One of our first meetings together involved a police officer who was tired of arresting Black and Brown teens in low-income neighborhoods for turnstile jumping. He knew most of the teens simply could not afford the fare. The officer felt he was a part of a broken system, ruining lives over $2.75. Policing in Brownsville was about arresting people, whereas policing in Park Slope was about protecting people. That divide goes to the heart of Broken Windows Policing.
Broken Windows Policing is a decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and infractions such as turnstile jumping and noise complaints. The policy started with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Commissioner William Bratton in the 1990s and continues to this day.
Broken Windows Policing especially harms African-American and Latino communities, and also harms homeless, undocumented, LGBTQ and low-income New Yorkers on a daily basis. Its detrimental effects compound the challenges vulnerable communities face. What is more, Broken Windows Policing has proved ineffective, particularly when compared with fair alternatives that impose far lower human costs.
We must end the painful era of Broken Windows Policing. Alongside stop and frisk, over-criminalization and over-incarceration, we must end discriminatory practices by law enforcement and our justice system.
Broken Windows Policing links the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color to the excessive use of force. Circumstances where force is altogether disproportionate and unwarranted can escalate with truly tragic consequences. Eric Garner, Michael Brown and numerous others have died because of the broken system of Broken Windows Policing. Broken Windows Policing led officers to put Rosan Miller, a seven-months pregnant woman, into a banned chokehold. Miller’s alleged offense? Grilling on a public sidewalk outside her home. That same banned chokehold led to Garner’s death. Rather than building understanding, Broken Windows Policing builds fear and mistrust.
In 2008, police reportedly made nearly 250,000 stops in New York for what they called “furtive movements,” or what I call, “Walking while Black or Brown.” Only 1/15 of 1 percent of those stops turned up a gun.
Broken Windows Policing is a waste of taxpayer dollars. One court monitoring report found that of the 524 low-level criminal cases in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx observed over a three-month period in 2015, 90 percent of the defendants were people of color and 86 percent walked out of court. Wasted resources.
Broken Windows Policing’s disparate impact on communities of color undermines essential outreach and community-building work, the tenets of community cohesion and public safety. More than 85 percent of New York City misdemeanor arrests in 2016 involved people of color and 90 percent of fare evasion (turnstile jumping) arrests involved people of color. For some arrest categories, the racial bias is even more disproportionate. For example, in 2015 the percentage of misdemeanor marijuana arrests involving people of color in the 71st Precinct was 95 percent.
If New York City really is to be a progressive, sanctuary city for everybody, it has to end Broken Windows Policing. The practice puts immigrants in immediate danger. Every arrest produces fingerprints that are sent to federal law enforcement officials. The continued criminalization of New Yorkers of color is fundamentally incompatible with being a true sanctuary city.