Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter is a collection of 22 incredibly intersectional and deeply researched essays on policing in the US and internationally. The collection is edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton and contains a poem as well as numerous essays by and interviews with activists and scholars.
I don’t know where I first heard about this book, but it’s been on my wishlist since around the time that it was published last year. Mid-January my boyfriend gifted it to me, because clearly I picked an amazing partner. Now all I want to do is push it on everyone – seriously, it’s that good.
How policing became the major political issue of our time
Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.
With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.
Broken Windows Policing, also sometimes called Community Policing, is the idea that by cracking down hard on small crimes such as littering, graffiti, loitering, public drunkenness, and et cetera with a zero tolerance policy people will be dissuaded committing major crimes. In other words, by showing that the police care about and enforce all rules punitively, it will theoretically scare people away from the idea of larger or more violent crimes. It was developed originally in 1982 in The Atlantic Monthly by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, and has been embraced hugely since then.
The problems with this theory are legion, but a key point raised throughout the book is this – who defines community? Because certain people get identified as being “outside” of the community (the homeless, the racialized poor people, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people, Native people, immigrants, drug users) it is considered acceptable if they are harmed by the police in order to maintain “order” and “safety” for those considered within the community. This harm can come through increased stops, increased fines and arrests, and increases in prison populations. All of these harms then appear on a person’s record which leads to further cascading harm as they are shut out of what remains of the social net, in many cases. The policy can lead to “cleanup” of neighborhoods, increasing property value and enabling further gentrification in neighborhoods people have lived in for years.
A second main problem, raised again and again, which is tied to the first, is the way that the policy targets and disorders individuals and behavior as opposed to issues and crimes. For example, the homeless are arrested and / or fined and /or removed from the area, but there is no action taken against slum landlords who aren’t maintaining their properties. And no action on actual broken windows on bank owned foreclosed homes. As another example, people of color are routinely stopped and frisked in certain neighborhoods because they are seen as not belonging but there is no action against discriminatory hiring practices and stealing of tips.
Abolition of policing is provided by many as the true solution to the problems. Many essays discuss the history of policing and about its beginning in the days of slave patrols and its continued use throughout history to maintain separation and penalize difference. While some activists point to short term solutions, it is important to look intersectionally at all facets of the situation to ensure that existing structures and issues aren’t maintained. Although broken windows policing originated in the United States, it has been exported around the world as some of the essays discuss. The issue is a global one and many organizations are working together for justice.
An example of the definition of community and of how activism can sometimes provide limited gains while leaving the underlying structures in place is given in Christina B. Hanhardt‘s essay “Broken Windows at Blue’s: Queer History of Gentrification and Policing“. In the essay she talks about the rise of broken windows policing in New York City and the concurrent rise in the acceptability of white gay identity due to investment in gentrifying neighborhoods. The white gay middle class investment in the city was seen as part of the “back-to-the-city” movement and this group started to be seen as increasingly different from poor, immigrant, and non-white gay individuals, as well as from trans or gender non-conforming individuals. They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged.
[…] mainstream gay political claims in the city emerged by expanding the distance – conceptual and spatial – between affirmative gay identity and the broad matrix of so-called deviances often associated with racialized poverty.
They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged. As we move forward with advocacy, this is what reform efforts can often lead to and is why we have to think critically about any reforms being proposed.
As Rachel Herzing says in “The Magical Life of Broken Windows“:
We need terms of engagement that don’t root our own survival in the suppression or denial of another’s humanity.
In the coming days I will put up a few related posts on related reading, organizations working on the topic, and other media.