Carjackings and Canaries

Carjackings and canaries
January 24, 2022 – David R. Weiss

I am buried in other work right now, but I am also deeply unsettled by the recent escalation in number of carjackings and other material crimes—and the rise in aggression shown in committing them. For instance, as Minnesota Public Radio recently reported (citing as its source the Star Tribune), Minneapolis saw a 537 percent (!) increase in carjackings in the twelve months from November 2019 to November 2020—and that rate has continued to increase (albeit more slowly) since then.

Our local nightly news seems to regularly lead with the latest report of a carjacking, often replete with terrifying video footage. Average Minnesotans are scared—our sense of insecurity and outright anxiety is being stoked daily.

What to do? Should we employ more police? Impose stiffer penalties? Build bigger jails and prisons. Adopt a siege-mentality alongside our prudent defensive driving skills?

Because I am busy, I will say this swiftly and bluntly: Tax the hell out of the rich until they bleed.

I do not say this because I think it’s likely (would that it were!!!!!!!!!!!!), but because it’s true.

Carjackings are—without question—like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are the unmistakable signal that our socio-economic environment has grown toxic. I am NOT defending carjacking. I am, however, insisting that we put it in perspective.

As King said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” So perhaps carjacking is the grammar of the bereft. When you’ve seen your neighborhoods plundered, your prospects for the future effectively erased, then the rage shown—if not justifiable, because it typically targets those who are relatively innocent—is at least explicable.

From 1975 to 2020 the top 1% (the elite rich; annual income close to $1 million, and, of course those far above that) have DRAINED $50 TRILLION from the bottom fifty percent. That’s carjacking on a scale never reported on the nightly news—unless mentioned in passing as an abstract data point.

But it’s NOT an abstract data point. It a tale of inhumanity. When you factor in the cost to health, public safety, mental well-being, familial stability, education, and so forth—all such things negatively impacted by the INTENTIONAL IMPOVERIZATION of the least in our society, this is violence-by-wealth on the scale of a crime against humanity.

Had this obscene—terrifying!—wealth theft not occurred, the median wage in the U.S. would have increased by $19,000 per year. And I can virtually guarantee we wouldn’t be having daily doses of fear injected into our consciousness because of a wave of violent carjackings.

Between 2006 and 2018 alone, 87% of the new wealth generated ($12 trillion out of $13.8 trillion) somehow “drifted” into the bank accounts of the top 1%. Nobody was pistol-whipped to make that happen, but it was far more violent in its effect. Indeed, the bottom HALF of our society saw their wealth fall during those same years.

If you watched your long economic odds twist in the wind from birth to teenage years and then began to understand—or at least sense—that this twisting was not mere misfortune but the very intent of the system into which you were born … And then were treated over the holidays to obscene commercials about people with the wealth to buy whole new luxury vehicles as gifts (how many households really do that?! that’s the 1% celebrating their wealth and rubbing our collective noses not even so much in their wealth as in our collective precarity) … Well, if you’re a canary in THAT coalmine, you might just feel like jacking a car.

Not even because you imagine you can keep it. Simply because it rips away the security assumed by those above you but within your reach. Because it voices the smallest tip of your rage at a system that has consistently STOLEN from you.

More police? Tougher sentences? Bigger jails and prisons? Adding siege-mentality driving to our skill set?

Mark my words, the elite rich are happy to see fear of violent young men carry the lead on the evening news. Because it’s a massive and largely successful distraction from their continuing appetite to live with genocidal avarice and criminal indifference toward the poor.

The poor have been hemorrhaging at the whim of the rich long enough. Tax the rich until they bleed. Anything else is rearranging irrelevant pieces on the game board.

* * *

Note: I didn’t plan to write this essay today, although the spate of carjackings—and this general angle on it—have been on my mind. But while reading How Everything Can Collapse, a primer on the damning likelihood of ecological/economic/societal collapse (I know, cheery January reading), I read a chapter discussing the contribution of wealth inequity to the dynamics of collapse. Both computer modeling and sociological data agree: rising wealth inequity has toxic social effects in the short run and catastrophic ecological effects over the long term. It is not too strong an assessment to say that the wealthy have gamed the political-economic system to suck wealth upwards at the willful expense of suffering and death by the poor and at the cost of careless irremediable damage to the ecosystem. Wealth is, in point of fact, deadly to humans, creatures, and entire societies and ecosystems. (Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens, How Everything Can Collapse (French edition, Éditions du Seuil, 2015; English edition, Polity Press, 2020), especially pp. 110-122.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

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