For good reason, cops in Camden won’t leave their car running. Camden New Jersey, just a stone’s throw away from Philadelphia, is entering the latest phase in becoming a “failed state”. The loss of thousands of jobs, the decimation of the Camden police force, and massive budget cuts have decimated an already flailing community.
Like something out of a dystopic nightmare, Camden has become a city governed by drug dealers and criminals. Police and law enforcement are forced to sit idly by for fear of their lives.
In a stunning Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi, Taibbi describes “Apocalypse, New Jersey”, a city where almost everyone you meet has “had their ass kicked.”
One self-described gangster Raymond said he had been shot six times, once in the femur, shattering it.
Other citizens can attest to simply “walking down the wrong street,” and being jumped by gangsters, or even shot at.
Police have their own set of stories, pulling up their sleeves to show Taibbi where criminals had bit them. Others show markings from violent beatdowns by community members.
Taibbi describes open air drug markets, where users openly shoot up in the park. One drug dealer was so candid about his business, saying cops don’t even dare bother him about his exploits.
This failed community is much like other crime dens such as Detroit and St Louis, but Camden has something that makes it a science fiction writer’s wildest fantasy- it is almost completely patrolled by surveillance cameras.
Taibbi describes how almost every city block on Camden is equipped with not only surveillance cameras, but microphones that can almost instantly pinpoint the location of a gunshot to only a few feet of its origin. Another introduced technology is designed to combat the increasing mother-son grand theft auto. Police cruisers are detailed with scanners that read license plates, automatically sending out letters to the owner’s vehicle saying that their car is cruising through Camden in some drug infested area.
The denigration of Camden is much like other failed cities across America. Once thriving and bustling industries called these places home, only to later outsource their businesses to China and India, leaving the city’s residents jobless. With enough time these places become urban wastelands, vacuums where drug dealers and gangs can take hold and consolidate their power and influence.
One police officer tells a story of how a rookie officer left the police cruiser running on a routine investigation. A “Bonnie & Clyde” male-female couple jumped behind the wheel and ran over the cop it belonged to. The two trucked on, driving into Philadelphia where they stole another car- a Philadelphia police cruiser.
In the end the junkies were apprehended, but not before doing some serious damage, in addition to the damage inflicted on the police’s reputation.
The blame for Camden’s neglect falls on a host of problems, from a failing economy, to careless politicians, to a growing drug market. Nonetheless, communities like Camden don’t stay isolated for long. Eventually the poverty and the drugs spills over into surrounding communities, endangering others.
What Camden’s story does tell us is that there are two Americas. On the one side, America’s economy is on the upswing, Wall Street is making record profits, and housing prices and employment are steadily increasing. On the other, rampant drug use, violent crime, and organized chaos reign supreme.
Is Camden’s downfall merely an isolated incident of neglect and abuse, or an indication of the decline of America’s working class?
by John Amaruso