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Mayor Bill deBlasio's Big Test: "Broken Windows; Broken System"

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Recently r eturning from vacation in Italy, Mayor de Blasio said in his first public statements on the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD cops, that enforcement against minor violations will continue. DeBlasio and his Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, in a joint press conference, downplayed the allegations that race was a factor in the death of the Staten Island father of six, and argued for "due process" for the police officers involved in the tragedy.

Mr. DeBlasio said that he was making "structural reforms" within the NYPD and that his goal was to keep the city safe and create a working relationship between the police and the New York community at large. The officers, he said, were "innocent until proven guilty" - something that has drawn amazement from some of the mayor's strongest supporters, many of whom oppose the NYPD's "Broken Windows" policing tactic that has now evolved into the hated "Stop and Frisk" program that Mr. DeBlasio campaigned against and was one of the program's loudest critic s .

But as they say, politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. And that seems to be the case with Mr. DeBlasio carefully avoid ing the word "race" in his remarks but left it up to Commissioner Bratton to say that this was not a factor in Mr. Garner's death.

Mr. Garner was heard saying 11 times that he could not breathe. So talking about "due process" for the cops that allegedly strangled Mr. Garner to death after asking if he was selling loose cigarettes, while ignoring Mr. Garner's rights was patently disingenuous, and, quite frankly, insulting, coming from Mr. DeBlasio .

Mr. DeBlasio must know that to pretend that the behavior of the cops in stopping and putting an illegal chokehold on a defenseless Black man is something that would never happen ed in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn where he lives. Nor would these cops dream of approaching, far less arresting a white man in Wall Street in the manner in which they "took down" Mr. Garner. So to dismiss race as a factor in the killing of Eric Garner may make Mr. Bratton and Mr. DeBlasio feel good but fools nobody.

The plain and simple fact is that the NYPD's "Broken Windows" policy must end because it is responsible for the very poor relations between police and the Black and Latino communities in New York City. Further, Mr. De B lasio must know that a whopping 53% of complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in 2013 were about allegations of police brutality. And more stunningly, the CCRB received a whopping 5,500 complaints from the public but only 153 cops were disciplined. This is not the kind of statistic that suggests improved community/police relations.

What Mr. DeBlasio should have said is that there must be some accountability and that judging from the video tape there appear to be serious wrongdoing by the police and a violation of Mr. Garner's rights. He should have been emphatic that if the police are proven to be culpable in this vicious case then criminal charges will be brought against those concerned.

The fact is that no matter how you dance you can't spin this away. How Mr. DeBlasio handles this will be a litmus test for the rest of his time in office. Unlucky for Mayor DeBlasio is the pesky fact that the Eric Garner killing comes at the height of a 20 year long bad relationship between the NYPD and the Black and Latino communities.

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Moreover, defending the "Broken Windows" policy is just plain mind-boggling. It is an abject failure of historic proportions. For example, misdemeanors account for two-thirds to three-quarters of arrests in the past three years. And the notion that this tactic, started under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s, reduces overall crime is fundamentally flawed. Less than half of these misdemeanor arrests resulted in a conviction and the vast majority of those who were arrested were not the same people that have prior felony records.

Still, Commissioner Bill Bratton's reputation rests on his work, in New York and Los Angeles, as a proponent of the " B roken W indows" policing. He believes that aggressively going after very minor offenses--not merely misdemeanors but infractions, so-called "quality of life" offenses like littering, sitting on stoops and carrying open beer cans--will bring the overall rate of violent crime down.

Mr. Bratton must know that "Broken Windows" was the father of "Stop and Frisk" that resulted in the general harassing of millions of New Yorkers, the overwhelming majority without probable cause. There were 4.4 million stops by the NYPD between 2004 and 2012. Ten percent of those stops were of whites, 84 percent were of B lacks and Latinos. Of those 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, 6 percent to a summons. The remaining 88 percent resulted in no other action--in other words, they involved unequivocally innocent people.

And try as they might Mayor DeBlasio and his Police Commissioner cannot escape the fact that this zero tolerance of minor offenses is being enforced only in some communities in New York City . The fact is that poor minority neighborhoods are perceived as crime-ridden and under the "Broken Windows" polic y the NYPD flood s the se areas with officers jacked up on arrest quotas for stops and high daily summonses numbers .

Garner died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by Staten Island cops who suspected him of selling cigarettes, one of a slew of quality of life offenses targeted under the " B roken W indows" approach. It is the kind of biased, racist and stereotypical approach to policing that "Broken Windows" spawns.

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The irrefutable facts about the racist and unfair application of this controversial law are there in stark relief:

  • From 2008 through 2011, Park Slope in Brooklyn (where Mayor DeBlasio lives) in area controlled by the Precinct 78, averaged eight bike-on-sidewalk summonses a year.

  • By contrast Ocean Hill--Brownsville (Precinct 73) averaged 1,062 and Bedford--Stuyvesant (Precinct 79) averaged 2,050. As one might guess, Park Slope is a mostly white neighborhood; Ocean Hill--Brownsville is 90 percent B lack and Latino; Bedford--Stuyvesant is 80 percent B lack and Latino.

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MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
 

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