Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Smart People Saying Smart Things: 'Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party' and '‘Broken Windows’ and the New York Police' Should be on Your Must Read List

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?


SW said...

Thank you for the suggested reading. Also, as a St. Louis native who grew up a few minutes from Ferguson, I'm interested to read the linked report.

Through growing up in North St. Louis County, I can attest to the underlying tension between police and the community, and have dealt with my fair share of traffic stops along the municipalities that dot I-170.

Fred Ceely said...

I read that "Broken Windows" article. The interesting thing to me was that even now it looks like my young friends and I could skylark unmolested after midnight in our corner of the city (North Shore of Queens). Not enough minority presence to make the warrant searches pay off, quota wise.

Courtney H. said...

I read the article about the Tea Party, but I have not read the NYT article yet. Here is an article about the economics of the slave trade:

SW said...

So much to learn. Sort of shooting from the hip here, but beyond America's economic expansion, one has to wonder about Europe's economic expansion at the expense of America's slaves. I believe a significant amount of America's cotton was being exported to Europe for final production. Which likely contributed to the fact that the British were on the verge of supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War should they prove capable, through a key victory or two, of defeating the Union.

Beyond the economic ties that bound Europe to American slavery, were there cultural similarities there as well? More specifically was there a natural affinity by the British for the South's social structure and customs, such as Southern aristocracy?

chauncey devega said...

It is all local isn't it? Now the cops have the financial incentive to lock people up, steal their money, not give it back, and w. judges getting kickbacks for locking people Orwellian.

chauncey devega said...

Good to here from folks on the ground there. What is the area like? How do people feel about Ferguson? What do you think is going to happen?

chauncey devega said...

The Other Half is a great book and on my reading list. Americans have been systematically lied to and miseducated about the centrality of the slave trade to the growth of the West's economy, the rise of consumerism, and the driving force of America's economic expansion. Of course, with the Tea Party White Right rewriting history textbooks and the destruction of higher education via a corporate model, wither the truth tellers.

joe manning said...

When I went to traffic court the only whites in a room of maybe 200 were me and 2 security guards. Conventional wisdom has it that cops arrest for misdemeanors as opposed to felonies due to concessions to organized crime. By this rationale broken windows policing can only be characterized as corruption.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

"Broken Windows policing"

sheesh, what's with all of the comparisons of humans to objects?

Did anyone challenge the racial animus behind a broken window policy?

chauncey devega said...

Go to a court, jail, or homeless shelter and you will learns about a country. I went to traffic court here in Chicago years ago to fight a ticket. The gentleman in front of me was trying to explain himself to the judge. Unfortunately for him, he spoke mostly in Spanish. There were no translators--and a very overworked and annoyed judge. The gentleman was pleading his case...with my marginal command of Spanish it seemed that he was right. Of course, he lost. We pay taxes yet there aren't any translators?

The judge was relieved that I spoke English, annoyed about my directness and clear claims that I was ticketed by a lazy meter maid or cop who gave everyone the same ticket on the street w. the hope no one would complain. Case dismissed.

KissedByTheSun said...

Meanwhile cop killer Eric Frein has been captured alive and taken into custody. Because unarmed black people are more of a threat than white men that actually threaten to kill and make good on those threats.

Waterwitch said...

It's a terrific read, and well worth the commitment to its 420 pages. He makes it absolutely clear how much even the "abolitionist" states (and England) depended on the labor of enslaved people. He takes all the "romance" out of the South, too, by calling "plantations" what they really were: slave labor camps.

Courtney H. said...

Waterwitch*s comments above some answer the questions in your last paragraph. Good summations of the article so far!

Courtney H. said...

I know that this is a little OT, but earlier on C-SPAN this morning, they had an **African-Americans only** call-in segment about **What are your thoughts on the Democratic Party?** The program included the showing of this video. Any comments or thoughts? Thanks!

Courtney H. said...


joe manning said...

It was the same with jury duty in Austin Tx with a preponderance of whites and a few token persons of color. The judge, a very white African American woman, explained that she was grateful that so many showed up for jury duty because we scared the potential defendants into plea-ing, an implicit reference to the color divide.

SW said...

The area is very much a normal, working class neighborhood. It's suburban neighborhood's are comprised of ranch style homes with lawns and backyards. The streets have a significant number of older trees signifying that Ferguson is not some new tract housing development. The median home value is probably around $120K. The area is home to one of the larger public school districts in the area. The businesses within Ferguson are largely off of main thoroughfares and clustered in strip malls. Ferguson is also one of the areas that white-flighters have fled, which is why the population is 80% black or so.

How do I feel about Ferguson? Until a couple months ago Ferguson was just a place. A city off of I-270. The area where my brother and I got our first pair of roller blades when we were kids at a sporting goods store located within the Ferguson city limits. But how do I feel about "Ferguson". I am not surprised that something like this happened. I think it was only a matter of time. The St. Louis region as whole is very racially divided, not only geographically, but in terms of the region's spirit. There is A LOT of racial animosity here. I don't think this region ever dealt with race the way other American cities have over the past 40-50 years. So St. Louis's chicken's are coming home to roost. While Michael Brown's murder is tragic, I am hopeful that this incident will attract talented individuals to this area who want to help take on the deep racial divide that pervades this region. It's almost bizarre sometimes the tension you can feel at the store or in the lobby of the place where you work.

What do I think is going to happen? I think that the county Prosecutor is looking for a way to not indict Darren Wilson. I think the court of public opinion is being shaped by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to have empathy for Darren Wilson. So I don't think there will be a which case I think the demonstrations will be ramped back up and then some. Which, in my opinion will be necessary. This region has so many things going for it, but at the same time feels like such a mess that SOMETHING needs to be done to shake it up and force the region to deal with this underlying racial animus that shapes a significant amount of the everyday life around here.

Courtney H. said...

Thank you, SW, for telling us about what is happening there.

amnesia said...

Not only threaten but actually kill. In MN one white cop-slayer was taken alive, if you will, persuaded to surrender!

amnesia said...

Don't know if it's just the Tea Party, the Confederate Party, White Party, whatever - and here I hate to alienate progressives from every hue and stripe. Yet, the widespread malaise, police debauchery, and demonization/dehumanization of black and brown bodies would cease to exist if just a few white folks put themselves on the line in defense of the Other. The problem, in my estimation, is deeply rooted in a culture of cruelty, a culture that is not monopolized necessarily by conservatives alone. I fear whiteness, generally, is complicit; indeed, a shared ideological racist consensus prevails and it cuts across the political ideological divide. Any thoughts?

Courtney H. said...

That is true. Liberal and conservative Whites both have white privilege. At least with conservatives, you know where they are coming from, but (some) liberals will smile in your face, and then turn around and stab you in the back.

Nick Dahlheim said...

I can't recommend Baptist's book enough.