04 Jul Episode 27: Broken Windows — How the Media Mainstreamed Racist Pseudoscience
Citations Needed | February 14, 2018 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
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Adam: So on today’s show we’re going to parse the two most popular racist crime tropes over the past 20 years. The first one is going to be Broken Windows and the second one is going to be a sort of subsidiary of that which is stop-and-frisk. Our guest today, Josmar Trujillo, was on our third episode where he discussed the rise of the gang raids and he’s great at tracking these tropes like stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows and gang raids and predictive policing and tracing their racist and oftentimes very far right wing origins and how they are absorbed by the media, by center and ultimately liberal media in a really pernicious way.
Adam: The subject of today’s show. Stop-and-Frisk and Broken Windows was largely embraced by the media as a kind of race neutral crime prevention method. Lo and behold, in the last five years, increasingly people are distancing themselves from these concepts.
Nima: Yeah. Turns out they were really, really fucking racist.
Adam: Yeah. Despite the fact that leftists and activists were saying that 20 years ago, but you know, they were all just a bunch of wacky progressives and commies.
Nima: So speaking of activists and organizers, we will be joined later on the show as Adam mentioned by Josmar Trujillo, a writer, an organizer based in New York City. He has written for the Village Voice, New York Daily News, Newsday, Injustice Today, and a number of other outlets.
Josmar Trujillo: Really easy to point at sometimes conservative media, New York Post, The National Review, The Manhattan Institute to say, ‘Oh, look at these bad guys,’ you know like Scarface, you know, ‘Look at the bad guys over there.’ But the liberals are the ones who really built this stuff up and they’re the ones who really benefit in my opinion from having a police state in the city because they’re the ones who don’t want the undesirables to really kind of get the way of their lifestyles.
Adam: What spawned this episode was, Josmar, at Injustice Today, wrote a article on how The National Review, the right wing publication, recently did a mea culpa about their support for stop-and-frisk in light of new data showing crime in New York City hitting it’s all time low since the 1950s. In spite of the fact that they at least nominally got rid of stop-and-frisk five years ago.
Nima: After Floyd v. City of New York found it literally unconstitutional.
Adam: Right and it had no bearing on crime in New York. And one of the reasons we know that is because the recent reports on crime in New York for 2017 has shown that crime has gone down significantly.
Nima: And so it just kind of lays bare the racist nature of these policies that they were serving a purpose other than actually reducing quote unquote “crime.” So The National Review recently came out with their own mea culpa actually a year and a half ago. This is then a full three years after the city reformed its stop-and-frisk policies, um, The New York Daily News, which is a local paper on the sort of more liberal tabloid scale, I mean, it depends what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about Israel, it’s not very liberal, if you’re talking about gun control, it is very liberal. So, um, but The New York Daily News also apologized for having for years advocating stop-and-frisk that held no weight against the actual data. So we’re kind of seeing this, as you said, Adam, this like reevaluation of this theory that we can get into the origins of stop-and-frisk and of certainly Broken Windows more broadly, but we’re seeing the scaling back of support when it becomes politically feasible to do so.
Adam: As far as, uh, The Daily News goes, and we’re going to focus on The Daily News a lot in this episode because it’s, it’s the fourth largest circulated paper and most people don’t know that, but it’s actually a very large circulation because New York City is one of the few cities where people actually read newspapers. It’s also a kind of bellwether where the center left liberal orthodoxy is on crime and since New York is considered a laboratory for crime prevention, what happens in New York has tremendous consequence over what happens in other cities throughout the world. Not just the United States but throughout the world. The Daily News, about a year and a half ago, distanced itself, like The National Review, it distanced itself from its promotion of stop-and-frisk, published this mea culpa saying how they got it wrong. They have not, however, distanced themselves from the broader program of Broken Windows or the broader philosophy of Broken Windows, which is basically designed to sort of harass low level poor people of color for minor infractions.
Adam: When Trump actually wanted to use the specter of Broken Windows and the Broken Windows philosophy in New York to round up immigrants, The Daily News said they didn’t care. Here’s what they said. They said, quote, “Perennial foes of Broken Windows policing have found a new reason to oppose the vital tool: It might lead to deportations in the age of Donald Trump. To which we answer, too bad. As Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neil understand, cops dare not abandon what is one of the pillars of a safer New York City because a president committed to overzealous immigration reform might overstep his bounds.” So this is again the liberal paper saying to President Trump using Broken Windows to deport immigrants, too bad, which is appropriately glib.
Adam: They’re willing to bank this entire premise that we should round up immigrants in New York City. This again, liberal paper, based on a pseudoscience or at least a highly dubious and highly contested science of Broken Windows.
Nima: Yes. Indeed.
Adam: And we’re going to get into to the origins of that Nima.
Nima: So to, as Adam likes to say, set the table. We will lay out what we mean by the term stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows. I think these are terms, phrases, policies, strategies, tactics that are mentioned a lot, and I think certainly our listeners know what these things are, but breaking them down is also important as well to some of the less initiated. So put simply, stop-and-frisk is an aggressive policing practice in which individuals extensively deemed to be suspicious are stopped on the street, questioned, often frisked, searched without any probable cause whatsoever, which is inherently illegal and unconstitutional. The claim by proponents of this policy which is sometimes referred to as ‘proactive policing,’ is that it makes dangerous neighborhoods safer. It reduces the presence of guns and other contraband and results in removing dangerous criminals from the streets. But the facts about stop-and-frisk do not comport with this. They don’t tell that same story. For instance, there were over 4.4 million reported stops in New York City alone between 2004 and 2012. In 2011 specifically, police made more than 686,000 stops. Only six percent of all of those stops, all 4.4 million, resulted in arrests.
Nima: Six percent. Another example also in 2011, the number of stops of young African American men in that one year exceeded the total number of young African American men who lived in New York City at that time.
Nima: So by every measure the practice disproportionately targets communities of color, more than 600,000 people were issued summonses or arrested in New York City in 2015, of those 85 percent were people of color. So these policies, these practices by the NYPD, and these have been exported to other cities and also other countries, its more like living under occupation.
Nima: It’s like living under a militarized police force, far more than walking around freely in your own community, let alone your own city. You know, as I said, this is not just a New York issue. In Philadelphia, before there was a class action suit that changed policing policy, stops had increased from about 100,000 in 2005 to more than 250,000 by 2009 with black people making up more than 72 percent of those stopped despite making up about 44 percent of Philadelphia’s population. So you can see how these policies over affect certain communities by design, stop-and-frisk has very little to do with safer streets or effective policing. It has everything to do with racial profiling, illegal search and seizure, and the violation of privacy rights. It’s about subjugation, humiliation, obedience, and oftentimes violence and abuse. These policies exacerbate the potential for and actually also the reality of police brutality, inappropriate touching and sexual harassment as well as the trauma and fear of those targeted by these policies. Uh, this obviously is not to mention the actual increases in improper arrests for minor infractions and generally adding to the problem of mass incarceration. So through this policy, the police have been harassing hundreds of thousands of innocent law abiding people every year in New York City, the vast majority of whom obviously were black and Latino. In fact, the New York civil liberties union, the NYCLU, has found that quote, “Nearly nine out of ten stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent according to the NYPD’s own reports.”
Adam: Yeah. So that’s the background for stop-and-frisk, which is a subset of a broader trope, which was generally called Broken Windows, and this is the one that liberal and right-wing media is a little less hesitant to give up, although it operates under a lot of the similar premises. The basic premise of Broken Windows is that by committing small crimes, criminals are somehow emboldened to commit more severe crime. That things like jumping turnstiles and jaywalking, hanging out on the corner, drinking in public, smoking marijuana, the sort of actually breaking a window, the sort of titular window breaking.
Nima: Riding your bike on the sidewalk or selling loosies.
Adam: Yeah there’s a sort of inevitable degeneracy from jaywalking into rape and murder. If you take away the sort of bogus causality, what it really is is just a way to arrest people for really petty things that otherwise humane society would kind of overlook, but the causal relationship is the way in which you ameliorate people’s natural instinctive say, well, if I came to and I said I have a policy where we’re just going to start harassing poor people and black people for petty crimes, you’d be like, ‘Well, that’s bad.’
Nima: I’d be like, ‘That’s kind of messed up, Adam.’
Adam: But then if I gave you some pseudoscience about how actually it’ll prevent other more severe crimes like rape, you’d be like, ‘Oh, well rape’s bad, I don’t want that.’ Um, and that’s kind of what they banked on. It was, it was part of the broader ’90s moral panic. And it’s important to contextualize a little bit, which is that crime was pretty relatively bad in the early nineties. Maybe I’m being a bit generous here, but I do want to point out that a crime was legitimately bad, but it was the, the solutions weren’t to deal with the underlying issues causing it. The solutions were to just throw black and brown people in jail.
Nima: Well right, so for instance, rather than actually addressing why the homeless population in the city was so large and growing that homelessness was so rampant, rather than addressing why that was the case, it was turned into a policy by certainly Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner Bill Bratton to just lock homeless people up. So you know, it’s this idea of cleaning up the streets.
Adam: I mean there’s actually a thought experiment they teach you in like Philosophy 101 when they go over moral limits of utilitarianism and they say, well, if I take a random citizen out to the middle of the plaza or the city square and I summarily execute them, that’ll lower crime. But what about the rights of that individual?
Adam: And I think that there’s a similar logic to it, which is that let’s just harass a bunch of poor people and people of color and that in the aggregate will put enough of them on the grid, keep enough of them in fear, basically a terror regime.
Adam: And by the way, these tactics are not unique to the United States. A lot of governments, which we would call authoritarian or whatever use these tactics too right? Its to instill fear and create a terror regime that in the aggregate it may lower crime and you know, that was something that liberals were willing to concede. Turns out that it wasn’t even true.
Nima: (Chuckles) Right.
Adam: Uh, it actually is just a, it’s actually just this sort of moral blight and also apparently has negligible, if not no effect on crime at all. So it was the worst of both worlds. It was racist and brutal and also it didn’t even do what it was supposed to do. So in that sense, I think John Stuart Mill was wrong.
Nima: The Broken Windows strategy itself has very explicitly racist and also classist origins. And we can look at the work of Edward Banfield as one example of this. Edward Banfield was a political scientist who wrote a very famous or infamous book called The Unheavenly City in 1970. And in it he addressed what he saw as this crisis of urban America. And you can read into that exactly as you should.
Adam: Urban America, you know, sometimes I really wish there was an African American equivalent of the, of the three parentheses around, for anti-Semites.
Adam: Like every single time with every single time a right winger uses the word Chicago I think of the three parentheses. You know, well ‘Obama has Chicago values.’ We all know what the fuck he means by that.
Nima: I think we know what that means. So right Banfield talked about this crisis of the urban America resulting obviously if you read into it, because of the civil rights struggle and rebellions that had been going on, justly, rightly, but obviously there was this backlash and Banfield was one of the proponents for that. So you know, talking about high crime rates, white flight obviously, and the big bad evil of all this was liberalism writ large, right? So the not cracking down harshly on certain elements of what Banfield termed “lower class culture” created these problems, created an unrest, created the degeneration of society, that kind of breakdown of society in trying to argue that his theories were not racist, that they were not based on racial animus or prejudice. They were merely a matter of what he called like “pathology.” So again, you can read into this exactly as you should. Here’s a quote from Banfield for example, “The implication that lower class culture is pathological seems fully warranted.” And so he advocated that there should be no minimum wage for low value labor. What he deemed low value labor, that the poorest and impoverished among us should be told more about birth control.
Adam: It sounds like the guy who nods un-ironically as reading Jonathan Swift, sort of like, ‘Oh, that totally.’ Yeah. Oh wait, its satire.
Nima: Right. So one of the things Banfield wrote was this, quote, “There are individuals whose propensity to crime is so high that no set of incentives that is feasible to offer to the whole population would influence their behavior.” Therefore, he clearly came up with the theory that mostly young lower class males, and you can imagine what color those males were, were clearly more likely to commit crimes. So we see again the result is preemptively taking away rights from these people because they will inevitably turn out to be criminals again and again. And so Banfield’s theory is also then informed those of Nathan Glazer, who was a sociologist and a long-time anti affirmative action advocate, so you can imagine where we’re going with this, who wrote in 1979 in The Public Interest, it was an article entitled “On Subway Graffiti in New York” and he noted that graffiti artists in addition to criminals who quote, “Rob, rape, assault and murder passengers, are part of one world of uncontrollable predators.” And so you can see these theories by these sociologists, by these political theorists, kind of coming together. And what we wind up with is in 1982, the infamous essay “Broken Windows” in The Atlantic magazine.
Adam: So Kelling and Wilson wrote this article in 1982 for The Atlantic, which was sort of, I guess operated as the primary moral document. And The Atlantic is considered the sort of ethereal, centrist, conventional wisdom magazine and it was the basis for a lot of the theories of Bill Bratton and later Ray Kelly in the early to mid nineties about how they viewed policing. And this got a lot of mainstream success from people who I guess would present themselves as liberals. And it was that support that really kind of took this notion of taking systemic harassment of poor minority people and trying to abstract out any kind of racial or classist implications of that and proffer it as a kind of pseudoscientific solution of something that, you know, your sort of routine, low grade, low tech, Gestapo or secret police of any other country, including our own in the twenties and thirties would embrace. But it gave it a kind of pseudoscientific air to it. Right? So you’re, you’re kind of New York Times crowd or upper east side cocktail party crowd could be like, ‘No, it’s this new thing. I read it in The Atlantic. It’s called, it’s called Broken Window. No. Sharon. It’s not, it’s not. It’s not racist. It’s not. It’s race neutral. In fact, it actually helps African-‘ I mean that’s what it’s there for. Right?
Adam: You need to have that crowd adopt that and that’s what this did and then later on after it was laundered through some good messaging, the commissioners and the mayors and especially under Giuliani began to really embrace it and then it took off from there.
Nima: This policy really was implemented in New York under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who actually first started it, I believe under David Dinkins.
Adam: Yep. Yeah Dinkins set a lot of this stuff early on.
Nima: Yeah, yeah. Dinkins was not like some liberal hero. So Bill Bratton who under David Dinkins’ mayoralty, was the head of the subway transit cops and so he implemented this on the subway and buses and then when Rudy Giuliani became mayor in the early nineties, Bratton became the police commissioner and the Broken Windows policy really expanded and then even more so under Ray Kelly. And from there it really spread nationally and also globally. There’s a 2016 book called Policing The Planet, which actually traces the global spread of the Broken Windows tactic. You know, one thing it notes is that from “New York to Baltimore, Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador and beyond, Bratton’s model has become a near liberal urban strategy practiced and adapted world wide.” This is not just a local New York issue. Again, thinking New York is kind of used as the prime example of that. It was sort of born here. George Kelling who co-wrote that Atlantic piece was a criminologist who referenced his work in Newark, so it kind of has this northeast vibe to it, but then it’s just been used all over.
Adam: Also its important to point out that we’re insular New York liberals and this is our, world frankly doesn’t exist outside New York in my opinion.
Nima: (Laughs) We should also point out before we turn it over to Josmar to tease out more of this and the real life implications of this for communities of color in the city and elsewhere, is that, in that original 1982 article, in The Atlantic, Kelling and Wilson actually discussed the potential racial implications of this and that the law and order style of policing had the possibility of going bad. So here’s what they wrote in that original Broken Windows article in ’82 quote, “How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?” Their response? “We can offer no wholly satisfactory answer to this important question.” And then they moved on and that was it. They were like, maybe that’ll happen. Any woo, let’s start locking up black and brown people and you kind of look at the implications of that, of, of actually acknowledging how fucked up this may be and then not caring. You can see just how racist and classist this is. In 2015 actually George Kelling really noted how his own theory was terribly abused and actually how awful it was to begin with and that he said this, this is recent, this in 2015, so this is decades after these policies have already been in place. George Kelling, the guy who pioneered this theory said this, quote, “The history of the use loitering laws and vagrancy laws is a very sad history. It was used during the post Civil War period and into the 20th century to keep many African Americans in virtual slavery. We understood that it had enormous potential for abuse.” Aaaand there you go.
Nima: Oh well.
Adam: I always like when they do this, they always do this hand waving where they’re like, ‘This could be grossly abused and racist, but we’ll table that for now.’ And it’s like, okay. Academics do that all the time. They’re like, and screenwriters call it ‘putting a lamp shade on’ something where you sort of, you deal with an obvious problem by just acknowledging it and then you move on and hope no one notices. You know, again, the sort of logical implication of a lot of this was fairly obvious to a lot of people and these schools and these cynics and these people who were exploiting a kind of fear at the time. I mean, there was a major cultural artifacts. I mean, you had Death Wish. You had Death Wish 2, 3 and 4. You had, you know, Dirty Harry. This obsession with crime and criminality.
Nima: And the whole kind of vigilante culture. Right?
Nima: Not only through those films but also like Bernie Goetz in reality shooting people on the subway.
Adam: Yeah, exactly. And so there was this buildup to sort of come up with a way of, of making these policies more digestible to the New York Times crowd. And I thoroughly think that, you know, Broken Windows was at the right place at the right time because these kind of mercenary sociologists came along and did it. But again, if you trace its origins, it’s all deeply, its deeply patronizing. And I, you know, I think we’re, I think we’re going to do our own show on this eventually, but people forget how just casually racist supposedly liberal pundits were in the nineties. You know, when you talk about welfare reform or like the idle classes, there was not a sense that the idea of racial code was not as prevalent and the liberal intelligentsia back then was way, way more white then than it is now. It’s not, you know, it’s not perfect now, but it was your sort of John Shades and your Andrew Solomons, although I guess he’s technically conservative, but the sort of New Republic crowd were really casual about these things. And the patronizing way in which people talked about crime was, was pretty gross. And so that all had a very negative effect over 20 years. A lot of people, we always say in the show that we have to reestablish the stakes. Explain to me why these things matter, that this is not some academic exercise, that these, these tropes and these narratives and these images, they actually really, really fuck people over in the aggregate because they affect policy which affects people.
Adam: There’s a woman by the name of Heather Mac Donald who Josmar writes about. Heather Mac Donald is this sort of celebrity right-winger, pro cop; she’s on Fox News. She worked for The Manhattan Institute, which is a very right-wing institution. She gets a lot of op-eds in The Wall Street Journal. She famously wrote in 2000 that racial profiling actually helps minorities. She’s there to spin for the cops. She wrote a book called War On Cops, which they advertise in the subway.
Adam: Thankfully it was immediately gratified by the powers that be within the subway system. God bless graffiti. So Josmar wrote about her. He said that her analysis quote, “That her analysis that no one values black lives more than cops hinges on the correlation between low-level enforcement and serious crime. While some, like Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, have pointed out that serious crime began to fall before then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and a younger Bill Bratton implemented Broken Windows in the NYPD, the myth that it caused the crime decline was widely embraced — and not only by conservatives. Bernard Harcourt, who’s seminal 2001 book Illusions Of Order was one of the first to debunk the Broken Windows myth, remembers the love affair with Bratton’s approach during the Clinton years. He aligns the theory with “middle of the road” liberals who [quote] wanted ‘gentler’ alternative to the right’s obsession with mass incarceration. Hardcourt’s book points out early examples of what he describes as [quote] ‘reverence’ for Broken Windows from the media.”
Nima: Yes, so that book actually really untangles a lot of this stuff. It shows how Broken Windows is this completely bogus pseudoscience and also how the media spun for it. I mean, how this was built through the media. I mean, again, the entire policy was outlined in The Atlantic fucking magazine and then picked up by Bill Bratton and the NYPD. I mean, it didn’t go from like cops thinking about this. It went from two professors writing about it to then impose this through policy and Bernard Harcourt cites Bill Bratton himself saying kind of how amazing Broken Windows was and this was what he kind of glowingly said about this thing. And I should also point out that Bill de Blasio rehired Bill Bratton as the police commissioner. I don’t want that to be missed here, that it wasn’t, he’s not a relic of the, of the Giuliani years. He came back under de Blasio. He’s not there anymore. This is that same sort of idea of you can never actually be held accountable when the harm you do is to vulnerable populations, usually people of color. Uh, so getting back to it, Bill Bratton said this about Broken Windows policy, which he implemented in New York. Quote, “For the cops [this was] a bonanza. Every arrest was like opening a box of Cracker Jack. What kind of toy am I going to get? Got a gun? Got a knife? Got a warrant? Do we have a murderer here? Each cop wanted to be the one who came up with the big collar. It was exhilarating for the cops and demoralizing for the crooks.”
Adam: Yeah, I think that’s basically it, that if I can play the lottery every day or buy lottery tickets every day and not have to actually buy the ticket, why not? You have a huge moral hazard here. You may as well just harass everybody and that’s one of the reasons why you have these absurd numbers where you have more stops of African Americans in New York then there are African Americans in New York.
Adam: I don’t even know where to start with that.
Nima: So instead of starting anywhere, let’s actually talk to Josmar Trujillo because he’s amazing. He’s a writer and organizer based in New York City and he’s organized around education, disaster recovery and policing for years. He’s written for the Village Voice, New York Daily News, Newsday, Injustice Today, Truthout and elsewhere. He is fantastic and we are thrilled to have him on the show once again. So joining us in just a moment will be Josmar Trujillo. Stay with us.
Nima: Josmar Trujillo, writer, organizer. It is so great to have you back on Citations Needed.
Josmar Trujillo: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Adam: I’ve been doing some work with In Justice Today and I saw your article. It was right on because um, there was these mea culpas over stop-and-frisk and it just got kind of hand waved away and your article was effectively saying well shouldn’t we have some sort of accountability? And this is something we’ve seen over and over again and you see it with some of the stuff with Broken Windows too where that’s kind of less of a third rail for liberals, but the same kind of thing applies which is that for the nineties and the 2000s this pseudoscience was pushed on us. Can you explain in your opinion how these things get popularized and why liberals are so effective at distancing themselves from them or moderates from distancing themselves from them and not really taking responsibility for what they spread?
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah um, in New York City I think cause there are so many eyes on what happens here with the police department and just in general New York is on a huge platform. I think whenever there’s a battle over, ideological battle over something that the police are doing, I think everyone just assumes New York City is a liberal city, very progressive city and has a mayor who was like a halfway communist or something like, they get this impression that everyone here is so liberal, but the story with a lot of these policing ideas was stop-and-frisk, Broken Windows is that all these things that were really terrible when the police were doing to people, you know, black people, brown people for years and years, this all happened because of liberals. And liberals aren’t like making a mistake. They honestly voted for the people who put these policies in place. They are ones who may vote for a Democrat, but at the end of the day they’re the ones who want to avoid walking through the bad neighborhood and so liberals are really the cause of, at least in New York City I can speak from experience, the cause of a lot of things that we’re dealing with, we’re battling against. And so they don’t want to hear that and it’s, you know, it’s really easy to point at sometimes conservative media, New York Post, The National Review, The Manhattan Institute to say, ‘Oh, look at these bad guys,’ you know like Scarface, you know, ‘Look at the bad guys over there.’ But the liberals are the ones who really built this stuff up and they’re the ones who really benefit in my opinion from having a police state in the city because they’re the ones who don’t want the undesirables to really kind of get the way of their lifestyles. So that’s my personal opinion about liberals. It’s not a question of whether they were wrong or they made a mistake. They are at fault and a lot of the stuff that we’re fighting against is stuff that they created and put in our laps.
Nima: You’ve written a lot about how this exploitation of moral panic has justified not only mass arrests obviously of people of color but homeless are then dragnetted and these so-called gang raids happen. Can you tell us about how this fear factor originated and how it spread through policy?
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah so the PR and the policy went hand in hand. So I mean from what I remember when I was younger, Rudy Giuliani really mastered the art of being able to push that fear. And this was before 9/11. After 9/11 it was a full blown, uh, you know, there was a whole circus. But even before then he had managed to push this idea that the poor were responsible for all the crime. Not just like petty crimes but also be murderers and the violent crime. And so they needed, they wanted to give New Yorkers a scapegoat, someone to blame, like there’s a lot of shootings because there’s this other thing. And so they created this, this idea like, you know, people, I’ve heard people compare it to kind of trickle down economics. So this was like a trickle down blame. They put the blame for these violent crimes on like the homeless guy on the corner asking for change. And that was the kind of the birth of Broken Windows. And it was pseudoscience. It was just, it was like if you read the writings of the people who wrote it, it was like just pure racist quackery. And then after that, then they started to fine tune it into specific tactics and one of those tactics under the umbrella of Broken Windows was stop-and-frisk, the specific tactic. But the idea is all, the same idea, as much contact as police can have with poor black and poor Latino people, that’s how we’ll go into a kind of urban policy. And so you have to scapegoat them. You couldn’t scapegoat them directly by saying blacks and Latinos. So you said quality of life crimes. And you basically were targeting those same populations. You didn’t say black or Latino people. You said okay, the squeegee men were all black and Latino. Um, you didn’t, you said the homeless issue was a quality of life issue, which we’re not even talking about a crime, but you’re just plugging into people’s kind of unease with having a homeless person, they’re own natural kind of instinct towards kind of, you know, being kind of freaked out if they see a homeless person or something. And by the way, 95 percent of homeless people in New York City are black and Latino. So it was racial politics, all those things mixed into it and they just tap the things that kind of made sense, like it kind of had some intuitive appeal. Oh, take care of the small things, take care of the bigger thing. And that was uh, that was how Broken Windows started. Stop-and-frisk was a little bit more of the same. The thing with stop-and-frisk was then it was the issue of like, ‘Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about.’
Josmar Trujillo: ‘We’re just stopping you.’ Right? And so it was like at first people kind of like the public was actually somewhat supportive of it. They said, ‘Oh, well if crime is going down then, hey, this is working and they’re doing something right.’ And no one questioned it, you know, no one wants to have the conversation of what causes the crime so they just gave the credit to police officers and Giuliani and Bloomberg after him, were just masters of being able to suck up all that credit for themselves and for the police department. And, uh, that’s part of the, a lot of the issue that we’re dealing with now is that it’s kind of, challenging that history. And not just saying, you know, it’s okay now in 2018, we’re seeing things a little clearer, but let’s go back to that and let’s find out how that happened so that we don’t do that with the next thing that the police are doing, like, like predictive policing or something else.
Adam: Yeah these sort of duel pseudoscience’s of stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows. It seems like, to me, liberals need a kind of pseudoscientific scaffolding to justify their pre-existing racism, and there will always be these sort of huckster, social scientists who will come in and fill that market place and it seems like the police or to have a need, right? Which is to harass and arrest low level crime. And then they reverse engineer a sort of pseudo criminology or pseudoscience around it. Um, I know in the case of Broken Windows that the person who came up with it has, we discussed this at the top of the show, he sort of tried to distance himself from it. Um, we also saw this by the way, was superpredators, which we also talked about before, the person who coined the term superpredators later apologized for it. So it seems like in the rush to put a bunch of black and Latino people in jail, a bunch of mercenary sociologists and criminologists kind of came up with these dubious theories and then I think they may have solved this sort of carnage of it and said, ‘Okay, well, you know, maybe that wasn’t the best idea.’ But I want to talk about The New York Daily News because you write about them a lot. They really are kind of the far right wing of the liberal law and order crowd. I know that they issued mea culpa about stop-and-frisk but still defend Broken Windows. Can you talk about that and what that mea culpa means? In your article you say how meaningless and insulting it is.
Josmar Trujillo: Right. So The Daily News had an apology that they published I think before The National Review, that I mention in the article, apology, and The Daily News put that out you know I think maybe like two years ago and um, you know, they, they were one of the, well them and The New York Post are two major tabloids in the city, they were the ones who were part of that crowd who was fear mongering about stop-and-frisk when all the stuff, when all of these law suits and all these protests were happening. And so The Daily News, you know, like they apologized like I wrote about National Review, but not like, it was just a moment to just say, ‘Hey, my bad.’ You know? ‘We messed up.’
Josmar Trujillo: And I think people were just in a terrible media climate. Like its just refreshing to them when someone said, ‘Hey, I was wrong about something.’ So everyone patted them on the back. Like everyone’s patting National Review on the back. And in my head I was just like, well, wait a minute, wait a minute. You pedaled something that was incalculably destructive in mass number of people’s lives and all you have to say sorry?
Josmar Trujillo: And that’s the part that really angered me. I mean, this is part of what inspires protests, right? It’s not just that the police do something or kill someone its that no one’s held accountable. That accountability has to apply to media as well. The same editor, the same editorial board is going to be, like why should they be given the spotlight or the platform to ever be trusted again. You know, and, and um, you know, and it really goes beyond firings, it’s not like a, you know, when Brian Williams lied about something on TV like he got fired or something like that. It’s not just about firing someone or getting someone’s job, it’s about just challenging this whole notion of like, all right, well if this is the tabloid media that we’re getting, you have to radically reimagine how we get information and flip it. It’s not enough to just say sorry. It’s not enough for one or two people to lose their jobs about something. It’s about really redrawing the board in terms of media.
Nima: So something that you actually write about a lot in terms of this is that notion of impunity versus accountability and how it is so vital to hand over the media narrative of all these destructive policies to those actually targeted, victimized and effected by them. You’ve specifically noted, especially in your, in your most recent piece about the power that Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner of course wielded in this regard. Can you kind of tell us how Erica’s example can and should inspire others to kind of seize control of the mic?
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah. Uh, you know, and rest in power to Erica Garner and rest in power to all of the people who unfortunately, right, put the issue I think in such a, um, in a way that it couldn’t be ignored, that the media couldn’t ignore it and the public had to really wrestle with these, with what’s going on with police brutality and policing. What Erica did was, I think she controlled her mic. Right? She was given a mic because her father was a figure that was so instrumental to the Black Lives Matter movement and to myself and a lot of activists. She controlled that mic and there’s a lot of people who have, who can be controlled or who are told what to say or say things in a way to not offend the, you know, the powers that be and she was the opposite of that. And I think that’s what I think drew me to her or I mean we never met personally, actually we did meet personally once, but we didn’t, you know, I didn’t know her that well, but I always felt a connection to her and I felt, I feel that a lot of people in the neighborhood that I live would have also been drawn to her because she didn’t have any hair on her tongue. And that’s how people, I think, who been fighting the system or facing the system over the years and that’s what you eventually get to that point. You want to say what needs to be said and that urgency that you feel to be able to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to call out the Mayor of the City of New York. I’m not going to hold my tongue. I’m going to go in there with the same passion that I had the day that I found my father was killed.’ And she continually kept that urgency is something that you’re just not going to find in media, whether it’s media that’s friendly to, uh, you know, to the causes of justice, whether it’s a media that is really insightful, that urgency, that, that, um, that I think, it’s hard to explain. It’s like that little gut feeling you get in your stomach because you’ve lived that, you’ve experienced that and you’ve been on that street when you were being harassed or embarrassed or violated. Um, you can’t, that’s something that only someone who’s experience can bring to the table. And she had that and she brought that every time she’s, she’s spoken, she brought that to social media. Um, and you know, she had, you know, if she had lived, I think she would have probably gone on to be one of the great, incredible truth tellers of our time. Um, and I think that’s what people felt like we need more people like that. People were willing to flip the table and not try to be friendly to everybody. And not try to smooze and play the game. I’m someone who’s willing to flip tables and call things as I see them. And that’s the thing that she was. She wrote, a lot of people don’t know that she wrote pieces and um, you know, she was like myself, not someone who had received any formal training in writing I don’t think. And we are writing out there putting our ideas out there and there’s a lot more young people of color who are doing this now. And I think it’s time and Erica is a great, a point of inspiration. But I think it’s time that we really start to look at young people from these communities to write about these issues. We don’t, you know, somebody, whenever something happens in, in my neighborhood, there’s a guy, whether it’s from The Daily News or it could be from a, you know, from a national news organization, will come in with a little notepad, try to get a couple of quotes saying it’s like he’s curating our experience and we don’t need that middleman, you know, we don’t need someone to tell our experiences for us. We can tell them and um, I think it’s time to pass that mic along.
Adam: Yeah she was stung by James O’Keefe, that right-wring troll, on camera, which I don’t want to relitigate. But she responded by quoting Malcolm X, his famous quote, “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” She had an intuitive understanding of the media and as you write about when she, when she passed, I think it may have been her or her family’s wishes were to not talk to non-black journalists and a bunch of white, blue check-mark types got super incredulous, um, super outraged by this. I thought it was a strange irony that she had been stung by a white journalist once who had spied on her and she also knew that same organization, James O’Keefe had sent in Black Lives Matter protesters to yell chants about killing cops to try to get it on tape. So, I mean, she had a lot of reasons to be paranoid about white journalists and this kind of nuance was completely omitted from that analysis. But I thought her gut instinct about who her enemies were and who her friends were I thought were pretty much accurate.
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah and I think she also had a good understanding of the power dynamics that exist within media. Right? Like you go to, um, you know, you go to a press event and you look at the media that’s there and it’s incredible to me in New York City that they, even within the police department I mean they push diversity as a thing and they push, you know, really the city as being a melting pot of immigrants that uh, just the press corps in New York in New York City is so overwhelmingly white and I think she probably, and I’m not going to speak for her, but I think she probably made that request or had that request through her family, um, because part of the legacy I think not just of her father, but of what she did and, and what she was trying to do was to change power dynamics, was to take the opportunity that unfortunately she was given, and her family was given. I mean nobody asked for this right? Its like one of the worst tragedies you can imagine.
Josmar Trujillo: But out of that opportunity, can you do something to change the game so that this doesn’t have to repeat itself. You know these things happen and historically like 20 years ago it was Anthony Baez who was killed by a cop in the Bronx then it was Eric Garner and there’s going to be another incident one day and I almost feel like it’s like a cyclical thing that’s happening over and over and I think a lot of people in New York who have been around are like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going through this again.’ It’s like a, you know, it’s almost like repeating history that there’s a desire to change something so that we’re not continually on the same trajectory all the time. The police do something with a little bit of spin from politicians or maybe a bill passed or a street renaming and then we go back to normal and I think she wanted to change things. And one of the things that she probably saw because she was having media in her face all the time was like there’s an issue here and she may not have been able to describe and may have not been able to call it out specifically, but her request resonated or reflected that, that there’s an issue here with the fact that overwhelmingly all the reporters that are coming to me are white. And this needs to change, not just for her case but for the, for everybody else, for the media and power dynamics in general.
Adam: There’s something you mention a lot which is that while stop-and-frisk and even to some extent Broken Windows maybe falling out of favor that they’re not going away. They’re simply being replaced. In the last episode we talked about how stop-and-frisk has been replaced by these gang raids and in many ways the Broken Windows paradigm is being replaced by predictive policing, and the reason why I thought your piece was, was urgent was about passing the mic is, it seems to me that the same right-wing, you know, the right-wing you can always count on right? The Manhattan Institutes and Heather Mac Donald’s and so forth, but like The Daily News’ of the world who again are supposed to be a liberal newspaper that they’re going to fall for, again, we talked about how pro gang raid they are, The Daily News is I think the most right-wing media when it comes to the gang raid, but also this idea of predictive policing that the state that there’s actual stakes here. When you say pass the mic, you’re not just saying that because you want, even though you want accountability, I think, but there’s this new pseudoscience that’s going to keep popping up. This is going to have a sexy veneer to the same racist tropes.
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah absolutely. And that’s what I’m seeing and that’s why I get really flustered when I see us going back into a debate mode about policing things. To me predictive policing is like so obviously wrong and dangerous and like Orwellian levels of nonsense. Like are we really going to have a debate about this? Weigh the pros and the cons and think that like what the police are going to do is ever going to be the right thing? For me I’m just so far past that when I see the conversation going to like, ‘Oh, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s hear what the science says’ I’m like we haven’t learned from the lessons of everything that, that, that, that the NYPD has thrown out there. I mean just look at history. Then we’re going to keep repeating this history over and over. And so I think it’s important that we talk to people on the ground and we’ll just say, listen man, and this is nonsense. Like, this is, uh, something that, uh, you know, is going to be the struggle for years on end. Just right out of the bat, pack it and reveal it for what it is. And I think that there’s just a, I feel like there’s a, there’s an attempt by people in media to just always try to have these to base on one side you have National Review or Daily News or whoever on the other side, you might have left leaning media and it’s just a back and forth and it just comes off, you know, it comes off as if like, you know, these things are being, um, uh, you know, equally debated on both sides and left out of that conversation are people who are being affected and are going to be affected and who probably have the best instincts to, to, to call it out for what it is. Um, and I think that it’s, uh, it, it’s the only way forward is to not get caught up in the same, uh, kind of, I usually describe it as like Groundhog Day, like the movie Groundhog Day. Like, you’re just waking up and it’s like the same day all the time. Um, so that’s, you know, that’s a big piece of it. And, uh, and just what I just also wanted to just point this out. I forgot this. This is something that probably I should have mentioned a little while ago, but I didn’t want to let this go about the, um, uh, a fascination with liberals. I also want to point out, it’s not only media, but it’s also sometimes these kind of academic or intellectual heroes of liberals. Um Malcolm, this was another mea culpa that was missed or a lot of people who may not have noticed. Malcolm Gladwell did a lot to legitimize Broken Windows, um, back I think the nineties.
Adam: Oh yeah.
Josmar Trujillo: And this was a guy who was like a hero for a lot of people, including liberal leaning people and he in 2015, I wrote about it as well. He also matter of factly, like, at the end of a segment on CNN he was like, ‘Oh yeah. And, by the way, I may have oversold Broken Windows.’ And I remember hearing that and I was thinking to myself I was like, this is the guy that probably convinced more liberals than anybody else because, uh, The Daily News and the media people always, you know, people can kind of expect that from the media, but when you have a lot of intellectuals or academic types legitimizing it as well, and this guy is the guy that, a lot of people, his book changed a lot of people’s ways of thinking. This guy also had that oops moment. And I was so angry at that. I just wanted to make sure that that was pointed out because, uh, I want to make sure Malcolm Gladwell is a, is remembered as well.
Nima: Yeah, sufficiently called out. That’s amazing. That’s hugely important.
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ll throw it up on Twitter again so people don’t forget because Malcolm Gladwell’s book was something that even Commissioner Bratton, Bill Bratton, one of the most important police commissioners in the history of the city, he always referenced that. And that was like his little signal to the liberals in the state to be like, ‘Look, even the intellectual class, the good guys, the liberal guys, not the police guys. They’re saying that this stuff works.’ So it, it has, it has, it has enablers on all sides.
Nima: Was that in The Tipping Point?
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah. So in The Tipping Point one of the big things he wrote about was Broken Windows and the Broken Windows theory and he legitimized it for a lot of people. That was, that was, I think at the time that Broken Windows was really starting to become popular throughout the, as, as a kind of a national story. And that really legitimized it for a lot of people. That hooked it.
Nima: Well and it just kind of reinforces this feedback loop so that these kinds of pseudo scientists, these professors or these criminologists pioneer this really racist notion of policing and then it gets picked up in the politics and then it’s re-reinforced basically through liberal punditry.
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah.
Nima: And so there’s this feedback loop where then everyone thinks they’re right and then only decades later, a decade and a half later, whatever, the verdict is in, it’s clear that these are discriminatory policies and everyone from let’s say, a liberalish hero on the Gladwell scale, uh, you know, all the way to The National Review start rethinking this, and yet the policies have already been implemented, lives have already been destroyed, trauma is already rampant. And then, as you said, Josmar, then it just goes back to having a debate about whether living within like Minority Report is worth it and not hearing from the voices of all the victims.
Josmar Trujillo: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And these relationships that people I think have, you know like, media goes to the same sources all the time. I mean they in their Rolodex are the same voices, the same opinions, the same angles you’re going to get. And it’s so easy for me to always go back to the same voices and, you know, kind of just stir the pot but it’s all within the same controlled narrative again, no one’s off script. Um, everyone’s echoing one another. Um, that’s exactly how it works and that’s how I’ve seen it work even with Broken Windows and, and, uh, a stop-and-frisk. I mean it took mountains.
Josmar Trujillo: It took like tons of, like, I mean imagine, I can’t even describe the amount of work its taken to just get people to doubt this and all it takes to, to put these things into practice is to have a political class and a media class just all just repeat each other and back and forth and it becomes the Gospel. And to challenge it and to knock it down it takes thousands of people marching. It takes a lot of work. It takes years. As you mentioned that, you know, when the dust all clears, we’re the ones we’ve taken all the losses and they’re the ones who run off and get a, you know, uh, the, get the next job in the private sector or get the next speaking gig at Harvard.
Adam: Yeah. I don’t think there’s any industry other than finance where there’s basically zero accountability. I mean you know, at least at some point a coach will get fired in the NFL or something will happen. You’ll get fired in most jobs, but, but you can be so wrong about something so important that literally caused the deaths and anguish and life ruining of tens of thousands, if not, if not millions of people and just go ‘Eh. I’m sorry. Moving on. And by the way, here’s this new thing down the, uh, down the conveyor belt called gang raids and it’s not racist at all. And by the way, we’re going to run infomercials for them like they’re fucking in some Tom Clancy video game.’
Josmar Trujillo: And it goes so far beyond the city because as I mentioned, again New York is on such a platform. This stuff not only goes across the country, but it goes across borders. I mean you’ll hear Broken Windows in Honduras and Puerto Rico and other places and they’ll bring these people in as experts. They’ll bring Ray Kelly or, or Bratton or Giuliani in as consultants, pay them tons of money, you know, give them buckets full of money and then its just replicated in other countries and it becomes an idea that just becomes like a disease that doesn’t go away. It takes years for us to find the cure.
Nima: You’re such a prolific organizer or you’ve been a part of the Coalition To End Broken Windows and New Yorkers Against Bratton. Where do you see the hope? What’s the new movement? Who is currently organizing right now, whether it’s just in the city or on a more national level that you think people need to be paying more attention to?
Josmar Trujillo: I think that the, the next front, uh, is going to be around gang policing in general and the raids themselves are a piece of it. Um, and I always try to point out that it’s much bigger like the actual militarized raid where people come in and grab all those people up. That’s one day. But really it’s all of the surveillance that happens to people years and years before. It’s all of the conspiracy and legal hurdles that they have to, to face afterwards. Um, it is I think the last but strongest piece of the era of mass incarceration that we have not yet, kind of, I guess put out there for everyone to see. I think the gang policing fight is the next fight and I think there’s a lot of groups in the city that are doing amazing work. Um, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee New York City is doing a lot of work organizing with parents and family members. Uh, Why Accountability, Black Youth Project 100 here in New York are also organizing and working with family members and giving them support. Um, there are some legal organizations that are putting together some, some challenges and beginning kind of the, the, the battle kind of, uh, not, not unlike what happened with stop-and-frisk to kind of question these things. And I think that there is, um, you know, there’s a lot of work to be done, but I think that it is the next big battle because gang policing is, is so reliant on that media angle to be able to paint people as like this other thing, these other people, um, that when you break down the gang policing as myth or the lies of gang policing and what they’re doing, um, I think you’re going to find the media, I guess, culpability in it as well. People are going to start to really question what they’re being told. And The Daily News is, uh, the most, I think complicit in that because they literally, I think that their editors have dedicated themselves to making the whole gang issue they’re beat. Um, so I think that out of what we’re going to have to do, um, and it’s happening in other cities too. In Portland they eliminated a gang database. In Chicago they’re really pushing back. And LA I think recently they, uh, they lift the gang injunction. A lot of work happening nationally, but here in the city is going to have to take really challenging these new media narratives and really bringing these voices of the family members who are impacted in the young people being impacted to the front so people can see them as human beings.
Josmar Trujillo: Either they see these people as statistics or they see it as on the news, you know, a, a murder or a gunshot that happened. And to really, uh, bring that human element back in and talk about people as people who were being unfairly thrown into federal prison for 20 years and um, and that these are people’s kids and these are people with kids, um, I think is the best way to kind of undo a lot of what the media does.
Adam: So on the last episode we had you on which I think was Episode 3, we talked about how The Daily News is the only major paper that does not even say ‘allege’ gang member, it just says ‘gang member’ straight up ‘gang member.’ And this is something that not even Fox News does.
Josmar Trujillo: I saw a headline the other day in a, it was so I just rubbed eyes and just walked away. Uh, it said, uh, basically just called them goons, it was like three words. It was like ‘City Bans Goons’ or something like that.
Adam: Goons. Yeah, goons.
Josmar Trujillo: Like ‘City Bans Goons.’ That was, there was like three words. It’s like they, they didn’t have enough space to, to properly insult them? So we just called them goons. And I just thought it was a, the new low.
Nima: Yeah. Amazing.
Adam: Yeah, it’s basically incitement to violence. But. Well thanks so much Josmar for coming on. You’re always a breath of fresh air in helping us parse these things.
Nima: Of course. Josmar Trujillo, writer, organizer based here in my hometown of New York City. It has been a pleasure to have you on Citations Needed again. Talk to you soon.
Josmar Trujillo: Alright, guys. Keep up the good work and thanks for having me back.
Nima: Once again, that was Josmar Trujillo. It is always so awesome to talk to him. He is not only a font of knowledge but also one of the most authentic and dedicated organizers that I know of and who’s work I follow.
Adam: Yeah. He writes a lot for FAIR and, and we’re going to have a lot of his stuff in the show notes. Read it. Um, he’s an exceptionally good writer and he was doing stuff for FAIR right before I started writing for them in 2014 and 2015. So he was one of the, kind of the, one of the reasons I got into it. He’s one of the guys who I really read and liked a lot. So that’s why he’s been on the show twice. He’s a repeat offender.
Adam: That’s what they call people who go on Law and Order more than once, except unlike Law and Order we don’t try to pawn him off as other people.
Nima: I think we should also point out the stuff that we say on the show comes from places. There’s research that goes into it. Obviously we’re doing our best to build our team to do more research, get more of this stuff, but I also would be remiss to not give credit to a really good article where a bunch of this information came from. There was an article in Slate back in 2014 called “Loose Cigarettes Today, Civil Unrest Tomorrow” by Justin Peters, which really looks into a lot of the origins of Broken Windows. I want to give a shout out to Justin Peters there, obviously also places like the Center For Constitutional Rights, changethenypd.org. Those groups are doing tremendous work and actually are responsible for extensively ending the official stop-and-frisk policies through their legal advocacy getting these policies deemed unconstitutional. There are plenty of reports that they’ve done that are really important. NYCLU as well. ACLU as well. We’ll have a bunch of stuff in the show notes, but I just wanted to make sure that those outlets, those people, those writers get their due.
Adam: Yeah. We stand on the shoulders of giants. There are people that have been trying to fight this for years and it’s frustrating and part of Josmar’s thesis that like these things are just morphing into sexier new versions of what they fought before and that it’s Groundhog Day is I think something we should really think hard about and think about where these, where the propaganda is coming next. We saw this a lot during the Obama years in 2010, 2011, how a lot of the ways that war was sold to us had changed since Iraq. It was more subtle. It was more sophisticated. It took on a kind of liberal veneer where these things are going to get jammed down our throats. We need to figure out how those things manifest and what new buzzwords and what new South by Southwest panels they take the form of. Because, you know, again, things like gang raids and predictive policing have huge, huge racist implications and, and they are sort of also being accepted by a lot of these same liberal institutions and media institutions. So it’s a great, um, warning sign we need to be aware of where that’s coming from and not in 20 years make the same mea culpas.
Nima: That’s right. Thank you again everyone for joining us this week on Citations Needed. You can find us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook at Citations Needed. Help us out through Patreon at Citations Needed Podcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. Your support is so welcome and so appreciated. Special shout out to our critical level supporters. Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant is Josh Kross. Music is by Grandaddy. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Thank you again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.