Broken Windows: Past and Present New York City as we know it is a changing and developing landscape. Within the last 20 to 25 years, increased levels of gentrification have rendered many neighborhoods unrecognizable, leaving whole communities displaced and disenfranchised. The ease with which such activity has been allowed to take place, is due in part to the groundwork laid by Order Maintenance Policing (OMP) of the 1990s, a tactic rooted in Broken Windows theory. Broken Windows, the theory behind the practice itself, was pioneered by social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson in 1982. As I will later explore, Alex S. Vitale and Brian Jordan Jefferson analyze Kelling and Wilson’s theory as being rooted in the skepticism that poor people are unable to regulate their own behavior in a post Jim Crow Society (Camp and Heatherton, 2016). Broken Windows fueled tactics created a New York City which was not only far more sterilized than its former self, but was also far more of a surveillance state. In essence, these policing tactics prioritized the interests and livelihoods of white and wealthy New Yorkers, thereby making the city easily accessible to agents of gentrification. Simultaneously, these policing practices aimed to create a hostile environment for already marginalized New Yorkers, such as people of color, youth, low income and poor individuals, houseless people, immigrants and the undocumented, LGBTQ communities, and sex workers (Camp and Heatheron, 2016).
In 1993, New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton implemented OMP, a practice which sought to target minor “quality of life” offenses, often through using the tactic of Stop and Frisk. Fagan et al’s “Street Stops and Broken Windows Revisited: The Demography and Logic of Proactive Policing in a Safe and Changing City,” explores the ideology behind Bratton and the NYPD’s policing tactics of the 1990s, and their negative effects on predominantly low income, Black and brown communities and individuals. According to Fagan et al., the aim of these tactics was to “‘re-claim the streets’ by systematically and aggressively enforcing laws against low-level social disorder: graffiti, aggressive panhandling, fare beating, public drunkenness, unlicensed vending, public drinking, public urination, and other misdemeanor offenses” (Fagan et.al, 2016: 310). However, as the chapter later explores, indicators of “disorder” were, (and continue to be, as I will later explore) largely informed by race, poverty, and their intersections. Instead, research has shown that “...street stops in New York were predicted not by disorder but by race and poverty, despite policing theories that emphasized disorder as a pathway to elevated crime” (Fagan et.al, 2016: 313). Further, the chapter explains that even after crime rates sharply declined, these policing tactics steadily remained, at the expense of Black and brown livelihoods (Fagan et al., 2016).
Jordan D. Camp and Christina Heatherton’s 2016 Policing the Planet: Why The Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter provides a wealth of information on both the evolution of policing tactics that are rooted in Broken Windows theory, and of their effects on communities throughout New York and other cities. In Vitale and Jeffersons’ chapter, “The Emergence of Command and Control Policing in Neoliberal New York,” they chronicle the transformation of these policing tactics through several mayoral terms, from the late 1980s until the 2010s. Fundamental to my research, is their analysis of the shift from incarceration to invasive policing as the primary tool of social control in New York City. While rates of incarceration in both the city and the state of New York decreased throughout the 90s and into the 2010s, “subtle but invasive policing,” as well as heightened surveillance increased the contact of individuals with police and the criminal justice system overall. It was through this shift that “the intense regulation of low-income communities of color [became] prisonlike spaces themselves” (Camp and Heatherton, 2016: 133). Further, Vitale and Jefferson analyze the role of Command and Control policing in a post 9/11 New York. Pertinent to my research is the drastic increase of surveillance throughout the five boroughs through the use of CCTV cameras, the merging of transit and housing authority police with the NYPD, and “intensive and invasive” protest policing. Lastly, Vitale and Jefferson also briefly touch upon Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vows to reform Stop and Frisk practices during his mayoral election in 2013, which prove significant in the persistence of the practices (and other Broken Windows tactics) into 2019, particularly following fare evasion enforcement, and treatment of protestors (Camp and Heatherton, 2016).
Midway through 2019, an alarm sounded for many New Yorkers when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $17 billion would be allocated to placing 500 plainclothes NYPD officers in New York’s subways and buses to “step up” fare evasion enforcement. Aside from increased levels of fare evasion in the subway, Cuomo stated that his motives were also in response to a “dramatic increase in crime,” though New York Times cited that while “some individual categories of crime [were] up [in 2019], the overall number of major felonies on the subway [was] actually down” (Fitzsimmons, 2019). In the same article, the Times also cited that while crime was down, homelessness in the subway was up 20% from the previous year, referring to a report from the MTA’s task force on homelessness. The Times reflected on the MTA’s report, stating that proposed solutions were to “enforce rules about not sleeping or panhandling,” on MTA property, while “[helping] with outreach to access shelters.” As outlined by Fagan et al., and Camp and Heatherton’s research, enforcement as a solution to homelessness is a key tactic of Broken Windows theory (Fitzsimmons 2019, NYPD 2019, New York State and MTA 2019).
Though Cuomo’s briefing assured the public that “the focused enforcement [had] two main objectives: to maximize fare collection and to ensure that enforcement does not target any specific demographic,” the plan to target “quality of life” offenses was all too reminiscent of its racist and classist roots (governor.ny.gov, 2019). Many reporters and individuals took to social media and news outlets, calling to question the validity of such spending on police, surveillance cameras, and anti fare evasion ad campaigns when fares were rising, trains were unprecedentedly delayed, and most stations remained ADA inaccessible. Reports occurred in outlets like New York Daily News, The City, Socialist Alternative NYC, and Vox, often embedding tweets from outraged commuters. Some of these reports revealed that the ad campaigns, which aimed to deter and threaten fare beaters, cost upwards of $40 million alone (governor.ny.gov 2019, Guse 2019, Nguyen 2019, Martinez 2019, Pinsky 2019).
Despite stated intention, Cuomo’s plan indeed proved itself to be detrimental to the livelihoods of commuters of color, before the new officers themselves had even been deployed. In line with OMP and Command and Control tactics, youth of color and vendors in particular were targeted by the NYPD. Once again, many local news outlets, organizations, and individuals reported in newspapers and through social media incidents of police violence that occurred in response to fare evasion and other “quality of life” offenses on MTA property. New York Times, Washington Post, and Gothamist, reported on many of these incidents in the latter half of 2019. Gothamist reported on NYPD officers assaulting teenagers and arresting vendors in subway stations throughout the city, pulling videos and commentary from social media. Washington Post reported one particular incident in which NYPD officers had pulled a gun on a Black teenager on a crowded afternoon train, for neglecting to pay his fare. Police suspected the teen had a gun of his own-- he did not, but was arrested for “theft of services” (Shepherd, 2019). One New York Times article reported the existence of arrest quotas following these incidents of violence, revealing the falsehood of Cuomo’s race neutral intentions. Indeed, NYPD officers had for years been instructed to target Black and Latinx people for “low level offenses,” in order to fill arrest quotas (Opam, 2019). These incidents following Cuomo’s plan were no different. New York Times also noted that officers were not instructed to target whites and Asians in the same manner. It was these events that served as the catalyst for immense community response, taking form in the FTP protests which are the central point of this research. These events additionally served to distract from more pressing infrastructural problems with the MTA (Offenhartz 2019, Opam 2019, Robbins 2019, Shepherd 2019).