The New York Times put out a head-scratching editorial this week. In a seeming rush to defend Mayor De Blasio, the target of back-turning mini-protests by members of the NYPD, the editorial board railed against the apparent cop slowdown that has led to two weeks of reported declines in low-level crime arrests and summonses. They even suggested that the Department of Justice possibly step in to get cops back to the normal business of mass arrests and summonses:
"He should invite the Justice Department to determine if the police are guilty of civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities."
But didn't the Times editorialize against broken windows policing ("Broken Windows, Broken Lives"), the focus on low-level crime, just this past summer? The cruel irony of suggesting the DOJ's civil rights division should intervene to reinstate business-as-usual racist policing in communities of color is beyond words but, perhaps, not surprising.
That less arrests and summonses in our city are deemed "madness" and "dangerous" by the Times should serve as a stark reminder for policing activists of our hot and cold relationship with liberals. While research and data point to a broken windows ideology that is as racist as it is unproven, fair weather friends who are at their core more concerned with "social order" than social justice, are scared to death of less policing. Let's not forget that liberals, urban liberals in particular, who can intellectualize racist systems won't necessarily be down to deconstruct them.
Case in point Michael Powell, a well-liked left-of-center columnist for the Times. He tweeted that he tried goading two cops in Brooklyn to resume writing parking tickets. "Do your jobs," he chided them. There were tickets to write, people to fine! As author Ethan Brown remarked, how long before we start asking cops to get guys for, say, selling loosies? Oh wait.
The legacy of "broken windows" looms large in our society. The implication that cops stand between us and chaos isn't only a Bratton talking point -- people believe it. The mainstream civil rights establishment wasn't too fond of any departure from the status quo either. A few weeks after the chokehold death of Eric Garner last summer, Rev. Al Sharpton, flanked by 1199 boss George Gresham and NYCLU head Donna Lieberman, criticized early murmurings about an NYPD slowdown.
The common thread there was, of course, the rarely-challenged belief that an uninterrupted NYPD equates to 'safety' -- and who doesn't want that? But the cops haven't, and won't, stop chasing armed robbers and murderers. They've stopped the municipal revenue stream of parking tickets. They've stopped harassing homeless people. A cop that called into WNYC this week suggested they're simply not filling out paperwork like before.
Now this is not to say that activists should look to police unions or the NYPD's rank and file, who've made a decision (at least temporarily) to take their feet off the "broken windows" gas pedal, for allies. But clearly our lot isn't with the Times or Sharpton and co either. If the rank and file is essentially saying that broken windows policing produced 'unnecessary arrests', we might actually, like when the unions speak out against quotas (though there's this), be inclined to agree.
These are historic times. None of us, however, should be defending this mayor, a loyal defender of "broken windows." We should continue to loudly assert ourselves and our positions. While we maintain the independence we showed when we continued to march despite the mayor and governor's insistences we stop, we also can't afford to be spectators to a partisan soap opera in city politics right now. We don't want to go back to the status quo. If cops are willing to give us a momentary vision of what less low-level arrests and summonses might look like, we should push to make it permanent. The size and budget of the NYPD should be reduced dramatically and those resources reinvested into our high-poverty communities. We should be demanding things like community control and all strategies that are too radical for the political establishment but completely sensible to those communities most affected by over-policing.
Now is the perfect time to reject the policing protection racket by not blinking when it loosens its grip.