In 1982, the late scholar James Q. Wilson published "The Broken Windows Theory," that he conceived as a new way to controlling crime. Wilson believed that order in a neighborhood could be maintained by the prosecution of minor violations which would curtail more severe crime later. This broken windows policing, critics say, leads to police violence against black and brown men. Because of the deaths of an unarmed 18-year-old black male gunned down in Ferguson, Mo., an unarmed black man that died in a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y. when he resisted arrest, and a 12-year-old black boy armed with a toy gun who was arbitrarily shot to death by the police in Cleveland, Ohio, many Americans have finally become aware that they live in a violent culture, at least in the treatment of black and brown men by the police.
What is the cause of this rampant police brutality against men of color? Incidents so uncivilized that the criticism seems justified when one considers that trivial violations led to the violence. Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Mo. for ignoring a police officer’s command to stop walking in the middle of the street. Eric Gardner died on a Staten Island, N.Y. street protesting his arrest by the police for selling cigarettes without a permit - a misdemeanor. However, the problem of police violence against black men will not be resolved simply by ignoring the enforcement of petty offenses. There is no acceptable justification for this violent police conduct, although many would like to believe just the opposite, finding mitigating flaws in police rules and procedures. A common target of criticism is the so-called “broken windows” policing policies.
The futility of that approach, not too long ago, was demonstrated by New York police after a mentally ill man shot and killed two of their fellow officers. During the funeral services for the slain officers, some policemen disrespected the Mayor by turning their backs during his remarks. The officers felt the mayor had shown too much sympathy to protesters of police violence. Mayor Bill de Blasio, the father of a bi-racial son and daughter, once said he, like many other parents of black and brown children, was concerned for the safety of his son should he be confronted by the police.
According to the New York Times, there has been a precipitous decline in the issuance of summonses by the police for public drinking, public urination and parking violations, as well as drug arrests. Nonetheless, there has been no demonstration of a reduction in the conflict between the police and black men.
Residents of urban neighborhoods will not likely feel closer to the police when their quality of life deteriorates because of police recalcitrance. The broken windows strategy works better when there already is a good relationship between the police and the community.
The police are public servants. Citizens with wealth and status in society will not tolerate abusive police behavior. The police understand that, so their conduct is respectful and professional. A major deviation from that standard will result in their dismissal.
The real objective of police reform is to establish that same standard of police conduct in low-income neighborhoods. Community policing is designed to establish an almost collegial relationship between the citizens and the police. The addition of body cameras has been shown to reduce excessive police force.
Americans must now be willing to adopt imaginative programs to end the police victimization of black and brown men.
Ed James II is the host of Black Almanac