I hope that your week is going well. I am in the process of finishing up the interviews for the first part of Season 3 of the podcast series here on WARN...the first of which will go up soon and features a return conversation with friend of the site Bill the Lizard about Star Wars: Episode 7, the new Disney Star Wars cartoon, the Clone Wars series, Guardians of the Galaxy, and other related matters.
We have a smart group of folks who read and comment here on We Are Respectable Negroes. When they point my attention to a book, article, or essay, I tend to pay attention to it. In an earlier thread, several readers praised The Weekly's Sift's piece Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party.
Its thesis is provocative. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party attempts to tie together the neo Confederacy, contemporary movement conservatism, and the Tea Party GOP.
In total, the question "did the South really lose the Civil War?" is disturbing because of the truth it signals to.
As I have suggested in my conversations with Professors Glenn Feldman and Paul Breines on WARN's podcast series, the Republican Party in the post civil rights era has fully embraced white supremacy as its brand name and guiding ideology.
The Republican Party has also successfully used the courts, interest groups, and other means to subvert democracy by working to overturn the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, the symbolism of the Republican Party's embrace of the Confederate Flag--what I and others call the "American Swastika"--and their adoption of antebellum language such as "nullification" cannot be separated from their virulent hatred of Barack Obama as a proxy for the White Right's animus and disdain for black Americans, more generally.
The Republican Party has won over the former states of the Confederacy. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party's argument is so powerful because what would seem like a counter factual torn from the pages of a speculative fiction novel is now a central fact of American political life--and has been so for decades.
In America, the ghosts of Jim and Jane Crow, the White Citizens Councils, and the John Birch Society were never fully vanquished or exorcised. They simply morphed into the Republican Party.
In the spirit of sharing and reciprocity, I have a reading suggestion for all of you.
If you have not read the New York Review of Books' essay ‘Broken Windows’ and the New York Police by Michael Greenberg, I suggest that you do so.
In our conversations about the killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and police brutality against people of color (and the poor more generally), I have returned to two themes.
One, that the killing of a black man (at least) every 28 hours in the United States by police and their allies is a human rights and civil liberties issue about which all Americans should be concerned.
Two, there needs to be substantial reform of police training, recruitment, oversight, and tactics: the militarization of the police preordains that incompetent cops will use excessive force and overkill tactics in black and brown communities because of both racial bias and a belief that they are an occupying force akin to the Marines or Army in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Outrage and anger at the killing of Michael Brown, and so many others, is not a substitute for what should be a rigorous and intense focus on the policies and procedures which produced said outcomes.
In many ways, the killing(s) of Michael Brown (for the "crime" of walking in the street) and Eric Garner (for selling loose cigarettes) were the result of "broken window policing".
Geenberg's excellent piece highlights the debates surrounding the history and influence of Wilson and Kelling's above theory.
He opens with:
The phrase “broken windows” is a metaphor that neatly illustrates the policy, as first put forth by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in a 1982 essay of that name in The Atlantic. If a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, the rest of the windows will soon be broken as well, because the unrepaired window signals that no one cares. This explains why the police should make arrests for panhandling, public drunkenness, loitering, and other minor infractions that have long been considered unavoidable by-products of urban street life: if allowed to flourish, they foster an atmosphere of disorder that causes law-abiding citizens to feel fearful and wary, as if the streets of their neighborhood have been invaded and are not theirs.
Believing that this general atmosphere of disorder reduces their chances of being caught, the theory goes, violent criminals feel emboldened. Since disreputable minor offenders create this atmosphere in which violent crimes are more likely to be committed, they should be swept off the streets as if they were violent criminals themselves, and physically roughed up, if necessary, even if they may not be breaking the law.
Had it not gone awry, the Eric Garner case would have been a typical example of the policy at work. His offense, by all accounts, was that of selling loose cigarettes in a park near the ferry on Staten Island, and then verbally protesting policemen’s attempts to arrest him.Greenberg also puts a human face on how the prison industrial complex ruins lives by sucking people into a Kafka-like system from which there is no escape:
I saw for myself some of the effects of these low-level arrests during an unplanned visit I made, in July 2013, to the “Tombs”—the windowless holding pens in the basement of the 100 Centre Street courthouse in Manhattan. I counted four white men out of hundreds of prisoners who were waiting to be arraigned. One was there for allegedly slugging his girlfriend, another for buying cocaine in an upscale night club. The other two were accused of driving while intoxicated. (I was one of the latter; the charges against me were eventually dismissed.)
This was a large summer weekend crowd, men tightly crammed in the cells, agitating for a few inches of bench space. A neatly dressed seventeen-year-old boy had staked out a spot on the floor, where he sat with his head between his knees in what appeared to be a state of silent despair. The single overflowing toilet that served the thirty or forty men in the cell seemed to bring him close to tears.
The boy had made the mistake of asking a rider who was exiting a subway station to swipe him through with her MetroCard. “I was thirty-three cents short for a single fare,” he told me. He neither jumped the turnstile nor harassed the woman, who obligingly swiped him through. A policeman witnessed the exchange, arrested the boy, and let the woman off with a stern warning, though what law she had broken is unclear. The policeman now had cause to search the kid and found the remnants of a joint in his pocket—crumbs of pot. Though he had no prior arrests, he was now facing two charges: marijuana possession and theft of services, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. He wouldn’t do time, most likely, beyond his current incarceration, but he feared, with good reason, that the financial aid a college in Pennsylvania had granted him for his freshman year would be rescinded.
There was the sense among some of the prisoners that they were living a permanently restricted existence, one that shot down their on-again, off-again efforts to gain a foothold in “the respectable world,” as one of them called it. There were, of course, lifetime lawbreakers in the Tombs (minor drug dealers, perennial street fighters, career panhandlers and thieves) but a notably large number faced nothing more than loitering and trespassing charges—among the most vague and discretionary charges available to police, and typical of the broken windows focus on small-bore violations. “The cost of hanging out,” one young man called it. If he’d had the money to hang out at a restaurant or club, the police probably would have left him alone, he said. As he saw it, his arrest turned being broke into a crime.
[This story resonates with me, as some years ago a group of friends and I were sitting in Washington Square Park near Columbia University in New York, when a very aggressive police officer confronted them for "public intoxication", i.e. drinking a wine cooler out of a paper bag. If one of our friends was not white--and an attractive woman--the whole lot of us would have been taken to jail.]
‘Broken Windows’ and the New York Police is particularly strong in its conclusion, as Greenberg examines the misapplication of broken windows policing. As is true with many other golden pills and panaceas for public policy, the one "great" idea is twisted and misapplied at the moment of praxis where theory meets practice...and old habits:
The broken windows theory was never meant to be the arrest machine that it became in practice. The objective wasn’t law enforcement, but order enforcement. What Kelling and Wilson did not want was for police to be “governed by rules developed to control relations with suspected criminals,” because the police actions they advocated “probably would not withstand a legal challenge”—apparently they were referring to unwarranted searches and roughing up those who resisted. In other words, show them whom the streets belong to and let the niceties of constitutionally protected civil liberties fall by the wayside—and do it on the street itself. But don’t haul them in, if you don’t have to. “I’ve never been long on arrests as an outcome,” Kelling recently told The New York Times. This may not be an especially humane style of policing, but it’s very different from incarceration as a first resort.
In the wake of Eric Garner’s death, Mayor de Blasio has stood fast in his support of Bratton. As a candidate he made clear than he believed “in the core notions of the broken windows theory.” More recently, the mayor said that, no matter their class or color, New Yorkers want their police to respond to “small acts of vandalism and threatening behavior…in a just manner.” He may well be right about what families in poor districts want. But how does a policy that at its inception pushed aside the question of fairness arrive at “a just manner”?
Greenberg's essay on broken windows policing should be required reading--along with the report "The Making of Ferguson"--for all folks who are trying to locate police violence against people of color and the poor both relative to, as well as within, the structural and institutional arrangements of power that produce those outcomes.
Do you have any reading suggestions, links, or other material that you would like to share midweek?