Gripping Reportage in ‘Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’

Children who live in crime-ridden Camden, New Jersey are growing up in some of the poorest households in the state. Their parents bolt the doors and windows each night, burdened by a now-paralyzed Camden police department that was gutted last year due to a budget deficit. A Philadelphia Daily News article cites damning statistics for the city: there was a 45 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm in December of 2011 from the year previous, while CQ Press’s City Crime Rankings slotted Camden at number two in the nation’s most dangerous cities (just behind Flint, Michigan). In Camden “nearly 7,700 fewer arrests were made last year than in 2010,” reports The Star-Ledger, as violent crimes — shootings, homicides, and robberies — surged following police department layoffs that sent 168 officers packing.

Beneath new $1.8 million-dollar surveillance cameras installed to assist Camden’s fractured police force, suburban neighbors flood the city’s popular narcotics market at sixth and York streets, even while the sun shines. The corner marks just one of “perhaps a hundred open air drug markets, most run by gangs like the Bloods, the Latin Kings, Los Nietos and MS-13,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges in The Nation magazine in late 2010.

For a new book called Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, where pages of straight copy are broken up by streams of comics-styled storytelling, Hedges walked Camden’s emptied row house-lined streets with artist and Eisner Award recipient Joe Sacco. They took-in the area’s boarded-up shops and toured a homeless folks’ camp to gather quotes from people who live in “per capita the poorest city in the nation.” Just as Camden’s dire economic condition is highlighted in Hedges’ Nation piece (and subsequently in Days…), the pair ventured across the U.S. for years, documenting similarly grave regions that have been choked by poverty, mining-related disease and sickness, and the inevitable despair that blooms when a corporation draws every drop of a town’s lifeblood and leaves it for dead. The following Days… passage calls out the overtly toxic connection between the coal industry, our political structure, and its enormous impact on our citizenry:

The coal companies write the laws. They control local and state politicians. They destroy the water tables, suck billions of dollars’ worth of coal out of the state, and render hundreds of acres uninhabitable. The rights and health of those who live on the land are meaningless. The fossil-fuel industry’s dirty game of corporate politics was on display following the arrests in the fall of 2011 of 1,253 activists from the environmental group outside the White House. The protestors opposed the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from the tar sands in Canada through the United States to the Gulf Coast. James Hansen, NASA’s leading climate scientist, has said that the building of the pipeline would mean “game over for the climate.” President Barack Obama, ducking the issue, said he would review the proposal and make a decision after the November 2012 presidential election.

Joe Sacco, revered for his sophisticated, non-fiction reportage-driven work in the comics genre, contributed black and white drawings of first-hand encounters with Camden residents as well as with folks living in impoverished areas of California, South Dakota, and in West Virginia, where coal companies have “turned perhaps half a million acres… of the most beautiful land in the country… into stunted mounds of rubble.”

Access a PDF preview of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt here.