The Overcriminalization of America: Are We All Criminals Now?
by John W. Whitehead
Under the blazing Arizona sun stands an encampment of military tents filled with some 2,000 people. They battle the heat by positioning themselves in front of a few large fans, but they are of little use when temperatures reach 145 degrees. Stun fences surround the perimeter, with four Sky Watch Towers bearing down on the occupants. Facial recognition software and K-9 units keep track of the people moving about, longing for their freedom.
For the residents of Tent City Jail, their time behind bars is an exercise in humiliation: they are forced to dress in pink underwear, they “work seven days a week, are fed only twice a day, get no coffee, no cigarettes, no salt, pepper or ketchup and no organized recreation.” They work on chain gangs, and have to pay ten bucks every time they want to see a nurse. This draconian treatment is not reserved for hardened criminals. In fact, most inmates in Tent City are imprisoned for less than a year for minor crimes, or are simply awaiting trial.
It is in this Guantanamo-like facility, surrounded by hardened criminals and subjected to all manners of degradation and hardship that Michael Salman – who was fined more than $12,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail starting on July 9, 2012, for the so-called “crime” of holding a weekly Bible study in his Phoenix home, allegedly in violation of the city’s building codes – is incarcerated.
What happened to Michael Salman – armed police raids of his property, repeated warnings against holding any form of Bible study at his home, and a court-ordered probation banning him from having any gatherings of more than 12 people at his home – should never have happened in America. Yet this is the reality that more and more Americans are grappling with in the face of a government bureaucracy consumed with churning out laws, statutes, codes and regulations that reinforce its powers and value systems and those of the police state and its corporate allies. All the while, the life is slowly being choked out of our individual freedoms. The aim, of course, is absolute control by way of thousands of regulations that dictate when, where, how and with whom we live our lives.
Incredibly, Congress has been creating on average 55 new “crimes” per year, bringing the total number of federal crimes on the books to more than 5,000, with as many as 300,000 regulatory crimes. As journalist Radley Balko reports, “that doesn’t include federal regulations, which are increasingly being enforced with criminal, not administrative, penalties. It also doesn’t include the increasing leeway with which prosecutors can enforce broadly written federal conspiracy, racketeering, and money laundering laws. And this is before we even get to the states’ criminal codes.”