk through walls, but we do have a population of people who are invisible, and without places like sanctuary cities, they would suffer even more than they already are.

Now cue the best damn theme song in cartoon history:

police

An oversized and heavily armored transport lumbers forward accompanied by armored troops with weapons at the ready. Impersonal faces concealed behind masks suddenly raise their weapons and fire into the crowd of rebels. Gas canister fall among the ragtag ranks as some of their number panic and scatter in the face of such an imposing army… No this is not a scene from the latest Star Wars movie, but it could be. Instead, this is a scene that has been played out across the country as local law enforcement continues to become more militarized in their equipment and attitudes. In many places the police are looking less and less like a domestic peacekeeping force and more and more like an army of stormtroopers marching on the orders a Galactic Empire…

1033 Why Aren’t You at Your Post?
We want to start off by saying that we respect the police and everything they do. They have an incredibly hard job, and the majority of our boys and girls in blue are dedicated and amazing people who do a service to our country. However, we cannot ignore the facts that more and more local law enforcement is looking like stormtroopers invading Hoth, rather than officers of the law. Militarization of our local police forces began simply enough. In 1990, with the National Defense Authorization act. This was replaced in 1997 by the 1033 Program, both of which allow the transfer of military surplus to local law enforcement agencies, including camouflage, body armor, assault rifles, and armored transports. This was enacted at a time when we were at the height of our “War on Drugs,” and as a way to justify a bloated military budget in the post-Cold War years.

These programs may have been conceived with the best of intentions. Transferring surplus equipment from the military to police makes cost-saving sense on a certain level, and for the most part it has helped alleviate some cost burdens on smaller municipalities. Many departments have taken advantage of this program to acquire equipment like binoculars, radios, headsets, bullets, and even office supplies, but that’s not all. Small towns like Mishawacka, Michigan and Watertown, Connecticut have used the program to acquire things like MRAPs. In case you don’t know what that is, MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. They are used to protect soldiers from roadside bombs and ambushes in war zones. We aren’t entirely sure how many mines there are in Watertown, Connecticut, but is there enough to justify their use of $733,000 military vehicle? In one instance, the town of Bloomingdale, Georgia received four grenade launchers under the 1033 program, which seems a bit extreme.

In that instance, a representative of the police force stated that possessing the launchers told criminals that officers were, “

DOD Equipment
Aren’t You a Little SWAT to be a Stormtrooper?
In the Star Wars Universe there is no local police force, at least not in places like the Outer-Rim, such as on Tatooine. We see in A New Hope that Mos Eisley is patrolled not by police, but by stormtroopers. That’s because, white armored soldiers setting up checkpoints and arresting people with rifles drawn are all telltale signs of an invading army. By the Empire’s own admission stormtroopers are as much tools of intimidation as they are of peacekeeping. The same is true of the AT-AT, the lumbering walking tank that can be seen in Empire Strikes Back. The All Terrain Armored Transport is a psychological weapon of fear above all else. It was designed to keep peace on conquered worlds as an imposing expression of power. It along with fully armored and armed stormtroopers tells the local populace that they have no power. They are subjects and any resistance means dealing with swift retribution at the hands of a 22.5 meter tall walking tank.

In our world, a fully loaded MRAP and fully armored SWAT teams send much the same message. Police looking to justify and play with their new toys and have made the sight of giant armored vehicles and military grade weaponry a common one on the streets of downtown America. According to the ACLU, nearly 80% of studied SWAT teams were used to serve search warrants in drug cases. It has been estimated that 50,000 to 80,000 SWAT raids occur every year in the United States. Most police departments are reluctant to release exact numbers on how often they use their SWAT teams, but the use of them has been on a steady rise for decades. This is startling considering that SWAT teams were originally conceived in the 1960’s as special operations units that responded only to the most serious threats, such as hostage situations or mass shootings. Now, over the past 80 years the percentage of small US towns with SWAT teams has grown from 30% to 80%. In Maryland in 2012, half of all SWAT deployments were to issue search warrants for “Part II,” or nonviolent crimes, and two out of every three SWAT raids used forced entry. Even more disturbing, about 15% of the raids in Maryland in 2012 resulted in no seized contraband of any kind, and a third of the raids resulted in no arrests.

It should come as no surprise that SWAT raids disproportionately affect poorer neighborhoods of color. Proponents will say that is just where you find the most drugs, but according to statistics white Americans are more likely to possess and use drugs than African Americans. However, the real problem with the excessive use of SWAT teams is the message they send. Stormtroopers and AT-ATs marching through Mos Eisley and searching house to house for missing droids is not the kind of reputation that helps police do their actual jobs. Similarly, owning four grenade launchers and saying that police are prepared to use them, sends the message of a military gearing up for conflict, not peaceful patrolling. In fact, in some cases the presences of militarized SWAT teams have escalated situations instead of restoring order. By some accounts, violence did not start in Ferguson, Missouri until SWAT teams moved in and fired tear gas, turning the protests into something that looked like a less entertaining version of the Battle of Endor. In fact, the Ferguson protests were one of the reasons that President Obama made the decision to restrict the sale of military weapons to local law enforcement, because police need to start being less stormtrooper and more community oriented.

A Galactic Community
One of the reasons why the Empire’s troops tend to be so reviled is that they are outsiders. White clad faceless enforcers landing from outer-space to occupy and control native populations. The men behind the helmets do not come from the occupied system, nor do they have any attachment or relations there. They know nothing of local customs or of the local people, and that is a problem that also faces our own nation’s police force. In urban areas of color, and other lower income areas the police who patrol it are often not from the neighborhood. They come from the outside, and know nothing of the the people or the places. In many cases, those police also do not relfect the diversity or makeup of the community itself. In Ferguson, for example, the police department only has 3 out of 53 officers who are black in a neighborhood that is 67% African America. That means 94% of the officers cannot even begin to relate to the experiences of 67% of the community. To them the neighborhood becomes “just a job,” a place where they go to put their lives in danger and deal with the criminal element. Those officers, like the invading stormtroopers, will never see the areas they patrol as anything but crime-infested and dangerous. That is their only interaction with the community they have. They only ever meet its criminal elements.

However, ideas of community policing help change that. It is an old idea done in a new way. In cities where the new program has been tried, police officers are no longer just there for enforcement. Instead, policing becomes a community service. They attempt to walk the streets, meet the people, and get to know the good as well as the bad. The principal is that it will give officers an affinity for the neighborhood, and begin to build trust between residents and law enforcement. Today, more than ever, police officers need to be seen as community helpers, and people who have a stake in the success of the neighborhood, not just as an outsider. This is the type of thing that has been going on in local and rural communities for years, but it is desperately needed in inner cities and urban areas. Building relationships also helps prevent crimes. People are more willing to go to the police with their problems or contact a local officer with information pertaining to criminal activity. It makes the police and the community-at-large partners in preventing crime, not adversaries with an “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Some officers will be quick to dismiss it, calling it dangerous or a waste of time, and it is true that community policing initiatives have had mixed results over the years. However, that also has a lot to do with the willingness of the officers who are assigned to engage in such initiatives. It is also worth mentioning that it is safer than ever to be a police officer. Police homicide rates have dropped dramatically over the past decade to record lows, and crime in general has taken a nose-dive, and yet people feel less safe and police feel more under threat than ever. We need to deescalate the antagonism between police and residents by returning to older ideas of policing. In fact, even the way officer dress can affect, not only how the community views them, but also how they view themselves. Wearing combat camo and armor immediately puts everyone involved in the mentality of violence. Even something as simple a wardrobe change can go a long way to giving police a better image, but many departments are still reluctant to make the change.

We can’t forget that being a cop is -at its heart- a service job. Law enforcement exists to serve and protect, but lately many department have adopted a mentality of by any means necessary. This has led to military vehicles rolling down our roads, SWAT teams breaking into private residents, and a whole lot of distrust between police and the people they are trying to serve. Some departments are not always willing to take the first step toward deescalation, but we can only hope they remember that deescalating a situation is entirely their job. So if that means throwing away the stormtrooper helmets and stepping back from their AT-AT’s than maybe that is what needs to be done. We understand it can tough, though. It is hard to put away your super-cool toys, but like our old Star Wars action figures maybe it would be best if we left them behind in a galaxy far far away. And for more information on this subject check out the documentary Do Not Resist, coming to theaters this weekend.

Now move along… move along.