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Camden, N.J.: A Catastrophic Cautionary Tale

Posted on Dec 12, 2013
AP/Mel Evans

A boarded-up building in Camden, N.J., in 2011.

Camden, N.J. is right across the Ben Franklin Bridge from tourist-friendly Philadelphia, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi notes, but it’s nothing like its relatively shiny neighbor city. It’s one of the starkest examples of communities in crisis across the nation—an “un-Fantasy island of extreme poverty and violence” where everyone is scarred in one way or another and few are employed.

Camden’s implosion isn’t just the result of the mass industrial exodus that took once plentiful jobs in shipyards and factories out of the picture—nor is it only the byproduct of the illegal drug trade that cropped up in part to fill that vacuum.

And although the federal government and Wall Street did their bit to plunge Camden into economic chaos, this most recent and acute crisis was brought on in large part by homegrown politicians (here’s looking at you, Gov. Chris Christie) and serves as a bellwether for what could happen in all our backyards—or front yards, for that matter.

Here’s Taibbi’s read on the Camden catastrophe:

It’s a major metropolitan area run by armed teenagers with no access to jobs or healthy food, and not long ago, while the rest of America was ranting about debt ceilings and Obamacares, Camden quietly got pushed off the map. That was three years ago, when new governor and presumptive future presidential candidate Chris Christie abruptly cut back on the state subsidies that kept Camden on life support. The move left the city almost completely ungoverned – a graphic preview of what might lie ahead for communities that don’t generate enough of their own tax revenue to keep their lights on. Over three years, fires raged, violent crime spiked and the murder rate soared so high that on a per-capita basis, it “put us somewhere between Honduras and Somalia,” says Police Chief J. Scott Thomson.

“They let us run amok,” says a tat-covered ex-con and addict named Gigi. “It was like fires, and rain, and babies crying, and dogs barking. It was like Armageddon.”

 

—Posted by Kasia Anderson.

 

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