Zero Tolerance

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Apr 26 00:09:02 PDT 2000

From Frederick Douglass, _Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself_ (1845):

***** Mr. Hopkins was even worse than Mr. Weeden. His chief boast was his ability to manage slaves. The peculiar feature of his government was that of whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning. He did this to alarm their fears, and strike terror into those who escaped. His plan was to whip for the smallest offences, to prevent the commission of large ones. *****

And from Christian Parenti, _Lockdown America_ (1999):

***** If you peed in the street, you were going to jail. We were going to fix broken windows and prevent anyone from breaking again.

William Bratton, former New York City police commissioner

...Throughout his career, Bratton advocated a theory and practice of aggressive proactive enforcement, with bureaucratic decentralization, and a businesslike focus on the "bottom line" of reducing crime rates. In short, he brought post-Fordism to copland. But Bratton did not invent zero tolerance/quality of life policing on his own. A more definitive genealogy of the new siegecraft begins with the policing crisis of the late sixties and the advent of the Police Foundation in 1970, thanks to a $30 million start-up grant from the Ford Foundation. Headed by law enforcement officials and administrators -- such as former New York City Commissioner Patrick Murphy and social scientists like James Q. Wilson -- the Police Foundation conducted numerous early experiments and studies on police-community relations and "order maintenance." In the face of mass rioting and increasing antagonism between police and communities of color, it was clear that old strategies were inadequate.

From this milieu arose a school of thought exemplified and first popularized by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in their 1982 _Atlantic Monthly_ article "Broken Window." Wilson was already a well-known conservative theorist, but Kelling, who ran the Police Foundation's famous Kansas City experiment and Newark foot patrol study only gained fame in the nineties through his close association with zero tolerance enforcement strategies and William Bratton.

The Wilson-Kelling "broken windows" thesis was simple: if police address the small "quality of life" offenses that create "disorder," violent crime will diminish. According to Wilson and Kelling, "disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence." Neighborhoods where behavior is left "untended" become frightening, anonymous, deserted, and "vulnerable to criminal invasion." Police were advised to get out of their squad cars so as better to control "panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed." According to the theory, enforcing laws against public urination, graffiti, and inebriation will create an aura of regulation that helps prevent brutal crimes like rape and murder.

..."People say Z.T. doesn't work because in New York or Baltimore, 80% of the quality of life tickets are never paid and an enormous amount of the misdemeanor court dates are no-shows," says zero tolerance apostle Lt. McLehenny of the Baltimore PD. "But hey, that doesn't matter, Unpaid tickets become [arrest] warrants. What counts is we've got them in the system! We're building a database."

Add to that disturbing admission the fact that zero tolerance is often selectively enforced against people of color and the visibly poor and what emerges is a postmodern version of Jim Crow. Enough unpaid tickets and petty outstanding warrants lead to the criminal labeling of non-deviant populations. (71-2, 89) *****


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