Policing Worsens Public Safety for Puerto Rico’s Most Vulnerable

When existing political economic structures are faltering or being called in question, political elites have strategically mobilized fears about crime and violence to increase their reach and consolidate power. Stuart Hall and his colleagues outlined this process in the foundational text Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, in which they noted that when society seems to be “slipping into a certain crisis,” panic over crime and violence can “serve as the articulator of the crisis, as its ideological conductor.” Panic about crime allows for the existing social order, and the unequal power dynamics that it produces, to be stabilized or strengthened throwing the “slow build-up to a ‘soft’ law-and-order society.” Under the guide of public safety, political elites are able to promote repressive policies that would normally receive tremendous pushback from various sectors of society. The Puerto Rican state strengthened its security apparatus and promoted a punitive common sense that treated violent crime as the central problem confronting the archipelago in order to elide the role of colonial capitalism in producing the insecurity experienced by many Puerto Ricans.

Accepting the colonial lie of Puerto Rico’s “nonviability,” the Puerto Rican government did not challenge the model of continued incorporation within the United States. Rather, left with the ruins of a failed development model and few options to…

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