Saturday, May 18, 2019

Why "Broken Windows" Works

I lived in cities before, during, and after the Guiliani years. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Rock Hill, SC - none of them as big as NYC, but, having many of the same problems and pathologies as the biggest cities did. Much of what was discovered by testing out solutions during those years also applied to what has happened in schools during those same years.

This link takes you to Instapundit, which excerpts a longer piece on the topic. For many people without personal experience in dealing with these counter-attacks on disorder, the solutions - cleaning subway cars, stopping panhandling, and arresting turnstile-jumpers - seem petty and ridiculous. But when you analyze them individually, the logic of using these particular targets makes a lot of sense.

To begin with, subway graffiti, along with other forms of appropriation of public spaces, is NOT art. It may demonstrate skill in using spray paint to create intricate designs, even approaching a level of skill higher than many artists, but it ain't art.

It's vandalism of property. And, free advertising for gangs.

If you wouldn't argue for billboards that advertise the local gangs, why would you support their use of public property to do the same?

But, it's more than that - it eliminates a reason for young men to wander around public transportation lines late at night. That reduces the number of people hanging out after dark, who have connections to gangs. It makes late night travel safer for working people and patrons of local dining and entertainment establishments.

The second solution - keeping panhandlers from accosting people - also has hidden purposes. It keeps the "guys on the street" from heading out to block people's way, and aggressively demand money in return for not bothering them further.

Why the hell should anyone have to turn over their hard-earned cash just to travel the streets?

The panhandlers and their cousins, the 'cleaning rag' guys - who would try to hit up drivers paused in traffic, using the excuse of providing an unasked-for service - not only contributed to congestion, but created a hazard by blocking car movement.

The last one, for many people, seems ridiculously petty - really, arresting a kid for jumping the turnstile?

Think about it - those kids, if they had to pay for their wandering around the city, wouldn't. They'd stay home if they didn't have a specific purpose. That habit of just hanging out puts people without money or purpose loose in the city, and leads to the infamous Idle Hands scenario. Unemployed young men commit most of the crime. They have little to lose. They may gain status among their peers for daring activity. And this all adds to the number of aimless people on the street who are bored and looking for excitement, which criminal activity provides.

So, yes - seemingly small changes can improve, or destroy, a civilization.


Glenda T Goode said...

What the notion of 'Broken Windows' and the examples you cite are is a means of enforcing respect in society. One of the requirements for a civil society is respect.

If you allow people who constantly disrespect their fellow citizen by inconveniencing them you allow a form of tyranny to take hold. Tyranny respects no master other than itself.

Without respect, you essentially have a lawless society where the only way an innocent can avoid a crime against their person is to not participate in that society. Problem is that when the only 'respecting citizens' you have stay home your society deteriorates even more.

Broken windows; Stop and frisk; these two tactics serve to improve the society where they are practiced. A respectful, law abiding individual would really not be inconvenienced by such practices and these individuals should welcome these as a means of securing their community from those who just cannot be bothered to respect or even appreciate it at all.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Another aspect is the implication that if the authorities are ready to take the small things seriously, they can be counted on to be even more serious about the large things. That sense of increased vigilance daunts the criminal element of a city.


There's also the matter of personal self-control. Channeling Thomas Jefferson:

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.”

In a similar way... he who commits a small crime, often repeatedly, and gets away with it becomes accustomed to committing crimes. And IMHO very often progresses to larger crimes.

Francis W. Porretto said...

There's also this frequently misattributed staying:

"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."

(Thomas de Quincey)


@Francis: An interesting progression of what the author thinks are increasingly-serious crimes. At least that's my take on the quote...

Francis W. Porretto said...

Do remember, Nitz, that De Quincey lived and wrote long before the invention of the sarcasm tag!