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Activists rally against ‘broken windows’

Stephon Johnson | 12/19/2014, 4:04 p.m.
Activists have taken the city by storm the past few weeks protesting the lack of indictment of NYPD police officer ...
NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton

Activists have taken the city by storm the past few weeks protesting the lack of indictment of NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner. While many have focused on police brutality and police violence, the organization Picture the Homeless has called out the “broken windows” policy that the New York Police Department has used as a model for 20 years. Specifically, they called out a think tank that has been one of the policy’s biggest advocates.

On a wet, damp, cold evening, members of Picture the Homeless gathered in front of the Manhattan Institute’s headquarters at 52 Vanderbilt Ave. near Grand Central Station to protest “broken windows” and also challenged the organization to a debate about the policy.

“We can go on with a long list of improper practices NYPD engages in and moves the department made to pacify our communities when we become visibly enraged by them,” said Picture the Homeless board member Williams Burnett. “The department merely switches tactics to continue to achieve the same objectives ... objectives which violate the civil rights and, at times, the life or freedom of people of color and of the poor.”

Introduced by current Police Commissioner William Bratton 20 years ago, when he was police commissioner under then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the “broken windows”-style of policing aggressively goes after minor crimes in to possible major crimes. According to members of Picture the Homeless, a lot of the aggressive policing unfairly targeted Black, Latino and homeless New Yorkers.

“We are here today to tell the Manhattan Institute that we New Yorkers of good will, who truly believe in our cherished American credo, will not be thrown back into the Dred Scott era,” said Picture the Homeless member Jean Rice.

“I’m protesting because I’m a person of color, and I don’t appreciate the way people behind the scenes get to pick and choose when and how I have rights,” added Picture the Homeless member Darlene Bryant.

George Kelling, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and James Q. Wilson co-authored the thesis that eventually became a way of policing in the early 1980s. Instead of simply reacting to crime, Kelling and Wilson said that the police should get out of their cars, get into the neighborhoods and work with citizens and local civic organizations to help prevent crime.

Burnett said that he didn’t really want to call it the “broken windows” theory anymore. He wanted to call it the “No People, No Problem” theory to get at, what he feels, is the essence of the philosophy: the belief that the presence of certain people in neighborhoods increases crime.

“To be fair to the theory’s authors, they did refer to behaviors and conditions,” said Burnett. “But when you look at what behaviors and conditions they identified, you come to the conclusion they meant people. ‘So you don’t want crime? Get rid of people.’ That sounds effective enough. You can’t have criminals if you don’t have people. No people? No problem.”