Attack ads and contemporary political rhetoric about crime have a disturbing campaign ancestor: The Willie Horton ad that may have cost Michael Dukakis the presidential election in 1988. It relied on racism for its efficacy, and it ushered in an era of so-called "tough-on-crime" laws and posturing that nearly broke criminal legal systems, like the one in Albuquerque. Executive Producer and longtime criminal justice reporter Marisa Demarco navigates in Episode 13 how racist, fear-based electioneering warped the country's approach to crime. That continues to this day, favoring quick vengeance over long-term solutions that might have a real impact on crime rates. It's an addictive cycle: These methods, in fact, might be a big part of creating the problem candidates are promising to solve with them when they're counting on fear to salvage their flagging campaigns.
Why did host Khalil Ekulona and Demarco decide to give an episode to this? Because they don’t want there to be crime, either. They want to see the number of murders drop to zero. And Demarco's tired of watching racist campaign-trail rhetoric about crime turn into policies that don’t seem to work, that ruin lives, that wreck generations. We can’t say for sure what will work, but we’ve got a couple of clues, outlined in this episode.
And why now? One, because crime fears underscore existing racism and breed new racism that infests all corners of our worlds, creating this situation where people who aren’t white are dying of coronavirus at rates higher than everyone else. Two, because crime fears were just used by President Trump to deploy federal agents to violate people’s fundamental rights around the country. And three, because there’s a bigger threat out there than crime if you're looking at the numbers. It’s coronavirus. We need our focus on saving ourselves and saving each other now more than ever.
- Gene Grant, host of New Mexico In Focus on our partner station New Mexico PBS
- Elise Kaplan, crime reporter for the Albuquerque Journal
- Jeff Proctor, longtime criminal justice reporter and contributing editor for the Santa Fe Reporter
- Armed Militia Group Alarms BLM Protesters Late Monday After Peaceful Rally (June 2, 2020, Hannah Colton, KUNM)
- Armed Civilian Groups Patrol ABQ Protests Raising Questions Of Coordination With Police (June 8, 2020, Hannah Colton, KUNM)
- YNMG & COVID: Men With Rifles (June 10, 2020, featuring Khalil Ekulona’s interview with Robert Whitmon from militia group American Patriots of New Mexico, KUNM)
- Thousands In ABQ Peacefully Protest Racist Police Violence; Organizers Hand Out PPE (June 1, 2020, Nash Jones, KUNM)
- YNMG & COVID: The Heavy Lift (June 4, 2020, featuring Khalil Ekulona’s interview with Ebony Isis Booth, KUNM)
- Protester Shot After Militiamen Raise Tensions At Oñate Monument (June 16, 2020, Hannah Colton, KUNM)
- Republicans duck behind anonymous retraction (June 16, 2020, Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican)
- Report Details New Mexico Militia Founder’s History Of Violent Neo-Nazism (Aug. 21, 2020, Hannah Colton, KUNM)
- No More Normal: The Streets Are Hot (Aug. 2, 2020, featuring Khalil Ekulona’s interview with Bill Conroy, KUNM)
- The rise in murders in the U.S., explained (Sept. 28, 2020, German Lopez, VOX)
- Few of the deaths linked to recent protests are known to have been caused by demonstrators (Aug. 26, 2020, Philip Bump, Washington Post)
- The Campaign Ad that Reshaped Criminal Justice (May 18, 2015, The Takeaway)
- Bush Made Willie Horton an Issue in 1988, and the Racial Scars Are Still Fresh (Dec. 3, 2018, Peter Baker, New York Times)
- No More Normal: What’s At Stake (Oct. 11, 2020, featuring Marisa Demarco’s interview with Barbara Jordan, KUNM)
- Americans Are Dying In The Pandemic At Rates Far Higher Than In Other Countries (Oct. 13, 2020, Jason Beaubien, NPR)
- A Fresh Approach To Curbing Child Abuse In New Mexico (April 27, 2016, Marisa Demarco, KUNM)
- Preventing Child Abuse (April 25, 2016, Sarah Gustavus, KUNM’s “Let’s Talk New Mexico”)
- Residents React To Increased State Patrols (June 7, 2019, Marisa Demarco, KUNM)
- Who Calls Police? (Aug. 10, 2017, Marisa Demarco, KUNM’s “Let’s Talk New Mexico”)
- Timeline: New Mexico’s Shake Up of Behavioral Health Providers (Sept. 13, 2013, Tristan Ahtone, KUNM)
- County Jail Largest Mental Health Provider In N.M. (April 8, 2014, Marisa Demarco)
- Calling Home: Phone Rates In N.M. Jails And Prisons (Oct. 27, 2015, Marisa Demarco)
- NM jails report 900 new virus cases since June as population numbers tick back up (Oct. 5, 2020, Jeff Proctor, New Mexico In Depth)
- As Lujan Grisham pledges to tackle racial justice, she’s slow to release NM prisoners amid new virus outbreak (June 11, 2020, Jeff Proctor, New Mexico In Depth)
- In The Dark (May-August, 2019, Marisa Demarco, KUNM)
- FBI 2019 Crime Data
- The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014)
- Is There a Connection Between Undocumented Immigrants and Crime? (May 13, 2019, Anna Flagg, The Marshall Project)
- Illegal Immigrants and Crime – Assessing the Evidence (March 4, 2019, Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute)
- Kids Count Data Center
- National Institute of Justice “Five Things About Deterrence” (May 2016, Department of Justice)
- Complete Health Indicator Report of Child Abuse and Neglect (New Mexico’s IBIS)
- Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Lowering Recidivism through Family Communication (April 15, 2014, Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News)
- Reducing Crime Through Environmental Design (April 2019, Crime Lab New York)
Next Week: We turn our attention to media literacy and the election. Are you following a bot on social media? How can you tell if the information you’re reading is factual? And what’s the deal with the Facebook and Twitter political ad policies? Now is not the time to let the truth get hacked.
Special thanks to:
Jeff Proctor from the Santa Fe Reporter and Elise Kaplan from the Albuquerque Journal for the many behind-the-scenes conversations over the years that helped form the foundation of this episode.
We used lots of clips from KUNM News team’s coverage on this one, and we’re always grateful to be on this crew.
Jazztone the Producer, Cheo, Dahm Life and Oh Lawd Records for providing music for the show. Khaki, Pope Yesyesyall, and Bigawatt produced some of the show’s themes.
Artist Lonnie Anderson for providing the imagery for the online representation of this week’s episode.
No More Normal is brought to you by Your New Mexico Government, a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage comes from the New Mexico Local News Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners like you, with support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.