Saturday, June 13, 2015

Broken Windows: Broken Legacy

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path To Eric Garner's Death:

The chokehold. The swarm of officers. The 11 pleas for breath.

Mr. Garner’s final words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for a protest movement. On screens large and small, his last struggle replayed on a loop. Official scrutiny and public outcry narrowed to focus on the actions of a single officer.

But interviews and previously undisclosed documents obtained by The New York Times provide new details and a fresh understanding of how the seemingly routine police encounter began, how it hurtled toward its deadly conclusion and how the police and emergency medical workers responded.

This was not a chance meeting on the street. It was a product of a police strategy to crack down on the sort of disorder that, to the police, Mr. Garner represented. Handcuffed and motionless on the ground, he did not receive immediate aid, and the apparent lapses in protocol prompted a state inquiry. The first official police report on his death failed to note the key detail that vaulted the fatal arrest into the national consciousness: that a police officer had wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck.
Keep in mind, the man died because he was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

But the police strategy mentioned above was the ironically named "Broken Windows" strategy, adopted by the NYPD in the early 1990's, and which I've written critically about ad nauseum over the past 15 years. 

Matt Taibbi has more on the broken strategy:
Broken Windows policing, which gained renown in the Nineties thanks to politicians like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is the mutant offspring of our already infamous race history, a set of high-tech tricks to disguise old-school discriminatory policing as cheery-sounding, yuppie-approved, Malcolm Gladwell-endorsed pop sociology. The ideas grew out of a theory advanced in 1982 by a pair of academics, James Q. Wilson of Harvard and George Kelling of Rutgers. "If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken," the pair wrote in The Atlantic, arguing in "Broken Windows" that disorder and crime were "inextricably linked" and that fixing the former would impact the latter.
In academia Wilson and Kelling's theory had been pedaled for decades before implementation, usually being rejected for its shoddy reasoning and slipshod methodology. Nonetheless, they found an adherent in Bill Bratton, and it was off to the races in Gotham.
Broken Windows was introduced in New York in 1990, when a Bostonian named Bill Bratton was named the city's Transit Police chief. At the time, New York was plagued by street crime, with a murder rate north of 2,000 killings a year. Any idea that seemed like it had half a chance of working seemed like a good idea.

After Giuliani made Bratton his police commissioner in 1994, the two men took the Broken Windows approach to the next level. New terms entered the lexicon — "zero tolerance," "stop-and-frisk," "community policing" (an Orwellian euphemism every bit as preposterous as the Clear Skies and Healthy Forests initiatives dreamed up by the Bush administration). These new, more interventionist strategies relied on endless streams of adversarial interactions between police and the subject population, stopping and sometimes searching people by the thousands.

The sociological idea behind Broken Windows was pitched as something much more benign, of course. It was supposed to be the government version of tough love. And it was an easy sell politically, particularly to white and upper-class New York. From the point of view of the uptown crowd, it was a cheaper solution to urban decay than creating jobs. It also had the advantage of blaming the subject population for the rot and destruction of crime.
Let me pause to correct him on one thing there: there was never a "sociological idea" behind it (at least not a valid one). Wilson and Kelling advanced the thesis outside the usual peer review world of academia, then claimed the strategy had academic cred because they were academics.
A City University of New York professor eloquently described the mission creep of Broken Windows last year. "If the problem is a broken window, they should fix the window," professor Steve Zeidman told Reuters. "But somehow we don't fix the window, we just arrest people who start hanging out by the broken window."

Though academics were already claiming that stop-and-frisk tactics didn't work, those critiques didn't yet enjoy the consensus they do now. In fact, stop-and-frisk wasn't just still hot at the time, it was intellectual chic. In 2000, America's leading fast-food philosopher, Malcolm Gladwell, helped launch his career on the back of a half-baked analysis of Broken Windows in a book called The Tipping Point.
Again, maybe not all of us in academia were objecting loudly enough, but there were certainly sociologists and criminologists like Christian Parenti, Jeffrey Reiman and Michael Welch (to name a few) who were sounding the alarm, well before Gladwell and his drivel appeared.
People are focused on how violative these policies are to the population, but the flip side is that this high-volume, low-yield approach to enforcement is a terrible policy for good cops, too. "Right now, it's like they're saying, 'We have a robbery problem, and we fixed it,' " says Miranda. "Actually, no, you didn't fix it, you just arrested everybody. It's lazy policing."
Exactly. It makes a mockery out of the profession of law enforcement (reducing what should be trained professionals to this kind of behavior ). We focus so much on individual rogue officers or whether the police are racists, when in fact the problem is systemic, structural and procedural. And no one has ever been properly busted for instituting the failed policy itself.
Decades into this campaign of organized harassment, the worst thing that happened to the cops who stopped thousands upon thousands of people with no good reason was that they started to become the subject of academic studies. In 2013, New York University examined the data relating to CompStat and the Broken Windows arrests and concluded that they had little to no impact on the crime rate.

Despite such conclusions and lawsuit rulings that declared these programs discriminatory, nobody was ever punished. Giuliani didn't show up in Bed-Stuy with a fruit basket. Malcolm Gladwell didn't have to give back his Tipping Point royalties. And nobody had to apologize.

Lack of consequence rarely goes unnoticed in big bureaucracies. So it's hardly surprising that police started crossing a new line: inventing reasons not just for stops and searches but for arrests.

Say you live in a large American city — Baltimore, for example. Police stop and search you, something goes wrong and you end up getting your ass kicked. You don't die, and more to the point, nobody films you not dying, which means CNN doesn't show up the next day.

You're hauled off to jail. Sometime between a few hours and a few days later, you learn the charges against you. It's usually a hell of a list, which is part of the game. On what Ansar describes as "that motherfucking paper they slide under the door," you might find yourself charged with resisting arrest, assault against a police officer, criminal possession of marijuana, criminal possession of a weapon, reckless endangerment and whatever else the on-scene officers can think of.

The case is weak, however, so a few days or weeks later a prosecutor tells you charges will be dropped. In being processed, you sign a paper. It reads:

I, (name), hereby release and forever discharge (complainant) and (law enforcement agency), all its officers, agents and employees, and any and all other persons from any and all claims which I may have for wrongful conduct by reason of my arrest, detention, or confinement on or about (date).
This General Waiver and Release is conditioned upon the expungement of the record of my arrest. . . .

You sign, and your "criminal record" disappears, which is great for you. But so does the incident, which is expunged from the public record. And, except in very rare cases, the same police go right back out on the street. The only results of the entire episode are things that can hurt you: Your prints might now be in the system, you might attract future attention by the same police, and your employer might be upset by the whole situation.

This expungement trick is the way it works in Baltimore. To make the charges go away, victims often end up overtly forfeiting a right to sue (by signing a paper to that effect) or effectively doing so by pleading guilty to lesser offenses (undercutting, say, any federal civil rights case they might later want to bring).

If a Baltimore case is bad enough to warrant a financial settlement, the gory details usually end up disappeared behind a nondisclosure agreement. A. Dwight Pettit and Baltimore trial lawyer Larry Greenberg can't tell me about most of their worst cases, because they're sealed. In other words, if the victim takes the city's money after a beating or a false arrest, then the city typically gets to dispose of the incident without apologizing or even publicly acknowledging it.

It's the street-level equivalent of the "neither admit nor deny" settlements that Wall Street offenders made infamous after 2008. A bad thing happens, but somehow nobody is guilty of anything — money just changes hands.
Except, not only is the settlement chump change, but often times the defendant is still on the hook to the bail/bond leeches, having to make payments, sometimes for years on payment plans, on the amount they had to post to get out...on the now expunged charge.
Though money bail is firmly entrenched in the vast majority of jurisdictions, the practice is coming under new scrutiny in the face of recent research that questions its effectiveness, rising concerns about racial and income disparities in local courts, and a bipartisan effort to reduce the reliance on incarceration nationwide.

The money bail system is supposed to curb the risk of flight by requiring defendants to post bond in exchange for freedom before trial. But critics say the system allows defendants with money to go free even if they are dangerous, while keeping low-risk poor people in jail unnecessarily and at great cost to taxpayers.

For those who cannot afford to post bail, even a short stay in jail can quickly unravel lives and families. Criminal defendants are overwhelmingly poor, many living paycheck to paycheck, and detention can cause job losses and evictions. Parents can lose custody of their children and may have a difficult time regaining it, even when cases are ultimately dropped. And people in jail who are not guilty routinely accept plea deals simply to gain their freedom, leaving them with permanent records.
The bail/bond system is another systemic cancer on the criminal justice system, sucking defendants who can't afford it dry, and extorting vast amounts of money from defendants who can. It's a completely unnecessary middle man that doesn't actually provide a service. Bail/bond around the world is paid directly to the court; the U.S. is the only country in the world that uses privatized companies, who employ rogue/criminal "bounty hunters" in the process.

So tying it all together, what you keep seeing online and on t.v. today (shooting unarmed suspects, chokeholds, beatings, harassment, and so on), is not a police or law enforcement or even jail problem. It's the implosion of a brain-dead policy of criminal justice, created by know-nothing politicians and so-called experts/gurus 25-30 years ago. When you declare "war" on certain segments of your own citizenry (War on Drugs, War on Disorder, War on Immigration, War on Poor people, etc.) the end result will always be disaster.

Reform is needed now more than ever, or else the implosion will continue unabated.

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