As a kid growing up in Guatemala in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was under no illusions that the police succeeded in keeping people safe—whether foreigners like us or the ordinary Guatemalans who were our neighbors. In the rural part of the country where we lived for a time, the police were simply nonexistent. And while living in Guatemala City, the police were there to be seen, but their presence was not always very reassuring, to say the least.
I still remember the time—after a string of home robberies that demonstrated the inability (or sheer unwillingness) of local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes—that someone we knew asked a police officer what they’d recommend victims of burglaries do in the event that they, as civilians, were to catch robbers in the act. The officer replied, in so many words, that they should feel free to dispose of the bodies of the criminals in one of the city’s multitudinous ravines.
Living in Guatemala as a family of Americans was an education in vulnerability. But despite falling victim to crime on multiple occasions ourselves, our experience was nothing compared to the kind of insidious violence that undermines the determined aspirations—and threatens the very lives—of billions of poor people in developing countries like Guatemala every day. Indeed, in many parts of the world where public justice systems are weak and corrupt, parallel systems of private security have sprung up, but only for the benefit of those who can afford its benefits.
I was reminded of all this while reading The Locust Effect: Why The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, the game-changing new book by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Haugen leads the International Justice Mission and is the author of several books, including Good News About Injustice and Just Courage. Boutros is a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, and is a member of the department’s vital Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
My review of The Locust Effect appears in the new issue of PRISM, which is now available for free online. In the review I commend the authors for their insistence that poverty reduction requires a variety of interventions and actors, beyond their own areas of expertise. I put it this way: “Making a forceful and convincing case for one thing does not require pretending that nothing else matters; others who write about poverty and development should take note.” I also note that while this is not an explicitly Christian book, it seems to me that the authors outline a distinctly Christian way of doing human rights work, even if they do so subtly.
I close out the review in these terms: “With great moral urgency, The Locust Effect issues a clarion call to courageous action on behalf of the vulnerable poor. The sobering news is that the plague of hidden, everyday violence is real. The good news is that it is not inevitable.”