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Broken Windows Protestors Removed from City Council Hearing

Nick Malinowski Jan 28, 2015

A dozen protestors were thrown out of a City Council Public Safety Committee hearing on Monday for disrupting the meeting with a demand that the Council hold comprehensive hearings on “broken windows” policing practices.

The committee’s chairwoman Vanessa Gibson ordered the removal of the protestors, some of whom wore black tape over their mouths while others chanted: "elected officials you think it's a joke, wait until it's time to vote” and “broken windows has got to go.”

Councilwoman Gibson (D-Bronx) did not respond to requests for comment. 

Following the removal of the protestors the Council continued its stated business on indigent legal services, at which eleven people testified to a mostly empty chamber.

In September, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito promised hearings on broken windows, a controversial set of policing practices championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. She later told the New York Observer that she was not especially familiar with the historical roots and sociological underpinnings of the practices even as they form the ideological bedrock of much of what the NYPD does.

The term “broken windows” was coined following a 1982 magazine article by current NYPD consultant George Kelling and a colleague. They described the idea that a single broken window in a building left unrepaired would lead to more broken windows. Bratton’s take on this idea was that massive amounts of arrests for low-level infractions would reduce serious crimes like murder.

The outcome of these ideas was the proliferation of Stop and Frisk, as well as the arrest of an almost unbelievable number of low-income people of color for minor infractions and an even higher number of summonses.  Each year in New York City, there are roughly 350,000 arrests and 450,000 summonses issued. (Equaling roughly the entire population of New York City in just the past ten years.) In 2013, just 14 percent of those arrests and summonses related to felony crimes – that is 49,000 of the 800,000 total. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested for minor infractions are people of color.

While Bratton credits broken windows for crime declines in New York City, there is no academic research to support his claim and jurisdictions that have not utilized the practice have benefited from similar declines. Opponents argue that the policy is largely responsible for the vast racial disparities apparent in the criminal justice system, police quotas and an occupational-style of policing in poor communities.

Some see the City Council as intentionally avoiding the issue. At an NYPD oversight hearing in September, Council Member Robert Cornegy (D-Brooklyn) called the practice the “5,000-pound elephant in the room,” in apparent dismay that none of his colleagues had broached the subject.

Momentum seemed to be heading towards a public debate of the topic as elected city officials joined rallies and protests about police brutality during the fall. Following the shooting death of two officers at the end of December, however, the council abruptly rolled back any previous critiques of the NYPD and now appear disinclined to take up any issue that could paint them as anything but ardent supporters of the police.

 "City councilmembers, who disingenuously walked out of hearings (only to walk back in) and performed die-ins after the Garner case indictment news broke, need to be held accountable for their hand-sitting and general silence,” said Josmar Trujillo, one of the protestors. “Those who railed against, and even campaigned on a message opposing, Bloomberg era policing, won't stand up to a pro-Broken Windows Mayor who sentenced New Yorkers to a continuation of mass arrests and summons when he brought back Bratton."


Credit for video: Dennis Flores, El Grito de Sunset Park

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