Part 2: Chasing moral panic votes
In Surrey the number one election issue is “crime,” which means politicians across the spectrum are making promises to increase policing, while feeding into a racist moral panic around public safety. In this election the moral panic around crime and homelessness are connected, with homelessness subsumed into the discussions of crime as a “social problem,” not an economic or political problem. Both racist anti-gang policies and poor bashing anti-homeless policies tend to give rise to pro-cop responses. In Surrey, the political field on “crime” is nearly indistinguishable between the new electoral-progressive Proudly Surrey Party, which is promising increased spending on more police officers through the creation of a new municipal police force, and the ruling Surrey First Party, which is promising increased spending on more police officers and a referendum on a new municipal police force. There is no progressive-electoral party (in Surrey or anywhere in British Columbia) that is proposing to defund the police, fight the moral panic, and focus efforts on fighting the political conditions inherent to capitalism and colonialism that produce poverty and alienation.
A moral panic around “safety” and “crime” is also the focus of elections in many other smaller communities, where the most potent symbol of social disorder is homelessness. The broader housing crisis disappears in the moral panic that engulfs small town electoral debates about homelessness. When CBC radio interviewed mayoral candidates about Anita Place tent city, the conversation was all about crime, drug use, and the mental health of individual homeless people. They didn’t talk about housing affordability and poverty at all. Several candidates did mention the Federal government’s housing first policy and supportive housing, but as strategies to address mental health and addictions rather than the housing crisis. In most cases, the choice in small town elections is between those politicians who cater to the anti-homeless mob and, when we’re lucky, a small group of reformers who advocate for policies of treatment, regulation, and control of homeless people in institutionalized “supportive housing” buildings. Like in Surrey, the political field of these elections is so narrow that the discussion is shaped around the moral panic. The election as a totality further dehumanizes homeless people, pathologizing them as individuals, while obscuring the social and historical contradictions of capital that are making people homeless.