Broken Windows and Leadership

This past Friday, January 9th, I was driving in the city of Detroit  Our research, fieldwork and analysis of the urban ecosystems has evolved over the past decades.  As an urbanologist within my native Detroit the concern remains about urban existence.  Our projects studies the sociological impacts, issues  of the largest African American big city population and poorest in the Untied States of America.  Detroit has many distinctions over the past century.  During the good times the city was known as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ for its supplying vehicles during wartime.  The main brand was Detroit as the automobile capitol of the world.  Detroit had been an industrial driven economy even before Henry Ford’s invention of an assembly line.  As I tour the ghost like blocks of my old neighborhood the radio played the popular show All Things Considered a preeminent NPR show.  One of the topics was the New York Police Department woes during recent times surrounding community police relations.  This subject is extremely sensitive at this time.  New York City has been the model city for protecting its citizenship from both external and internal threats.  I love the broadcast, professionalism, and objectivity of this show on Michigan Radio.

The guest was the NYC Police Commissioner who was addressing the series of police and citizens controversial encounters.  In recent years the shootings, deaths of young black males has found public policing in entangled with black communities across America.  The tragic death of Florida’s Trayvon Martin, followed by other young black unarmed males has pitted communities of color against what critics characterize as Police States.  The criminal justice system has failed to uphold the justice of many black males.  Especially our youth, young men of color are conditioned by this society as the problem.  An unsettling complicated challenge of our relationship with minority groups and the police in America today.  I understood the NYC Commissioner as he explained the internal confusion, frustrations, and resentment of some of his officers feeling the public rebuke over the treatment of citizens.  He is an articulate well spoken public servant.  In some manners he is able to balance his role as the head of the police force.  His fiery independent, defiant police union membership ignores his calm plea for better relations with the public.  Yet, I found his overall demeanor actually not able to provide the leadership beyond rhetoric of a well prepared politician.  His facial expressions are more poker than diplomatic.  His words are deliberate, seeming loyal to the mayor, yet not really.  There is no mistake, his honor, reputation as a streetwise cop is intact.  He refuses to not be proud, reassuring his troops that he protects them from those who are not willing to understand their value to the city.  His stand, his ownership as the architect of the controversial ‘Broken Window Theory’ says he is not for a moment thinking about any policy change for his battle plan.  I fully understand his position.  I can meet him half way in this outdated theory.  That social theory is designed as a prevention instrument.  It has evolved into a half dressed Trojan Horse.  The Commissioner talks in the business of many police executives, heads of cities that the public wants this social theory to  essentially nip it in the early stages of declining elements, street challenges that can lead to more serious erosion.  I agree, yet, the usage of physical force along with the omnipotent warning of don’t resist. Well, overkill has entered the equation extremely.  The Eric Gardner case is in the public view and broadcasted  around the world. It is here that the Commissioner reveals his business acumen, perhaps his desire to head the state and not just the police force.  His summary is the taxpayers enjoy the savings of dollars by the aggressive policing tactics of going after the prostitutes, street people who are a menace to society.  The sins of Mr Gardner was illegally selling loose cigarettes?  Resisting being choked by a gang of officers who totally ignored his plea of not being able to breathe?  Here, NYC draws the line in the sand.  The have’s of Manhattan are concerned about public safety.  That makes sense, do they believe at the price of a human being for selling a loose bunch of regular tobacco cigarettes?  The sad commentary is that the Commissioner sets the tone, protects and agrees with the police union leadership that is insistent that the Mayor of New York City has broken the commandment of not questioning their actions.  Stern, poker faced, unforgiving that if only Mr Gardner had not resisted arrest he would not have died.  There is no sign of regret, remorse, and no respect of this man’s life from police leadership.  We can not expect to seriously heal our differences if the police leadership screams insults at everyone beginning with the President of the United States and the Attorney General for causing the public to protest peacefully.  The pubic posturing by a former mayor who supports the ugliness of attacking blacks, and everyone else including again the President, Mayor and the deceased victim.  This is the same ex-mayor whose antics in the mayoral mansion alone should censor any comments.  This same mayor hired a police commissioner who was convicted of transgressions that led to his conviction to prison.  The branding of how the African American male is a menace to American society by the present police commissioner and former mayor does little to improve anything.  As an African American male we are clear about the unfairness of being persecuted for our skin color.  Yes, indeed we have more than our share of transgressors.  The police commissioner in the NPR interview said strongly that black males do have a problem in American society beyond the police.  He is correct, he went on to say that the police would not be the whipping boy for the society problem of the black man.  It is disappointing for his words, an arrogant moment that forgets how many groups have had their own bad branding that seem to suggest their unworthiness for full citizenship.  European immigrants, others from around the world at times have felt the ugliness, bigotry, and outward prejudice towards a group of people condemning an entire group.  The challenges are great and the demand for fairness is cornerstone to American democracy.  At this moment we must have a policy of public safety that has filters for those who enforce the law fairly which is not an easy task.  The fear of crime is real, as is terrorism.  Filtering communities needs the support of communities, all communities.  All black men are not criminals anymore than all Muslims are terrorist.  For those of us who are living daily as law abiding citizens it is no picnic being suspected of some transgression based solely on our outward appearance.  In recent months young black boys, young black males have been shot dead for weak, mistaken and inept reasons by the police in different cities.  There is no outward regret, a general confusion that lacks any semblance of humanity.  Mike Brown did not have to lay dead uncovered in the hot summer for four hours.  Apology by the police chief?  This young 12 year old laid dead with no visible effort by the police to save his life after shooting him?  Where is the police leadership that can stand up and say this is a tragic incident that we are sorry happened?  This society is scared of blacks in 2015?  Please, the rebuttal by political types, pundits and bloggers that blacks kill blacks means what exactly?  Does not excuse the failure of police our professional law enforcers.  Mistakes?  Apologies?  Some police executive admitting that there are some not all bad cops?  We admit that our community has bad players.  Most communities have bad apples, it is human isn’t this part of life?

The open hostile attitudes towards the New York mayor and his family by some of the police is confusing?  Because the public disagrees with your policies does not make them the enemy.  Your disregard for unarmed black people death at the hands of police acceptable.  This not a police state?  Questions should be asked?  Accountability is paramount to community and police relations.  The threats of slow downs, refusal to enforce the law as a pay back is unprofessional.  You can not claim to be the best police department in the world and turn your back on your own mayor.  Like we say to protesters that violence is unacceptable we must ask our police to think of their public accountability.  The Broken Window Theory should not mean capturing of low hanging fruit for statistical reports.  The message of public safety means including all citizens not just the have’s of society.  There is a great need to understand that all parties have shared interest.  Many citizens respect, support the police.  The attitude that police are above the law is sad.  The divide is impacting cities across the nation.  We want to resolve the differences which will take a moral leadership for all parties.  Broken Windows don’t exist in many cities because their is no glass in the frame.  Poverty is breeding an attitude that the government is only about certain groups, people. The challenge of New York and other cities must realize that this problem is much more than fiscal management. Racial tension is high, class divide is real.  The failure of leadership of police, communities and the complications infused with unemployment, family dysfunction, mental health, poor education and race relations are far beyond any broken window.  Broken communities.  Yes some citizens love strict enforcement as long as they are not the subjects?  Moral questions and self interest?  Social Darwinism is not the answer.