In New York in the mid-90’s a new theory of criminology arose known as “Broken Windows Policing”. The term was first used in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an article in The Atlantic (Childress). The theory centered around the idea that having lower rates of physical decay and small offense crimes would in turn reduce the rates of severe violent crime. In order to implement this, areas with high rates of crime were assigned foot patrol officers who would make arrests for every petty crime they came across such as fare evasion and vandalism. Since this was only implemented in low income areas mainly populated by people of color, minorities were greatly disadvantaged by this new system of policing, from the arrest, to the court date, to the aftermath. Because of this, Broken Windows Policing has created a toxic crime culture for poor people of color ever since its implementation.
One of the main criticisms of this system of policing is that it is implicitly biased against people of color. In a study conducted by the ACLU in Minneapolis 一 one of the cities that Broken Windows Policing has been implemented in 一 black citizens are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested than white people, while Native Americans are 8.6 times more likely. In New York this racial bias was also present in the implementation of “Stop and Frisk” policy, an extension of Bill Bratton’s, New York police commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, use of Broken Windows Policing (Goel). As recorded by New York’s police, between 2008 and 2012, 80% of Stop and Frisk incidents for the suspected presence of a weapon were of black or Hispanic suspects; additionally, the white recorded demographic were 3 times as likely to actually be actually found with a weapon (Goel). Plenty of the low level violations that people were stopped for are outdated institutions that can be used as legal excuses for racism, such as Lurking and Spitting ordinances. These petty arrests have even resulted in deaths; in 2014 a police chokehold resulted in the death of black New York resident Eric Garner during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes on a street corner (Childress).
In addition to the arrests themselves, the repercussions of one of these arrests can be incredibly severe. It can be a serious restriction on liberty even if it doesn’t end in a conviction. Hennepin County judge Kevin Burk has said that even a low level arrest “can end up taking somebody who just got a job at Taco Bell and have him fired because they missed work because they were in jail for driving after a suspension case” (ACLU). This can snowball if, for example, because of this you can no longer pay for things such as child support or alimony. Failure to pay these can result in harassment by the county attorney’s office. Another example is if you’re given a court date but can’t leave work or can’t find child care and miss your court date, a warrant will be put out for your arrest. This can exacerbate the entire situation and create a vicious cycle of criminalization that plagues poor communities.
If you can make your court date, prepare to be welcomed by mandated placement in supervision programs or parole. These supervision programs are funded almost completely by fees charged to those being supervised (Ruhland). These fees can reach up to tens of thousands of dollars, making it unaffordable to many people. Although technically there is a constitutional clause in many states that says you cannot incarcerate the poor for being unable to pay these fees, this only applies to those in the worst of the worst financial situations (Ruhland). Otherwise you are required to meet these payments, even if it means taking out loans, at the threat of incarceration. The fees are so large, probation offices have even been accused of taking advantage of the poor. Since such a large amount of low level arrests are of poor people of color, this naturally can be viewed as another system of oppression put in place by Broken Windows Policing.
Although it often seems hopeless in the struggle for a law enforcement system unaffected by the race or class of the communities they police, we are always making progress. Last year, the ACLU in Minnesota swayed the Minneapolis City Council to abolish its longstanding Lurking and Spitting ordinances. Broken Windows Policing has always been a faulty system that disproportionately disadvantages the lower class and people of color. There are plenty of outdated ordinances and laws that we can eliminate through local action. It is important that we as citizens we must speak up against Broken Windows Policing and the racist institutions it incurs.