Cop-watch group the Police Reform Organizing Project is releasing a report today that describes the effects of what it calls “quota-driven broken windows policing” on communities of color in New York City.
Compiled through interviews in courthouses, at outreach events, and from news accounts, the report comes in a series of vignettes describing run-ins ranging from bogus arrests to crazy-making inflexibility on the part of officers. PROP director Robert Gangi says he hopes the report helps show the less scrutinized aspects of broken-windows policing; not the deaths at the hands of officers or the encounters caught on video, but the routine, low-level harassment that some communities face on a daily basis.
“What we very much wanted to do was to…describe effects of broken-windows policing that are not part of the day-to-day lives of white people in New York City, but are part of the day-to-day lives of people of color in New York City,” Gangi says. “We wanted to put flesh and blood on the bone of the statistics.”
PROP has been calling for an end to the broken-windows approach to policing that has held sway in New York and most other major American cities since the Nineties. The strict enforcement of minor violations is seen by law enforcement officials as a strong deterrent to more serious crimes. But coupled with an aggressive push to meet arrest quotas, the approach, PROP and other police watchdog groups argue, leads to unfair harassment that falls disproportionately on low-income communities and people of color.
Almost every vignette in the report is teeth-grindingly bad, and it’s quite readable, so go ahead and peruse the whole thing. But here are a few of the more notable stories the group collected.
A man was in the yard of the public housing project in the Bronx where he grew up and where several of his family members lived. The address of the building is tattooed prominently on his forearm. After police searched him illegally and found no drugs or contraband on him, they arrested him for trespass in spite of the protests of family members. He was released after spending the night in jail, but the prosecution refused to immediately dismiss the case. Instead, the case was dismissed months later when he appeared on his scheduled court date with one of his relatives, who proved that he was not trespassing.
A police officer arrested an African-American woman in her mid-60s for the first time in her life for smoking a joint on her stoop. When the case was brought to a night court in Manhattan, an angry Legal Aid lawyer confronted the officer who explained that fifteen years ago his sergeant would’ve punched him out for making such an arrest but now it’s expected of him.
Officers issued a summons to a Senegalese vendor who was selling cell phone cases. The charge was that his table of 5 feet, 1 inch exceeded the applicable standard by 1 inch.
A police officer arrested a young African-American man for using his girlfriend’s MetroCard.
The police approached an African-American man on the street, stopped, and spoke rudely to him. They then arrested him on a charge of public urination. The man had an outstanding warrant from years prior that he had not cleared up. The court issued an ACD when he explained that because of a kidney ailment he was physically unable to urinate.
These bits really just scratch the surface. The rest of the report is below, so grab a fistful of Tums or crack open a cold bottle of Pepto and settle in.
Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Voice, covering criminal justice, legal issues, and the occasional mutant park squirrel.