Last month the name of Eric Garner became widely known throughout New York City due to the highly-profiled controversy regarding Garner’s death. When a video showing the death of Garner at the hands of police officers was released, members of the Latino and African-American communities and civil rights activists have come out to say enough is enough.
For years, the New York City Police Department has utilized a type of “broken window policy” when it comes to certain areas that are considered high crimes. Because of these particular areas, police officers are able to rely on their discretion to stop and frisk anyone they perceive to be a potential criminal. However, this discretion has largely been viewed as being racially motivated.
The death of Garner’s has stirred citizens and civil rights activists to demand that the issue of stop-and-frisk including the increased number of arrests among Latinos and African-Americans since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office to be resolved now that a life has been taken.
On July 17, 2014 in the Staten Island neighborhood of Tompkinsville, Garner was approached by a plain-clothed officer which is believed to be racially-motivated. Becoming incensed with the continual harassment by local law enforcement, Garner refused to obey the officer which led to the officer requesting back-up.
When back-up arrived, Garner was placed in a chokehold—which is tactical maneuver prohibited by the New York Police Department’s protocol—and despite being an asthmatic man and stating he couldn’t breathe officers kept him pinned to ground. Garner would eventually die from the forceful arrest.
The video—which has been widely viewed and commented on—was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner’s, and has become beacon for many calling for a change to the racial-profiling of young Latino and African-American citizens by law enforcement.
“The NYPD applies the ‘broken windows’ theory in a much-aggressive manner, and officers are evaluated for meeting arrest quotas. This drives them to detain large numbers of people for the most innocuous reasons,” said Robert Gangi, Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). “This policy creates resentment among victims, and, as they resist arrest, it can lead to serious injury or even death, as in Eric Garner’s tragic case.”
The broken windows theory is a criminological theory regarding the setting of an urban neighborhood and how its presence of unchecked vandalism would permit further vandalism, increasing of crime, and the decay of the neighborhood in-which it is present. Introduced by sociologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, the theory states that to keep an area falling into social disorder is to monitor and maintain the area to stop the growth of crime.
The theory, introduced back in the 1980s, is now under heavy debate due to the growing uneasiness regarding the broken windows policy upheld by the NYPD and the continuation of the previous NYC administration’s controversial stop-and-frisk practice. The practice is becoming more violent and harmful for civilians.
Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office there has been an increase among Latinos and African-American New Yorkers who have been stopped and given citations for misdemeanors. Back in June, the Police Reform Organizing Project or PROP visited the criminal courts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx and uncovered that a total of 747 citations have been given for misdemeanors. In 89% of the citations—an estimated 667 cases—the accused were either Latino or African-American.
“These citations often lead to a persons arrest, which has devastating effects on their immigration status, their right to remain in public housing or their chance to find a job,” said José Pérez, legal director with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, describing the long-term burden the citations have on Latinos and African-Americans.
Since Garner’s death and the public and social media outcry it has generated, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton have publicly promised to re-train members of the NYPD in order to prevent further incidents of deaths and/or injuries during questioning of suspects. However, both still defended the broken windows policy used by officers.
“In 2014 you cannot apply the same policing methods you used in the ’90s. We live in an even more diverse city than back then, and we must analyze which aspects of ‘broken windows’ work and which don’t work in this new reality,” said City Comptroller Scott Stringer, regarding the outdated and racially-charged policy.
For Latinos living in Manhattan’s El Barrio or Bruckner Boulevard in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx they experience nothing but harassment from the police officers present in the area.
“You have to be alert all the time, because they are going around waiting for the moment to give you a parking ticket or to see if you’re drinking. They don’t give you a break!” said José Florián, a 35-year-old Dominican worker at a bodega.
Some residents of the area feel police officers are issuing citations for minor offenses that would generally be looked over in other, popularly acceptable neighborhoods in the city. The overall feeling by Latino residents in the area is that the excessiveness in handing out fines is unnecessary and a hindrance.
“I was asked to appear in court because I was on my bike and got on the sidewalk while I dropped off a delivery. I am not going to show up. I’m afraid; I don’t have papers,” said Pedro Flórez, a 47-year-old Peruvian pizza delivery worker.
For Fernando Correa his citation was merely for sitting down, “They gave me a ticket because I was sitting in the street, supposedly loitering. You can’t be just chilling anywhere anymore.”
PROP is trying to correct the seemingly unrecognized problem the NYPD fails to see when it comes to using the broken windows policy. By using and analyzing research in conjunction with public education and policy advocacy, PROP aims to “stop the current ineffective, unjust, discriminatory, and racially biased practices of the NYPD; to investigate police priorities and punish abusive conduct; and to implement local problem solving measures that strengthen communities while reducing crime,” in hopes of correcting common abusive police tactics which creates more harm to the city’s low-income communities and distrust among people of color.