littering in the USA
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Littering: what reasons, what uses, what place for repression

The repressive arsenal in terms of litter has been expanding in the USA since 2010 and the police and legal actions that will follow are expected to increase in France. This extensive control of citizens’ lives creates permanent insecurity and a threatening atmosphere. However, the effectiveness and evaluation of these repressive actions do not seem to have been the subject of any assessment, even less in the area of ​​litter, but federal policies continue in this direction.

The asymmetry of community/citizen control

The control of citizens by communities in matters of litter has little or no reciprocity depending on the situation. Thus, the possibility for a citizen, a taxpayer to control and evaluate public action in terms of prevention of litter and in terms of cleaning is generally unlikely. This, like the evaluation of the local public waste service by users, almost never takes place (quality of service, assessment, etc.).

What’s more, there is unequal treatment between the citizen and the community. We ask everyone to be civic-minded so as not to harm public health, not to throw waste anywhere, therefore, this is their duty. In the event of a breach, they can be sanctioned. The community does not fear any sanctions, it can set itself a zero plastic at sea objective here, a halving of litter waste there, but in the event of non-achievement of its objectives, there is no there is no sanction for this.

On the other hand, the absence of action to combat wild waste may be punishable personally. The competent authority in matters of health (mayor for example) can be condemned in the event of culpable failure to maintain public health.

Also this same citizen can be the subject of repressive practices, whether he is an offender or a whistle blower. The latter alerting by various methods such as civil disobedience can sometimes be the subject of more repression than those guilty of environmental delinquencies.

In a society of increased vigilance and repression

The advent of a society of vigilance, of lateral surveillance between citizens, a society where the speeches and behavior of all become suspect. This politically driven surveillance is expanding following the terrorist attacks that have affected the West in recent decades. It gradually extended to other areas, health for example with the arrival of the pass of the same name where company employees come to check customers.

Thus, encouraged by the authorities on the one hand and the citizen participation in state repressive activities on the other hand, this citizen vigilantism takes root and takes shape in people’s minds. This citizen vigilantism is based in particular on the desire of people to help the law enforcement authorities to arrest suspects or culprits to obtain retribution (emotional, financial, security, etc.).

Indeed, authority is a word appreciated by nearly two thirds of American people. This term is the subject of an increasingly positive evaluation among young people, more so than in the 1970s and 1980s for example. This favorable perception is seen more among rather well-off men, holding a diploma above the baccalaureate, and among supporters of the right and the national rally. This demand for authority, for public order, is to be linked with the increase in the security issue.

In terms of litter, the fight has been strengthened and the prioritization of repressive measures over preventive measures could be a consequence of the federal law. This law allows communities to pay revenues linked to administrative fines and penalties for illegal dumping into their budgets and no longer that of the State. This can lead to territorial inequalities in terms of repression and overbidding, particularly among communities in financial difficulties (the criminal procedure is nevertheless simpler than the administrative procedure for sanctioning an offender).

Communities which have lost revenue following the gradual disappearance of the housing tax are looking for new revenue. Also, revenue from fines may not cover the costs of collecting and processing litter (if the offender is solvent). It would be necessary to evaluate the effectiveness and cost of preventive actions in relation to the costs of repressive actions to base part of local policy on this criterion (in addition to environmental criteria, attractiveness, etc.).

Calls for vigilance and citizen participation in national defense are a security lure favoring the worsening of repression, a strengthening of the authority of the State and a preservation of its monopoly on violence. The delegation of surveillance is not accompanied by the delegation of legitimate violence, which is a risk leading to taking the law into one’s own hands.

The fight against litter does not seem to be moving in this direction. Calls from communities for citizen participation invite reporting of littering rather than the perpetrators. However, some exasperated Mayors practice return to sender by dumping litter at the home of the presumed guilty perpetrator. In this case, it is taking the law into your own hands, and also being guilty of illegal dumping.

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