Broken Windows Policing Breaks Lives Apart

We will continue our organizing efforts against the Business Improvement Districts and anyone who encourages police harassment and incarceration of poor and homeless people. We are not broken windows and we will continue to fight this violent system trying to break us until we are all free.

By Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

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The annual International Downtown Association conference, held this year at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco on September 30, was geared towards increasing business success in downtowns all over the United States and Canada, as well as policing, harassing and forcibly removing people deemed a “nuisance” from downtown centers.

George Kelling, the infamous originator of Broken Windows policing, helped open the conference with his workshop, “Broken Windows, Community Policing and Quality of Life Issues.” WRAP was there to help usher him into San Francisco.

As WRAP members from Portland, Denver and Los Angeles came into town, we mobilized to infiltrate and disrupt the IDA conference and George Kelling’s talk. While we intended to enter the conference room unnoticed and disrupt the workshop, we were spotted by security guards on our way in, due to the same racist, classist and violent policing strategies that we are fighting.

Though we could not enter the room, WRAP members took up space outside of the conference room with banners, chants and T-shirts that read, “We are not broken windows” and “Kelling you are killing us.” Organizers held down the disruption for about 15 minutes before exiting the building to join our comrades from POOR magazine who had organized a sister demonstration criticizing Broken Windows policing in front of the Marriott.

A source inside the workshop told WRAP that Kelling said, “they always find me,” in response to the disruption.

The next day, on October 1, WRAP members organized an alternative panel to the IDA conference called “Broken Windows and BID Business: How Big Businesses Use Broken Windows Policing to Gentrify and Exclude,” to teach our communities about Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).

With WRAP organizers Ibrahim Mubarak from Right 2 Survive, Benjamin Donlon from Denver Homeless Out Loud and JoJo Smith from Los Angeles Community Action Network, as well as allies Shayla Myers, Liz Brown and Sulaiman Hyatt, the panelists debunked Broken Windows policing and the ways that Business Improvement Districts terrorize street-based communities.

The panel brought out a large crowd and gathered lots of positive feedback. This is merely the beginning for WRAP and our organizing efforts against the Business Improvement Districts and anyone who encourages the policing, harassment and incarceration of poor and homeless people.

We continue to build our momentum for another year of the Homeless Bill of Rights with a message of dedication: We are not broken windows and we will continue to fight this violent system trying to break us until we are all free.


 

 WRAP panel On Broken Windows Policing, Sept 30, 2015. Right to left: Ibrahim Bilal Mubarak, Benjamin Donlon, Jojo Smith Photo by Jess Clarke

WRAP panel On Broken Windows Policing, Sept 30, 2015. Right to left: Ibrahim Bilal Mubarak, Benjamin Donlon, Jojo Smith
Photo by Jess Clarke

On the Origins of Broken Windows Policing

by Jess Clarke

Broken windows policing is a theory of law enforcement that concentrates on arresting people for low-level offenses such as loitering, vagrancy, sitting on sidewalks, sleeping on the streets, and littering, in order to create an atmosphere of propriety and order for residents and workers in business districts and downtown areas of cities.

Its original proponent was George Kelling, co-author of a 1982 article in the Atlantic where he laid out the case using a real-estate metaphor to provide justification for discriminatory law enforcement, directed at poor and homeless people and aimed at “quality of life” crimes.

Kelling wrote: “One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing…. If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.”

Using metaphorical reasoning and a series of anecdotes from Newark and Chicago, but backed up by almost no empirical evidence, Kelling comes to the conclusion that: “Serious street crime flourishes in areas in which disorderly behavior goes unchecked.”

Kelling spins a tale of the good old days when the police enforced community standards of middle-class respectability and all was right with the world. But beneath the surface rhetoric and the metaphorical reasoning, he isn’t all that shy about spelling out the real purposes — and targets — of this policing strategy that has been used against Blacks, Okies, homeless and disabled persons, and other undesirables.

“[T]he police in this earlier period assisted in that reassertion of authority by acting, sometimes violently, on behalf of the community. Young toughs were roughed up, people were arrested ‘on suspicion’ or for vagrancy, and prostitutes and petty thieves were routed. ‘Rights’ were something enjoyed by decent folk…”

Even at its origins, Kelling was well aware of who the victims of selective enforcement would be, but he frankly states that he just doesn’t care: “Arresting a single drunk or a single vagrant who has harmed no identifiable person seems unjust, and in a sense it is….”

He also acknowledges that his policy could easily result in lending the force of arms to the enforcement of prejudice.

Kelling writes:

“The concern about equity is more serious. We might agree that certain behavior makes one person more undesirable than another but how do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable? How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?”

His only answer to this very significant danger is to hold out the faint hope that somehow the selection and training of good police can make up for bad policy.

“We can offer no wholly satisfactory answer to this important question. We are not confident that there is a satisfactory answer except to hope that by their selection, training, and supervision, the police will be inculcated with a clear sense of the outer limit of their discretionary authority. That limit, roughly, is this — the police exist to help regulate behavior, not to maintain the racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood.”

It seems a very slim hope indeed that police will always remember, without fail, “the outer limit of their discretionary authority” while conducting police raids and street crackdowns.

Even in 1982, Kelling was concerned that the citizenry, and even the police brass, might not think that pouring police resources into driving “undesirables” out of a neighborhood would garner sufficient taxpayer support. His suggested solution was the use of private security forces. “One way to stretch limited police resources,” he wrote, is to “hire off-duty police officers for patrol work in their buildings.”

Broken windows policing is losing public support across the country and popular uprisings are bringing police under ever greater scrutiny.

So here we are today, when police hired by Business Improvement Districts and other property owners are on the front lines of a policing strategy that, by its original design, was premised on getting back to the good old days when “rights” were something enjoyed by “decent folk” — not by undesirable such as ourselves.

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

 

WRAP panel On Broken Windows Policing, Sept 30, 2015. Photo by Jess Clarke

WRAP panel On Broken Windows Policing, Sept 30, 2015. Photo by Jess Clarke

 

Broken Windows Action 9.30.15 from lisa alatorre on Vimeo.

Tony Robles reads the poem “Civic Center” at the BID/Broken Windows Break Lives Protest.

Podcast: Broken Windows and BID Business: How Big Businesses Use Broken Windows Policing to Gentrify and Exclude

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

Wrap protests International Downtown Association support of Broken Windows Policing

 

Highlights from the Panel Discussion
Edited by Jess Clarke

Business Improvement Districts and business associations such as the Chamber of Commerce are very powerful lobbies that advocate the criminalization of homelessness and the use of police power to maintain the core fabric of racial and economic segregation in many cities across the United States.

Real estate owners, developers and large retail businesses are the biggest beneficiaries of the “Broken Windows Policing” and “Stop and Frisk” approaches to maintaining order in public spaces. Segregation of the poor and people of color out of areas where property values are increasing or already high, is typically accompanied by methods of police enforcement that criminalize poor people of color’s very presence.

As police murders and abuse stir a popular movement for police accountability, corporate interests continue to preserve and expand their investments in urban centers by shifting police responsibility to private-public entities where corporate interests rule more directly. Business Improvement Districts are one such mechanism.

At a panel discussion organized by the Western Regional Advocacy Project speakers address the links business improvements districts increasing power in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and other cities to how policing is connected to racial and economic segregation, gentrification and mass incarceration. Excerpts from the remarks of the panelists are below. You can also read the complete transcript at www.thestreetspirit.net/brokenwindows-transcript

Liz Brown, San Francisco State University

George Kelling’s stance that he thought that it’s the application that’s been wrong, it’s not actually broken windows policing since it’s very clear that he’s actually lamenting a time when police could play the role of, as he puts it, “kicking ass” without the oversight of the court. So he’s actually lamenting a couple of changes that went on in the 60s and 70s that brought things like the 4th Amendment right to local citizens and the relationship between the police and local citizens.

Wilson and Kelling both point out that, in fact, broken windows is not meant to solve crime. It’s actually just meant to decrease people’s fear of people that they find disorderly, people that he identifies very explicitly as people who are not violent, people who are not criminals, but people who are loiterers, people who are gang members, people who are homeless.

The logic of broken windows is not meant to decrease crime. It’s not meant to make us safer, but it’s actually meant to exclude people that are dispossessed by a capitalist society, by a racist society, by a white supremacist society. So I found that very shocking. I also found it very shocking that it’s actually been used in any way to say that it should decrease crime when almost every single study that has been done of police, and this is actually cited in the Wilson and Kelling article, shows that, in fact, increasing police has no effect on crime.

There’s an excellent study of Kansas City that shows that when they divided up Kansas City into three different districts, they increased police in one, they decreased police in another, and they kept police the same, and none of those strategies had any effect on crime rate. So the turn towards police, the turn towards broken windows as a crime control measure is a fallacy in itself, and I think if you read “Broken Windows” it is doing exactly what it was intended to do, which is to harass the poor, which is to harass communities of color, and to create the cycle of incarceration that we see so present in American society.

Liz Brown is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice Studies at San Francisco State University and Director of the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement.


Benjamin Donlon, Denver Homeless Out Loud.

I got my start around homeless advocacy with Occupy Denver. … It’s destruction came about because of the BIDs, specifically one BID, the Downtown Denver Partnership which lobbied with prewritten legislation for a camping ordinance which they’d been trying to push for a long time but they finally had the momentum through Occupy in order to convince city council members to pass the ordinance. They passed it within a month and began harassing the homeless on a wide scale throughout the city.

Because they knew it could be challenged constitutionally, they use it as a homeless stop-and-frisk and they use it as a mechanism to essentially approach any homeless individual and then subsequently search them for warrants and check their pockets for contraband or whatever.

Unfortunately, the Downtown Denver Partnership continues to grow in strength and they currently hold a lot of weight and just recently funded—I think—every city council candidate that came into office this year. They all got funded by the developers and by the business alliances, so it’s a pretty big problem. They’re taking over the city. Ideally, we can do something to stop it.

Benjamin Donlon is an organizer with Denver Homeless Out Loud. He has been involved in the Right 2 Rest campaign as well as helping build tiny houses providing immediate shelter to homeless people in Denver.


Ibrahim Bilal Mubarak, Right 2 Survive, Portland, Oregon

After we became successful with many protests and demonstrations and direct actions, we started educating the houseless community on their constitutional, human, and civil rights on how to fight back because you cannot—I don’t care how hard you try—outdo God and stop the people from falling asleep—that’s a human right. You cannot stop people from using the restroom—that’s a human right. Each time a houseless person does that, they’ve been criminalized, so we have to educate our people, our community, our brothers and sisters on their rights and that’s why we go to different cities and states throughout this country consulting them on building rest areas, villages, and tent cities.

With this, bringing this in, that’s why we’re in a campaign with the Right to Rest Act deal. That’s unconstitutional by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in Article 25 that everybody deserves a right to rest or right to sleep, but this government and Business Districts have a God complex and they’re saying, “You can’t sleep because you don’t live in a house. You can’t use the restroom because you don’t live in a house.” That’s so absurd and ridiculous. As Mike Tyson said, “It’s ludicrous.”

So we got to come together and fight this form of discrimination, oppression, and repression, then let them know that we’re going to exercise our human right—it’s constitutional.

Ibrahim Bilal Mubarak helped found both Dignity Village and Right 2 Survive in Portland, Oregon. He is also a leader in Right 2 Dream Too, a non-profit organization which runs a space where people can rest or sleep safely and undisturbed. He is a long-time homeless rights activist.


JoJo Smith, Los Angeles Community Action Network

“One way we showed how to resist them (the BID security guards) is they would come and tell us that we had to take our tents down, and we would tell them, “Ya’ll do not own the sidewalk. We do not have to do that.”

We pay taxes for these streets and they try to take our streets from us, so we have to keep giving resistance and we’ve got to keep showing resistance. We got to show other communities what resistance looks like.”

JoJo Smith has been a member and organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network since 2011.


Shayla Myers, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles,

“Our clients made the strategic decision, to sue the Downtown Industrial District not as private actors but rather as government actors for violating the constitutional rights of the citizens of Skid Row.

For us, that’s a really, really important distinction because I think we’ve largely thought of business improvement districts as private actors who don’t have any authority under state law who are sort of out there operating on their own, but unfortunately the tragic reality is that they are operating with the permission, with the responsibility, and with the authority that’s given to them by the city of Los Angeles under state law. They’re operating with a different level of authority and, unfortunately, without the accountability of a state actor.

Under the constitutional principles, the constitution protects all of us, not against private people, but against the government. It protects us against the governments infringing on our constitutional rights. So by bringing this lawsuit against them as a government actor, we were able to say that the business improvement district was violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to be free having your property taken without due process, and to be able to stand up and say that business improvement districts can’t, on the one hand, get the benefit of the government collecting taxes, requiring property owners, like LA CAN, like the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, to pay into the processes, to pay into their actions, and at the same time to be able to say, ‘We’re just private. We don’t have any authority. We’re just operating like private citizens.'”

Shayla Myers is an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, focusing primarily on housing and civil rights, including the criminalization of homelessness. She is currently an attorney on Los Angeles Catholic Worker v. Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District, a lawsuit against a Business Improvement District in downtown LA, for its unlawful practices of taking homeless people’s personal possessions.


Sulaiman Hyatt

San Francisco used to be known as the most chocolate city west of the Mississippi. It was the blackest city west of the Mississippi. It used to be that way. I think we’re now down to four percent, but what’s interesting: one day I was actually looking through the minutes of the city council meeting. It’s interesting that The Fillmore actually has gone through several street-widening processes in which it was intended to disrupt the black economy that was there.

And this isn’t the first time, nor the last time, this was actually done. It was done in LA, it was done in Oakland, it was done in San Jose, it was done in Sacramento, and it was done in many places in California, in addition to many places across the nation. So it’s a very close familiarity, especially with black people, dealing with the city actually attacking the community and disrupting the economy.

…if we’re not actually examining race with the removal and the dispersal of black people then we’re not actually addressing the real solution to things.

What we do know, and I know I’m speaking to the choir here, is that the police function as a mechanism in society when you have a split between those who have and those who have not. They’ve always functioned this way. When you begin to couple this with mass incarceration, with the 2.4 million people inside, not even including those under monitoring right now, and then you also couple this with a criminal justice system that is intent on feeding these two entities, then you begin to understand the creation of these underclasses that are created: both people without homes, people who are impoverished, and as Michelle Alexander states in “The New Jim Crow,” a prison class of people who are perpetually in prison.

Sulaiman Hyatt from BlackLivesMatter Bay Area chapter is born and raised in the Bay Area and has been mentored by revolutionary elders including Yuri Kochiama.

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