And a broken-windows policy of policing is exactly what it means:
The property matters. The people can stay broken until hell freezes over.
And the ejection of these ill-bought philosophies of class and racial control from our political mainstream — this is now the real prize, not only in Baltimore, but nationally. Overpolicing and a malignant drug prohibition have systemically repressed and isolated the poor, created an American gulag, and transformed law enforcement into a militarized and brutalizing force utterly disconnected from communities in which thousands are arrested but crime itself — real crime — is scarcely addressed. To be sure, there are a great many savage inequalities in our society — no doubt we could widen this discussion at a dozen points — but now, right now, overpolicing of the poor by a militarized police-state is actually on the table for the first time in decades.
And don’t for a second think that stabbing a fork through the heart of zero tolerance isn’t job one. Nothing else changes, nothing else grows in the no-man’s lands of a war zone, and our inner cities have been transformed into free-fire battlegrounds by this drug war and all of the brutalities and dishonesties done in its name.
Yes, the charges came for the Baltimore officers and the city is now relatively quiet. But step back for a moment from the immediacy of each individual outrage — from Ferguson, from Staten Island, from North Charleston, from West Baltimore — and realize that while this systemic overlay of oppression will offer a moral exemption or two when the facts or the digital video demands it, charging an officer here or implementing a new training course for police there, the game itself grinds on. Even as they acknowledge an atrocity or two, the same voices of seeming reason continue to suggest that we needn’t abandon all the good that zero-tolerance enforcement has done for us.
Why look at New York, can’t you? Safest big city in America. Zero-tolerance works, goddammit. It makes us all safer, and our cities governable. Fix the broken windows, write up all the small infractions, punish every minor offender and soon, you’ll see, the city becomes liveable again. If you have money, quite liveable indeed.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore — as in every other city that doesn’t happen to be the recapitalized, respeculated, rebuilt center of world finance — zero tolerance has been a disaster. And the levels of police violence and incarceration that spring from this policing philosophy are proving more lethal to the American spirit and experiment than even race fear and race hatred, as ugly and enduring as that pathology is. No, this is now about class. This is those who have more using the levers of governance to terrorize those who have less, and doing so by using damn near nothing to keep the poor at the margins of American life.
Four men in four separate cities are dead over a shoplifted cigar, a single sold cigarette, a legal pocket knife and a domestic order for child support. Do any of us feel appreciably safer for the cost? Do any of us still want to talk about breaking a few eggs to make that omelet? Do any of us still want to defend the absurd and brutalizing notion that by using our police officers to stalk our ghettoes heaving criminal charge upon criminal charge at every standing human being, we are fixing, or helping, or even intelligently challenging the other America to find a different future for itself?