Paul Jacob
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I used to wonder what it was like to live in West Berlin during the dark, chill days of the Cold War — so close to the east side of the city, but cordoned off from it by walls and barbed wire and twitchy uniformed men with guns.

Soon, maybe I won’t have to wonder. I will just drive north from my home in Virginia and experience Washington, D.C., in all its ignominy.

Crime has become so bad there that the police are being given more and deadlier rifles to carry around, and sections of the city are being cordoned off in a new effort to roust the bad guys out:

D.C. police will seal off entire neighborhoods, set up checkpoints and kick out strangers under a new program that D.C. officials hope will help them rescue the city from its out-of-control violence.

Well, the city’s gotta do something. Crime really is bad there.

But, I wonder, is this the right direction?

Increasingly, visiting our nation’s capital can only be likened to visiting a distant dystopia, with problems that don’t seem quite at home in America.

Criminals are the most obvious malefactors, but surely part of the problem is government. The seat of our own government is run as if it were the reductio ad absurdum of government everywhere: A huge graft operation taking money from Group A to give to Group B, and then from Groups B and C to give to D, to the enrichment of a few and the general despoliation of all.

Whole segments of the population are now snared in the trap of government assistance. Call it “welfare,” if you must . . . but how much of this money increases the actual welfare of those caught in the cycle of poverty?

It is worth remembering that, in the communities where crime breeds like mold on old mush, the historical legacy of the last several generations has been massive government intervention . . . or, I should say, continuous and massive government failure.

Much is promised, little delivered. Already these unfortunate people are cursed with spectacularly dysfunctional public schools. They do not lack for public transportation, provided they do not mind being insulted and manhandled by Metro personnel, or waiting around for an off-schedule bus to finally clank to the stop . . . or Metro maintenance to fix some elementary bit of subway infrastucture. They could go to their local libraries, except they were torn down by the city four years ago. But hey: They can take pride in their city planners, who just made a lot of pomp out of unveiling the new library plans (still going nowhere).

Meanwhile, the city has just completed a nearly billion-dollar new baseball stadium in very short order, paid for with these same people's tax dollars.

A bigger issue, though, is the signal sent by caging the targeted problem communities. That additional step to martial law certainly won't offset their current burdens. And this is no way to train the city's youngsters to think positively about the city's truly immense opportunities.

What is needed? Responsible communities. The citizens of Washington need real home rule. The city government may not be competent, but it should no more be lorded over by the equally dysfunctional Congress than it should have a neighborhood-specific martial law declared by the police chief. If we expect people to act responsibly, well, don't shred away every freedom, or withhold the most elementary of responsibilities.

This — and some rational system for federal representation — could be accomplished without adding two more U.S. senators to the Capitol Hill mob.

Recognize individual rights, too. Allowing peaceful citizens to defend themselves and their homes from criminals, with legally purchasable weapons, would be a great step forward. The city refuses, but the U.S. Supreme Court may have the sense, this summer, to overturn the city’s usurpation of rights.

And, isn’t it about time for a complete rethink on the drug war? It is popular, now, to talk about the civil rights we’ve lost since international jihadist terrorism became a “homeland” issue. But more rights have been sacrificed to the war on drugs than the recent war on terrorism. At least in terms of lives lost, liberties lost, and property lost to both states and criminals.

If the only way to keep a major city safe is to turn it into a nightmare world, like East Berlin, c. 1966, something has got to change.

Whatever the causes, the current solution should send a shiver up the spine of every American:

Under an executive order expected to be announced today, police Chief Cathy L. Lanier will have the authority to designate “Neighborhood Safety Zones.” At least six officers will man cordons around those zones and demand identification from people coming in and out of them. Anyone who doesn’t live there, work there or have “legitimate reason” to be there will be sent away or face arrest. . . .

Great gobs of totalitarian nannyism! Having to show your papers in an American city . . . just to drive home after a day of work? (Pedestrians, we are told, incredibly, will somehow not be affected by this policy.) This is the outcome of years of treating adults as if they were children, in the end (or near it), taking away their adult rights to move about freely.

The nannies now have big guns, talk gruffly like Big Brother . . . and all this in the capital city of the land of the allegedly free. Government on all levels has so corrupted segments of society that all trace of freedom vanishes . . . in segments.

Totalitarianism: coming to a neighborhood near you.

Well, near me, anyway.

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Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.