The fine line between urban/center city chaos and order
The UWS is falling apart, and lefties seem too woke to care," New York Post) and the Bloomberg Opinion column, "New York and San Francisco Can’t Assume They’ll Bounce Back," about the decline in urban order in the face of rioting, violence and looting around Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Crime is rising in a number of US cities right now, in particular shootings and murders, but not so much other crimes, and there are a variety of theories for why this is so ("The murder spike in big US cities, explained," Vox).
WRT BLM-related violence, it seems to be perpetrated by a preponderance of whites ("How reckless White allies could lead to the reelection of Trump," Washington Post), but also recognize that some of it is fomented by supremacists seeking to spark disorder and discredit BLM, such as in Minneapolis ("Minneapolis police say 'Umbrella Man' was a white supremacist," Minneapolis Star-Tribune) and Oakland ("Suspect in officers' killings tied to Boogaloo group," Los Angeles Times).
Looting I think was more opportunistic and tended to be a more racially "diverse" phenomenon. Clearly some groups organized specific forays against businesses, seeing the opportunity.
While I understand the need to seriously reconfigure how we deliver public safety services:
-- "Is it too late to change the messaging on "Defund the Police"? How about "Reconstruct Policing"?," 2020
-- "Towards a public safety model that is broader than policing," 2020
the idea of "defund the police" scares the hell out of me, because I have first hand experience of living with widespread disorder, from 1987 into the early 2000s, living in Washington, DC, when the 1990s were especially terrible because of the crack epidemic, bad policing, and other problems.
I can't provide a full recounting of all the bad experiences with crime that I dealt with during that time, but they include:
- at least three muggings (I happened to get away each time, although my glasses were broken once and I was punched another time)
- attempted muggings
- a crazy assault when I was locking my bike which caused blood and injury (I got the guy arrested and he served time, but the reality is that he was mentally ill)
- stolen (rental) car
- multiple stolen bikes or stolen bike parts
- thefts from my yard
- thefts of my stuff when at restaurants
- multiple burglaries of my house
- rape of my then wife during the commission of a burglary (which led to our divorce, although we might have gotten divorced eventually anyway)
There were at least a dozen murders a year in the neighborhood, some within a block of my house at particularly bad corners or at businesses. The H Street commercial district was pretty gnarly too, with a lot of crime, vacant properties, street robberies, robberies of businesses, tons of litter etc.
(As a result, community policing matters were some of the issues I aimed to address when I first got involved in neitghborhood issues around 2000. A few years later, I was featured in a Washington Post article on Labor Day in 2003, about city advocates fighting the overconcentration of liquor stores, the sales of singles, etc. It's oddly not available online, but is in articles databases.)
So arguing that police have no legitimate role in maintaining order makes no sense to me.
Furthermore, doing some experiments of my own picking up litter, and seeing the impact of nuisance properties led to my fervent belief in the theoretical basis of broken windows theory--that better maintained places are safer than those that aren't.
The CHAZ Has Become America’s Fascination," Seattle Met) in Seattle was no bed of roses ("Capitol Hill residents and businesses sue city of Seattle for failing to disband CHOP," Seattle Times) even if alt right media blew it out of proportion.
Even in the best of circumstances, some people join in and seek to take advantage of the situation for their own purposes.
And the reality is that not everyone is pure of heart. Some people are evil. Others have mental health or substance abuse demons that make it difficult for them to function in society, etc.
So we need forces to help us maintain order. And volunteers don't normally measure up when it comes to dealing with serious disorder.
That traditional police forces need to be much better controlled, trained, and resourced is another issue.
And I am the first to argue that public safety service delivery should be conceptualized much differently from at present:
-- "Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex," 2013
-- "Los Angeles police department "Community Safety Partnership"," 2014
-- "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community," 2014
-- "Crime time re-revisited: a set of programs focused on reducing crime," 2015
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 1, theory and practice," 2016
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 2, what to do," 2016
-- "Police response to mental health matters," 2016
-- "Who identifies problems and addresses them at the metropolitan scale? No one, at least when it comes to mental health-related police shootings," 2016
-- "Revisiting intimate partner violence/murder," 2017
-- "Seattle Times article on the need for changes to 911 services and emergency response," 2018
-- "Broken windows/collective efficacy: Baltimore; Newark; Grand Junction, Colorado; Pittsburgh; Albany," 2019
-- "Social urbanism and Baltimore," 2019
I wrote this in the second Broken Windows piece from 2016:
One of the problems that many people ascribe to the #BlackLivesMatter agenda is a kind of "nullification" as it relates to crime ("Black Lives Matter should also take on 'black-on-black crime," Washington Post). To an outsider, it appears as if there is a kind of preconceived notion within the movement that anything "the government" does concerning crime and public safety is anti-Black and moreover, unjustified.
While I can see why many people would have strong reason to believe that, it is in fact a stretch or overstatement. There is no question that the current paradigm isn't working (past blog entries: "Police misconduct and grand juries: a separate prosecution and grand jury system is necessary," "How police departments become corrupt," and "Police officers aren't always the best placemakers")
But at the same time there is no question that there is crime and it disproportionately impacts low income communities and people of color.
I believe that communities need a strong agenda for dealing with crime while recognizing that the public safety agenda is often built on a racist foundation, and much more resources need to be put towards community improvement, simultaneous with and not subservient to "order maintenance."