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Broken Windows Policing - Beneficial or Detrimental?

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Research Paper “Are you aware your daughter is with two black men?” This is what Houston cops asked Oklahoma parents when they called concerning the white couple’s teenage daughter. Thirteen-year-old Landry Thompson, a dancer, had been in Houston to film a hip-hop video. She was accompanied by her dance instructor and dance partner, two black men in their twenties. Convinced she was a runaway, officials took Thompson to child protective services and arrested the men. Thompson’s mother replied to the question with a simple “Yes, I’m aware of that” and officials later learned the men had a notarized letter from the parents stating they had guardianship over Thompson for the time being. The men are “close family friends that we trust explicitly with our children,” Thompson’s mother said. “They just happen to be black.” It seems officers have yet to adopt the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” into their line of work. Many people favor a type of policing system which allows cops wide authority to get up close and personal with people they deem “suspicious,” as in the example above. A lot of the supporters just so happen to be white, but there are also may supporters who are residents of the “urban” areas who believe their community is in need of this type of monitoring. Does that make “order-maintenance” policing any less problematic? When there are people from both sides at hand in favor of it, does that mean we disregard the underlying flaws, allowing racial profiling exist among the already deteriorating slums of America? I believe inner-city residents who support an order-maintenance system within their neighborhood fail to realize that they don’t usually end up benefiting from it. No matter how much evidence there is proving this style of policing works, or how much support it has, the order maintenance policing system is unfair to those, specifically minorities, who reside in inner-city areas.
The idea of order-maintenance policing stems from a theory proposed by George Kelling and James Wilson in 1982 known as the “broken windows” theory. This theory states simply that if there’s a broken window in a building, the rest of the windows will eventually become broken too. If someone stumbles upon a broken window, they are likely to think that since it’s damaged, it is clearly of no concern to anyone or anything. Therefore, the passersby of the window are led to believe that breaking the rest of the windows would cost nothing (5).
To test this idea, Phillip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, arranged a study which consisted of two automobiles without plates and their hoods up; one was parked on a street in the Bronx, the other on a street in Palo Alto, California. The Bronx car was attacked after ten minutes, and within 24 hours, all parts of value had been removed by “vandals,” ultimately leading to random destruction. Contrarily, the Palo Alto car remained untouched for a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer, and soon, others joined in. Within a few hours the car was utterly destroyed (5). Although the approach of carrying out destruction or vandalism differs in certain neighborhoods, the sense of mutual regard and civil obligations are lowered once a notion appears that “no one cares” (6).
A common concern is that across the country, crime that takes place within inner-city communities, like the Bronx, is an increasing threat to public safety. One of the ways law enforcement has attempted to put an end to this concern is by strategically placing foot-patrol officers throughout the neighborhoods in question. The officers’ main priorities would consist of focusing on petty offenses like public drunkenness or minor theft. Instead of only attending to those areas in anticipation of a 911 call, cops are able to continually monitor the area for “suspicious activity” and the actions of its residents. Ideally, this leads to a reduction in major crime by focusing on the little things to prevent behavior like robbery or murder. Implement this theory into strategic policing methods, and you get what is known as “broken windows policing.”
Research seems to suggest that order-maintenance policing has played a major role in the decline of crime rates throughout the country. Comprehensive research over the past 30 years shows that police disorder tactics generate a significant amount of crime reduction, but less so when the strategies target individual disorderly behaviors (Braga, Welsh, and Schnell 581). However, the dilemma at hand does not concern the amplitude to which this method of policing is effective, nor if it is even effective at all. It’s a contemptible action to reject the substantial amount of inherent racism that takes place while enforcing this system. My following discussion on order-maintenance policing addresses the effect it has on minority inner-city residents. I have concluded that broken windows policing is a system that significantly benefits one party (whites) more than it does minorities, thus, making it unconstitutional.
Order-maintenance policing is intended to crack down on small crime, and as a result, reduce the fear people have in their own communities. In 1998, New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani highly praised the idea, expressing how administering the broken windows theory as an integral part of law enforcement strategies has proven to be remarkably beneficial to the City and its people. “These initiatives save lives,” he stated, “and contribute to improving the quality of everyone’s life” (2). Giuliani thoroughly believed that the community as a whole benefitted from the newly enforced policy, often referring to the idea that small disorders eventually lead to violent crime. Convinced that it is the root cause of crime reduction, he goes on to present a situation where practicing broken windows proved effective yet again: “Police noticed a man who was acting suspiciously…[they] caught the man recklessly jaywalking…[and] discovered that he was wanted in connection with a number of robberies” (3). Had officers not caught the man committing this “small crime,” he’d still have been roaming the streets and putting innocent lives at risk. Giuliani makes it clear that broken windows has done nothing but improve the City.
Those who support the broken windows idea perhaps have their own best interest in mind, and not the community as a whole. Giuliani proposes an overly optimistic argument, thus not at all a realistic one. In addition, the example he presents is completely nonsensical in that it is not at all appropriate for police to pursue someone who is “acting suspiciously.” Although race is undisclosed, it is likely that the suspect accused of “recklessly jaywalking” was nonwhite. According to Charles Blow, an opinion columnist of the New York Times, whites benefit a great deal more from order-maintenance policing than blacks do. “Proactive policing [mostly consists of] dragnet policies that swept up hundreds of thousands of black and brown men in stop-and-frisk, although 9 out of 10 had committed no crime” (2). Simply put, minorities are remarkably more susceptible to random stops by police than whites. Applying this evidence to his compelling example, Giuliani is essentially encouraging racial profiling as a sufficient method of catching potential criminals under broken windows policing. Acting suspiciously is simply not enough confirmation to randomly stop somebody; there is no denying a race factor is involved. Because all cops have differing viewpoint on what suspicious activity is, there will never be a collective, widely renowned concept of a reasonable stop-and-frisk. According to social justice advocate and Harvard Law graduate Dorothy Roberts, race will continue to exist as one of the exceedingly impeding factors when it comes to stereotyping criminality with blackness under this policing ordinance (786).
Although they are forced to be victims of racial profiling, some minorities throughout the inner cities implore order-maintenance policing as a necessary method to end crime in their own community. In his book Black Silent Majority, Michael Javen Fortner presents the background of Harlem during the 1960s. After the Harlem riots in 1964, polls showed that blacks were hardly concerned about civil rights or police brutality, insistent that crime was the major problem they faced in their neighborhood (142). Burglaries became a routine affair and it was no longer safe to go out at night due to a surge in neighborhood crime and reckless junkies. According to Fortner, working- and middle-class blacks had worked so hard to create their “respectable lives,” which were now being jeopardized by disreputable addicts (143). These decent, law-abiding citizens felt victimized and concluded that policing and prisons were the only way they would be liberated from trouble lurking at every corner. The business side of Harlem demonstrated especially persistent views on enforcing punitive policies, considering the existential threat local junkies posed to their business. Naturally, this caused black entrepreneurs to favor order-maintenance policing, demand harsh punishment, and cry “To hell with civil liberties!” (143).
Regardless of how much support the broken windows method receives from troubled minorities, it doesn’t deny how unfair of a practice it is. Conducting a series of polls is not a practical method of resolving an issue; no poll or process will ever be able to determine a reliable indication of community opinion. “Without a mechanism for fair representation,” Roberts suggests, “there is a grave danger that neighborhood groups holding a minority view will become the self-proclaimed voice of the community” (825). Ultimately, polling a community just proves feeble and useless because only the voices of the outspoken are heard in the end. What about residents who are non-business owners and feel threatened not only by the junkies but also the cops?
By imposing on a handful of minorities who value public safety more than their civil liberties, law enforcement is expediting the deprivation of other residents’ rights. Roberts points out that the amount of black inner-city residents endorsing the system has no relevance to the law’s constitutionality (825). Law enforcement “cracking down” on small crime is just another way of ensuring that whites have the upper-hand. As published in her foreword from The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, “white Americans have repeatedly sacrificed Black people’s rights to maintain their privileged position” (828). That said, there are no legal measures in existence that benefit the lives of blacks without further improving the interests of whites. Although blacks strongly oppose neighborhood crime and disorder, they are also aware the bias that the criminal justice system inflicts against them, causing mistrust toward police to fairy enforce the laws (825). The order-maintenance policy surreptitiously denies the most indispensable rights an American could ever have, to the point where minorities are either unaware of it, or are forced to disregard it entirely and surrender one for the other. Police disorder systems cannot take place without being carried out in a racially-biased manner, encouraging the built-in unlawfulness embedded within the “broken windows” policy so long as It remains enforced.
It really is no coincidence that a majority of people who advocate for order-maintenance policing are white. There tends to be an overt fear of the actions of “black thugs” and “violent gangsters” bleeding over into their suburban upper middle class neighborhood. It is imperative that minorities realize this: the cop who wholeheartedly wants to protect your business from robberies is the same cop who will accuse you of “recklessly jaywalking” right outside your own home. Ultimately, minority residents in urban areas are forced to chose between public safety and civil liberty: two fundamental rights that should not have to be bargained for.
Earlier this year, a black man named Freddie Grey was pursued by cops in Baltimore, MD. Presumably another victim of racial profiling, he was arrested on the morning of April 12th--alive and well. When he reached a police station, he had lost the ability to talk or breathe, and was suffering from wounds that would eventually kill him. Although deemed “mysterious,” Freddie Grey’s death was anything but. He was in police custody, away from the public view when he endured such injuries; surely, one is able to connect the dots from there. This incident only added another name to the long list of black men who have suffered fatal, unjustified encounters with police due to stereotypical racial implications insinuated within the broken windows technique.

Works Cited

Braga, Anthony A., Brandon C. Welsh, and Cory Schnell. Can Policing Disorder Reduce Crime? A Systematic Meta-Analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 52.4 (2015): 567-568. Print.
Fortner, Michael Javen. Black Silent Majority. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2015. Print.
Giuliani, Rudolph W., The Next Phase of Quality of Life: Creating a More Civil City. New York, NY. 24 Feb. 1998. Address.
Kelling, George, and James Wilson. Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety. The Atlantic. March 1982: 1-21. Print.
Roberts, Dorothy E., Foreword: Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 89.3 1999:779-835. Print.…...

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