Trump’s Vision of Law and Order Policing Already Failed NYC

Asked at the first presidential debate, how would you improve race relations?, Donald Trump stated: “expand stop and frisk.”  Ms. Clinton walked the Democratic politician line: “Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law,” but then she did pivot to “implicit bias.”  Still, Trump effectively bludgeoned with a key claim: stop and frisk reduced crime in New York City.  Did it?  UC Berkeley sociologist Loic Waquant, through his work and in his devastating polemic “Punishing the Poor,” provides a refutation.


Badass scholar Loic Waquant, from his website http://loicwacquant.net.

1. What was “Broken Windows” policing?

After 1993, anyone caught panhandling or loitering in the city or on a subway, playing a stereo too loud, writing graffiti, urinating outside, hopping a turnstile or violating a mere municipal ordinance was arrested and taken to jail.  No more “desk tickets” which would require you to appear later.  Inaugurated under Police Chief William Bratton, his Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple described it thus: ‘“Broken Windows’ was merely an extension of what we used to call the ‘Breaking Balls’ theory.”  That is, the notion that by suppressing minor crimes, like breaking windows, you prevent major ones.  But as Maple later came around to tell it, “Rapists and killers don’t head for another town when they see graffiti is disappearing from the subway.  The average squeegee man doesn’t start accepting contract murders whenever he detects a growing tolerance for squeegeeing.  Panhandling doesn’t turn a neighborhood into Murder Central.”  To date, Broken Windows as a means of reducing crime has no serious empirical study to back it up.  Under Giuliani, “the city police became a wildly hyperactive machine for mass arrests out of all proportion with public need,” writes Mr. Waquant.  Yet even as misdemeanor arrests surged, the felony indictment and conviction rate dropped steadily after 1992, suggesting that these arrests were based on weak or false evidence that could not be sustained in court.

Jeh Johnson Joins NYC Officials For Active Shooter Drill In Manhattan

NYPD Chief William Bratton (Michael Graae/ Getty Images)

2. Stop and Frisk, as a component of Broken Windows, was not rolled out en masse: it was highly targeted against people who were black or brown living in specific areas and who, in the vast majority, had not committed any crime.

This fact alone makes it clear that this was not a policy of zero tolerance but rather one of selective intolerance for those committing certain crimes, – arrests that score high with mostly white, bourgeois constituents because they are seen as a public nuisance – and the policy targeted specific areas, low income communities where the police may find people who already had outstanding warrants.  The generic Stop and Frisk involves an armed man or woman commanding you to spread your legs, assume a submissive position and submit to being groped in front of your neighbors.  According to a federal district court judge in New York and to statistical experts who combed through millions of police records, over 80 percent of police stops were of Black and Hispanic people though they account for just half the city’s population.  Is that because black and brown men disproportionately commit crimes?  “This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals,” wrote Judge Shira A. Scheindlin in a 2008 ruling that found the policy was applied in an unconstitutional manner.  “To the contrary, nearly 90 percent of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest.”  She also found that these groups “were more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband.”  Stop and Frisk massively misdirected police energy and resources into seizing people who had not committed any crime.  By that account alone, it was grossly ineffective.

3. Crime in NYC began to fall significantly before Mayor Giuliani took office and prior to the implementation of Broken Windows policing.

Rudolph Giuliani took office in 1994.  During the last two years of his predecessor’s term in office, under Mayor David Dinkins, prior to Giuliani’s election, the homicide rate fell by 4 percent and then by 7 percent.  After a surge between 1985 and 1990 due mainly to crack cocaine, gun-related murders fell.  Aggravated assault began to fall in 1988, burglary in 1980, vehicle theft in 1990.  Property crimes declined for 14 years, from 1988 to 2002.  Imagining a graph, none of these trend-lines move based on the implementation of Broken Windows.  Actually, Broken Windows had already failed once before.  From 1984-1987, Mayor David Dinkins implemented “Operation Pressure Point.”  During this zero tolerance campaign there was a sharp increase in violent crime also related to a booming drug trade.  Once the drug trade stabilized and subsided, crime fell.  In other words, Broken Windows tried and failed, then, with crime already falling, it was rolled out with great fanfare and a new guise of academic security-think.    

In fact, as Mr. Waquant shows, during the 1990s, crime fell everywhere including in places that did not implement Broken Windows policing.  This includes cities such as Boston, San Francisco and San Diego, which largely maintained “community policing” and, in San Francisco, experimented with juvenile diversion programs.  In that city, from 1995-1999 violent crime reduced by 33 percent (compared to just 26 percent in NYC) and jail admissions halved.

4. Five other factors that explain the drop in crime.

Mr. Waquant lists five factors, (see his work for more detail), but briefly: (1) Though uneven and shallow in key respects, unprecedented economic growth during the 1990s provided jobs, encouraged youth to seek secondary schooling and took many young people off the streets.  (2) Stabilization and reduction in the crack cocaine economy: By the end of the 1990s, new dealers ceased to rapidly enter the market and kill each other over territory, the system of sellers stabilized and drug-related homicides plummeted.  Additionally, the taste for crack cocaine ceded to other drugs, including marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines which, at that time, were more frequently sold among acquaintances instead of on street corners.  (3) The number of young people shrunk significantly and this is the group most likely to commit crime.  Here, one cannot discount the tens of thousands who would have been ensnared in the criminal justice system but who died from drug overdoses, the AIDS pandemic among heroin users, gang wars or were deported.  (4) The “generational learning effect: a cohort born after 1975-1980 drew away from the hard drugs and violent lifestyle associated with uncontrolled addiction, imprisonment for life and violent death.  Witness the “peace treaties” signed among various gangs in L.A., Chicago, Detroit and Boston in the early 1990s.  And also the many community Black and Latino grass roots organizations that arose with a focus on saving their children.  (5) Crime in the 1990s was abnormally high by historical standards: This meant that it was likely to return to its median levels.  After the surge in the 80s and 90s, the homicide rate, for example, came back down to the national average where it had been a generation before.  All of these factors contributed to a drop in crime.

Punishing the Poor, by Loic Waquant (Duke Univ. Press 2009)

5. Broken Windows was part of a national trend among politicians who sought to “morally correct” welfare recipients and law breakers.

Moralizing about the need to eliminate a so-called culture of “welfare dependency,” politicians gutted benefits and hinged the receipt of federal aid on the acceptance of low-wage, precarious labor, mostly for women of color.  Meanwhile, writes Mr. Waquant, “a veritable Marshall Plan” was provided for imprisonment, largely aimed at men of color.  Washington redirected funding so that money for incarceration doubled the sums allocated to either Aid For Dependent Children (AFDC) and Food Stamps ($54 billion compared to $20 billion and $27 billion, respectively).  In the 1990s alone, Washington cut funding for public housing by $17 billion and boosted corrections by $19 billion, an increase of 171 percent, “effectively making prisons the main housing program for the poor.”  Consider the social profile of who is jail: by the mid 1990s, less than half of jail inmates held a full time job at the time of arraignment, two-thirds came from households with an annual income less than half the “poverty line,” 60 percent did not grow up with both parents, 14 percent grew up in foster homes, 13 percent had no post-secondary schooling, and every other inmate had a family member in jail.  According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2011 roughly half had a psychiatric disorder.

Trump’s yearning for Stop and Frisk and “Law and Order” envisions a tax free, laissez-faire world for those at the top of society and an authoritarian prison regime for those at the bottom who do not dutifully accept low-wage labor, insecure housing, and regular incarceration as a way of life.  


“Roxbury Strong”: young actors kill it, deliver history, inspiration.

Roxbury Train photo

“Roxbury Strong,” Directed by Ron Jones, at Hiberian Hall, 184 Dudley St, Boston, MA 02119, Next showing: Saturday, August 20, at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm (1 hour). Free admission.

Punctuated with beats by De La Soul and Slick Rick, and replete with an onstage D.J., the high school-aged performers of “Roxbury  Strong” delivered a history lesson of their city’s sometimes besieged but unbowed residents.

The stage is set up as multi-leveled platforms from which the actors delivered first person monologues in the character of a historic Roxbury persona, each representing a particular point in time. The name and photograph of each historic figure showed on a large screen behind them: Mike of Mike’s Donuts, Tariq Russell – a home health worker who has been shot 9 times, and police chief William Gross, to name a few.

“Roxbury is so unique,” said director Ron Jones after the play, “they tried to put a highway through here [Route 95] in the 1960s, but [the residents] stopped it. If that had happened this place would now be mostly warehouses.” Jones combined extensive reading and local interviews to produce the show.

The spiritual voice of the show is played by High School Senior and drama major Shaynia Jean, who depicts a world weary shop owner that employs a young upstart to go collect local stories. So employed, the young boy intermittently synthesizes his learning into raps which he delivers center stage. Performed by a small cast, some young actors seamlessly embodied totally distinct characters such that one was surprised upon the realization that he or she had just played a different character.

By 1960, Roxbury had only 62,000 black residents, meaning it was not a Great Migration city, but by 1970 that number had nearly doubled, one character explained. Nevertheless, the city maintained traces of diversity, another character intoned, as old photos showed behind him. Little black girls played with little German girls who’s mother had married a black Servicemember. The city’s geographical space was later halved, in part to make way for the South End’s redevelopment, and a huge swath south of Melnea Cass Boulevard was abandoned.

Another veteran Civil Rights activist detailed an episode in which residents dredged an entire neighborhood of trash, heaped it and informed the city they were going to light it on fire. Photos from that time flashed on the screen. But when the police and fire department came, “they turned the hoses on us.” Still, it was shown on national television and helped turn public sympathy.

One slogan from the movement to protect black children during Forced Busing showed how slow progress was in coming: Little Rock 1957, Selma 1963, Boston 1974. Another resident-activist, played by a convincing high-schooler, told of how she and others covered dead cars with Mayor Ray Flynn stickers, and how happy the Mayor’s office was to give out the stickers, until their point finally came across.

Other touch stones emerge: the Charles Stuart case, the crack era and gentrification.

“Gentrification didn’t just happen over night,” the audience is told, “it began 10 to 15 years ago at meetings we didn’t go to… If you don’t have some sort of subsidized housing, pretty soon you won’t be able to live here.”

As for policing, one could juxtapose the St. Clare Commission produced by officials in the wake of the mass round up of black men following the Charles Stuart case with the ACLU’s recent “Black, Brown and Targeted” detailing Stop and Frisk.

But ultimately it is hope that comes through in the scripted lines, the youngsters obvious talent, and their sense of history and future promise. One Roxbury nonprofit-leader depicted in the show asked, “Change isn’t bad, but how do I prejudice change in my favor?”

“The fight doesn’t end,” said another, “it just evolves.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s painful, urgent lessons to his son


The long struggle, the weight of Many Thousands Gone, a deeply felt link to one’s people, – all of this Coates wants, urgently wants to instill through an extended letter to his impressionable young son in his latest book ‘Between The World And Me.’  Coates’s son Samori began crying one night when it was announced on TV that the killer of Michael Brown in Ferguson would not face charges.  Coates had no answers or proper consolation. This book followed.

“How do I live free in this black body?,” is Coates’s entry point for exploration of his upbringing and formative intellectual years, through college and into post-graduate life, as told to his son.  Coates grew up hard in Baltimore, constantly reminded of the fragility of his body, seeing in one preadolescent boy, “in his small eyes…a surging rage that could, in an instant, erase my body.  That was 1986.”

Writes Coates: “To be black in Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease.  The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology.  The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.  The law did not protect us.  And now, in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping and frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body.  But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”

Fear overshadowed and united Coates’s family and caused a desperate and fierce sense of love conveyed to him by his elders.  “My father was so very afraid. I felt it in the sting of his black leather belt, which he applied with more anxiety than anger, my father who beat me as if someone might steal me away, because that is exactly what was happening all around us.”

One recalls James Baldwin’s short story, ‘Sonny’s Blues,’ which describes a 1950s Harlem projects living room: “The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about…The child knows they won’t talk anymore because if he knows too much about what’s happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going to happen to him.”

As a child Coates saw dispatches on TV from this “other world apart,” of White homes, and easygoing friends. As a young parent he brought his son to a suburb of New York and saw a spoiled white child riding his tricycle, taking up the sidewalk as his mother stood by in yoga pants and stroller, and he realized that this child had been taught that the world belonged to him, while he had taught his child fear.

The opening passages which describe Baltimore are sharp, and one wishes for more explanation, for more of Coates’s brilliant social and historical illumination in addition to his description.  Gangs proved the inviolability of their bodies through the ability to crack ribs, arms and legs.  Schools as education rendered as route discipline, concerned not with curiosity but with compliance.

“The fearless boys and girls who would knuckle up, call on cousins and crews, and, if it came to it, pull guns seemed to have mastered the streets. But their knowledge peaked at seventeen, when they ventured out of their parents’ homes and discovered that America had guns and cousins, too. I same their futures in the tired faces of mothers dragging themselves onto the 28 bus, swatting and cursing at three-year-olds; I saw their futures in the men out on the corner yelling obscenely at some young girl because she would not smile.  Some of them stood outside liquor stores waiting on a few dollars for a bottle.  We would hand them a twenty and tell them to keep the change.  They would dash inside and return with Red Bull, Mad Dog, or Cisco.  Then we would walk to the house of someone whose mother worked nights, play ‘Fuck The Police,’ and drink to our youth.  We could not get out.”

Coates rejected religion early on, and he was put off by the way school presented the Civil Rights Movement, which he was shown as “a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera.”  Coates eschews the American narrative of progress, which President Obama often extolls, where each generation moves closer to justice through universal enlightenment.  Instead, Coates sees the moves toward justice as hard fought radical breaks with the American ideal, not a realization of it.  Blaming the oppressed, “a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by criminal irresponsibility.  The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration.  Mistakes were made.  Bodies were broken.  People were enslaved.  We meant well.  We tried our best. ‘Good intentions’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

The middle section of the book is an homage to “The Mecca,” that is, Howard University, the historically black college in Washington D.C., and Coates pays tribute to the school, its people and his formation of a political consciousness and meditations on race:

‘“White America’ is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies.  Sometimes this power is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining).  But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it ‘white people’ would cease to exist for want of reasons.  There will surely always be people with straight hair and blue eyes, as there have been for all history.  But some of these same straight-haired people with blue eyes have been ‘black,’ and this points to the great difference between their world and ours.  We did not choose our fences.  They were imposed on us by Virginia planters obsessed with enslaving as many Americans as possible.  They are the ones who came up with the one-drop rule that separated ‘white’ from ‘black,’ even if it meant that their own blue-eyed sons would live under the lash.  The result is a people, black people, who embody all physical varieties and whose life stories mirror their physical range.  Through The Mecca I saw that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself.”

To novelist Saul Bellow’s quip “who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?,” Coates, through his reading, found a reply from Robert Wiley, “Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus,” wrote Wiley. “Unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership.”

The reader feels a sense of desperation or longing in Coates’s voice.  Perhaps he realizes that his son is going to have to experience all of these things, this intellectual realization and coming to consciousness, for himself, yet he wants to try and instill it in his son anyway, ahead of time.  He wants to give his son Samori a small manifesto to remember where he came from, that he belongs to a people “born out of mass rape.”  Coates humanizes this abstraction in one of his most poignant passages:

“I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past.  Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh.  It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.  ‘Slavery’ is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved.  She can hope for more.  She can imagine some future for her grandchildren.  But when she dies, the world – which is really the only world she can ever know – ends.  For this woman, enslavement is not a parable.  It is damnation.  It is the never-ending night.  And the length of that night is most of our history.  Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free.  Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains – whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.”

The rest of the book revolves loosely around a formative event: the murder by the Prince George’s County Police in Maryland of the promising young black scholar, Prince Carmen Jones, of Howard University.  This marred Coates and solidified his views.  “My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box.”

In this book there is no policy solution, no prescription and no answers, as comes out so clearly in Coates’s essays and articles.  He is trying to provide these lessons to his relatively privileged son while simultaneously protecting him from it, and one senses that anxiety and tension.  He is ashamed for teaching Samori caution instead of ownership, as with that young boy on the tricycle, but he wants him to understand why he chose this path.  To Samori this slim, 150-page book must weigh about a ton.  For the reader, one may read this book and feel depressed, or one may feel angry, and anger can be a good start.

For Tsarnaev, neither death nor solitary perfect justice

Telegraph Tsarnaev

(Photo – telegraph.co.uk)

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s got it wrong when she suggested that, in the wake of sentencing, our thoughts will turn away from the Tsarnarev’s forever. Nor is the moral debate settled in favor of the death penalty, as she suggested. The question of a just punishment persists. For now, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will live on in solitary confinement. Decades of research show that this often dislodges the personality and reduces a person to uncomprehending stupefaction. At worst, the isolated person floods his cell, self mutilates and eats his own feces. He becomes less than human. The American prison was once conceived as a reformatory where a person would be forced to sit in quiet contemplation, face to face and naked before his crime. For Tsarnaev, 19 at the time, this would mean grasping the enormity of his horror. Reduced to something less than human, this will not come to pass. The “death qualified” jury felt the state’s most severe retribution appropriate. The desire for revenge is understandable and often justified. But if neither a swift death nor a sustained destruction of the mind is ideal, our anger ought to be redirected toward developing a new form of justice.

Fed. Defenders Deserve Highest Praise In Marathon Case

The New York Times’ recent coverage of the Dzhokhar Tsarneav trial went a little off the rails the week before last. Zachary Lown submitted a letter to the editor in response which did not make it to print but is provided here:

The federal defenders representing Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserve our utmost praise, not opprobrium. They are not defending his right to commit the horrific crimes of which he is accused, they are defending a system based on constitutional rule and a fair process. Zealous advocacy is not only justified by the right to a defense; having fierce legal adversaries on either side is believed to be the best way to get to the truth. Yet the Time’s otherwise stellar legal reporting almost paints Tsarnaev’s lawyers as villains (Marathon Bombing Suspect Waits in Isolation, April 14). They are described as filing “repeated demands” for prosecutor’s files and obsessing over “legal minutiae.” But access to information is vital and court battles are often waged on procedural grounds. In other words, they’re doing their job. Public defenders accept paltry wages to do the crucial work of standing between an ordinary citizen and the state. The extreme nature of this case shouldn’t blind us to this fact: we need them to uphold our ideals and make the system work.