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Somewhere in the not too distant past, a theory of policing was advanced called the "Broken Windows" theory which basically posited that stopping small crimes would halt the advancement of petty criminals into bigger crimes and larger felonies. The Broken Windows policy has an evil twin it pals around with - Zero Tolerance

We have now moved well beyond the theoretical phase and have actually had a chance to see how these conservative set pieces have eroded society as opposed to strengthening it.  

Embedded within the theory of both Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance is a belief that todays jaywalker is tomorrows mass murderer. Wouldn't it be great if life really were that simple?

What if today's jaywalker is simply tomorrow's jaywalker? How much have we helped society or the jaywalker if we arrest him/her and then add "resisting" to the charge sheet when they ask "You're kidding, right?"

How much have we helped society or the jaywalker when we put the jaywalker into a choke hold and then inadvertently or carelessly kill them?

Assuming the jaywalker has managed to escape with their life and simply has to deal with the misdemeanor jaywalking and the escalated felony of resistance, how have we helped either them or society when they now can no longer go to the school they were enrolled in or get the job or security clearance they had hoped for? How have we helped them or society when we have now made it close to impossible for them to have anything other than a life of menial jobs and more potential run-ins with the law, now that they have a record?

How is it that such a disproportionate number of jaywalkers are minorities?

We have practically created a municipal police factory system which creates human cogs everyday to populate a permanently poor, nihilist segment of society with no hope and no belief in a just society. What reason have we given them to believe in such a thing?

Why are we then surprised when our cities and towns are filled with unemployed jaywalkers with no future who may in fact turn to drugs and crime as a result of our denying them the alternative of a happy and productive life because they were so foolish as to have jaywalked, or to have sold individual cigarettes or not to have moved quickly enough? Or name any one of the thousands of other petty nuisances which are now construed to be serious enough to ruin lives and fill jails for - because Broken Windows.

Broken Windows and its malevolent twin Zero Tolerance are robbing our society of the concepts of proportion and judgement and mercy and plain old common sense and we are all paying the price daily.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 01:41:55 PM PDT

  •  Right on target! (7+ / 0-)

    This is the root of many of our societal ills today.

    One solution would be to eliminate the "record". Once you have served your time, you have paid your "debt to society" and no further punishment is warranted. The record should be erased and employment discrimination prohibited. This is the only way offenders can re-enter society and become productive citizens.

    And that's the REAL goal, isn't it? Rehabilitation? Do we really want a lifetime of punishment for a broken window?

    •  There is another componant which is that a (8+ / 0-)

      privatized for profit prison industry actually needs "cogs" to fill the beds and make their bucks. The "cogs" also make the Prison Labor system work, where they are utilized at slave labor wages which widens the margins and boosts profits.

      We went down a very very wrong and bad path when we began privatizing parts of the justice system - if that isn't a function of government, I don't know what is.

      “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

      by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 02:00:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  this nation was founded by puritans. (4+ / 0-)

      they hated the sin, they hated the sinner.  there is no thought truly propagated in this country that encompasses the belief in rehabilitation.  this country was founded on punishment, shunning, and treating other races of people as being sub human.  there is no rehabilitation going on in our prisons, only rape and terror, forced isolation leading to mental illness that will be left untreated, humiliation and hopelessness.  don't fool yourself, it is planned this way to keep control of the people they lost ownership of.  if those in control can get as many children into the system as possible as early as possible for as long as possible, there will be a never ending supply of cannon fodder, slave wage workers, and prisoners to keep the cycle running.  there is no money to be made in the cure of rehabilitation, only in continuing the disease of retribution.

      "I am an old woman, named after my mother. my old man is another child who's grown old." John Prine (not an old woman)

      by art ah zen on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 02:01:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Effective "broken windows" approaches (6+ / 0-)

    The assumption isn't that today's jaywalker is tomorrow's mass murderer (and I know, you were exaggerating for effect); it is that today's graffiti artist creates an environment that is more "welcoming" to the pan handlers, who help create an atmosphere welcoming to the drug dealers, and etc. There is something to be said for that. But what also needs to be said is that an effective "broken windows" approach needs to involve more than just the police. It needs to address actual broken windows. So code enforcement needs to be involved. And broken streetlights, so that department needs to effect repairs. And trash pick up and litter, so those guys need to be part of the effort. And cracked pavement, so street dept. needs to do their thing. Etc.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 02:31:10 PM PDT

    •  I know that there is a environmental component (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe

      to Broken windows that makes sense - crappy environments are conducive to crappy lives and crappy choices and are fertile grounds for crime.

      That is the zoning ingredient that you speak of.

      But, it is my belief that idea morphed into the version of which I speak which believes that small crimes are the precursor to larger crimes - the kid who breaks a window with impunity will move along to breaking heads or breaking into banks. The jaywalker will desire a bigger thrill than jaywalking and the next thing you know it's urinating in public and then onto drug running and bank robbery which could have all been avoided had we caught them at the jaywalking stage.

      This ties into the stories written recently about  little black and brown boys being suspended more frequently, because the imbedded, secret desire of (white) society is to teach them to FEAR THE LAW and to be OBEDIENT at an early age. If we fail to suppress and terrify them at four or five, then we have to move along and suppress and terrify them at fifteen or sixteen or eighteen. After that, well, it appears to be pretty much open season once we lose the "juvenile" descriptive and the sympathies it draws forth from the bystander press.

      This is wrong, it is our national shame and the inequitable disbursement of "justice" in our modern times is starting to rank right up there with the slavery sin of our forefathers. It might even be worse because it is all accomplished through the misapplication of the levers of the policing and judicial system.

      “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

      by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 05:45:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's ever thus (0+ / 0-)

        An effective comprehensive approach gets boiled down to one component, and then that component is beaten to death with no apparent recognition that the effort or funding for the rest was an integral part of the effectiveness.

        “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

        by Catte Nappe on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 06:29:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  criminology: opportunism vs. "culture of crime" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib

    Criminology basically breaks down along the question of whether criminals are fundamentally opportunistic or are deeply motivated from within, and "broken windows" and "zero tolerance" each follow logically from these basic assumptions. The opportunists have to be rigorously and systematically denied the opportunity necessary to motivate them to commit crimes, which invites pervasive "security" infrastructure, including a large and visible police presence.  Persons steeped in a culture that permits or even celebrates criminality are regarded as meriting not only all the anti-opportunist measures, but also highly aggressive "search and destroy" policing and strict sentencing guidelines, because they cannot be discouraged from outside because their motives are not from outside.

    Rehabilitation vs. punishment are not strictly opposites, because punishment has always been seen as a corrective mechanism, if not for the victim of punishment, then for anyone else who might be getting ideas.  You parents spanked you or put you on timeout in the hope that you would not re-offend, and odds are they were successful.

    The real danger is slouching towards ever more applications of "compensatory" justice - "eye for an eye", fines and "blood money" (that the rich can abuse horribly), feuds, etc. - or towards the total removal of nonconforming persons: shunning, exile, death, etc.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 02:33:56 PM PDT

  •  This line of thought.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoebe Loosinhouse

    ....is all very old. In China 2500 years ago there was a school of thought whose name is usually translated "Legalists" (Fajia). The Legalists believed that deterrence was in direct proportion to the severity of the punishment, double the punishment, halve the number of crimes. They thus suggested that even small crimes be punished by death, which was believed to ensure that these crimes would never be committed. Who would risk their lives for petty theft? It would also deter small criminals, so preventing them developing into major offenders. And this would be the most humane solution to the problem of crime, the Legalists argued, since if everyone was terrified of even the tiniest step towards criminal behavior, no one would offend and thus no one would have to be punished. QED! This was called "using punishment to eliminate punishment."

    Didn't work out, of course. The state and later empire of Qin (221 - 206 BCE) was run on partially Legalist lines, though their code of laws, rediscovered in part in modern times, was far more nuanced than a simple "off with their heads!" (For instance, Qin legal documents contain some of the earliest doubts about the use of torture in interrogation, advising magistrates to avoid it, since "when there is fear, everything is spoiled.") Still, when the dynasty was near collapse under the rule of its inept second emperor, they went back to severe and unsubtle punishment, for instance decreeing death for anyone who was late bringing conscripts in, no matter what the reason. A group led by a minor official, Liu Bang, was delayed by a rainstorm, and when it became clear they would be late, Liu Bang thought the situation over and asked the others, "Would you rather get killed by an executioner, or get killed trying to win an empire?" A few years and a civil war later, Liu Bang became the first emperor of the four hundred year long Han dynasty.

    This is the landscape that we understand, -
    And till the principle of things takes root,
    How shall examples move us from our calm?

    (Mary Oliver, "Beyond the Snow Belt.")

    by sagesource on Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 09:07:07 PM PDT

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