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Amid City Hall Protests, NYPD Chief Bill Bratton Resigns, But “Broken Windows” Continues Nationwide

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New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton has announced he is resigning next month. Bratton was a lead advocate of the so-called broken windows theory that called for officers to crack down on minor infractions in an attempt to decrease more violent crime. Over the past four decades, Bratton has served as New York police commissioner twice as well as the head of the Boston and Los Angeles police departments. Supporters of Bratton credit him with lowering crimes rates, but critics say broken windows policing unfairly targets communities of color. In a statement, Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi told Democracy Now!, “William Bratton is the key architect of programs that have terrorized our communities for decades. His implementation of broken windows theory has wreaked havoc on communities from Los Angeles to New York City and beyond.” Bratton resigned just one day after hundreds of activists gathered outside New York City Hall demanding the defunding of the New York Police Department and his firing. Protests against William Bratton have been escalating ever since the police killing of Eric Garner two years ago. We speak to Trinity College professor Christina Heatherton, Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Nabil Hassein of Millions March NYC.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: New York Police Commissioner William Bratton has announced he is resigning next month, ending a four-decade career where he helped reshape modern policing. Bratton was a lead advocate of the so-called broken windows theory that called for officers to crack down on minor infractions in an attempt to decrease more violent crime. On Tuesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Bratton’s resignation.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Commissioner Bill Bratton, whose contributions to our city and to law enforcement, not only here but across the nation, are literally inestimable and extraordinary. In September, Commissioner Bratton will retire from the NYPD.

AMY GOODMAN: Supporters of William Bratton credited him with lowering crimes rate, but critics said broken windows policing unfairly targets communities of color. In a statement, Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi told Democracy Now!, quote, “William Bratton is the key architect of programs that have terrorized our communities for decades. His implementation of broken windows theory has wreaked havoc on communities from Los Angeles to New York City and beyond,” she said.

Over the past four decades, Bratton has served as New York police commissioner twice, as well as the head of the Boston and Los Angeles police departments. Bratton resigned just one day after hundreds of activists gathered outside New York City Hall demanding the defunding of the New York Police Department as well as Bratton’s firing.

VIENNA RYE: My name is Vienna Rye. I’m an organizer with Millions March NYC. And we are here today to demand that Bill Bratton be immediately fired, and broken windows policing ended, that reparations are paid to all victims and survivors of racist police brutality, and that the NYPD is defunded and that money is reinvested into black, brown and working-class communities.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Coming up on today’s broadcast, we will be looking at private equity and how it affects all of our lives, and we’ll also be talking about what’s happening to Chelsea Manning, who attempted suicide just a few weeks ago. As well as attempting suicide, she went—the authorities are saying she faces solitary confinement.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, protests against William Bratton have been escalating ever since the police killing of Eric Garner two years ago. Officers stopped Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. Garner, who was an African-American father of six, died after an officer pulled him to the ground in a chokehold. Officers then piled on top of Garner as he said “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Bratton’s resignation also comes at a time when the city’s largest police union has been protesting Mayor de Blasio and seeking a 34 percent pay hike. Bratton will be replaced by James O’Neill, the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and a 33-year veteran of the department.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of Bratton’s resignation, we’re joined by three guests. Darius Charney is with us, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, lead counsel on CCR’s landmark federal civil rights lawsuit that found NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional. Nabil Hassein is an organizer with Millions March NYC. And joining us from Chicopee, Massachusetts, is Christina Heatherton, assistant professor of American studies at Trinity College. She’s co-editor of Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Nabil, let’s begin with you. There’s been this protest for two days outside of New York City Hall, so it was quite astounding, as they were calling for the firing of Bratton, that New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton resigned. Do you think you had any effect?

NABIL HASSEIN: Definitely, I think our protest had an impact. This is the culmination of years of organizing at the NY—at the New York City grassroots within the Movement for Black Lives. There’s more groups than I could possibly name that have been doing all kinds of work against Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his racist policy of broken windows policing, which I actually think was best summarized by Frederick Douglass all the way back in 1845, when he said, “The slaveowners’ plan was to whip for the smallest offenses, in order to prevent the commission of large ones.” There’s no evidence that this policy does anything to keep any community safe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Christina Heatherton, if you could assess the impact of Bratton on American policing? I mean, clearly, the broken windows theory was a key aspect of what he brought to the modern policing, but also his use of what’s called CompStat, or data-driven assessments that would, in essence, supposedly bring policing into the 21st century.

CHRISTINA HEATHERTON: Yes, Juan. Well, first, allow me to say, on behalf of all the communities that have been stopped, frisked, assaulted, terrorized and killed under broken windows policing, I’d like to say to the commissioner, “Good riddance.” Bill Bratton is credited with being America’s top cop, with, as you said, modernizing American policing with policies such as broken windows theory and CompStat. Essentially what this did was expanded police capacity from response to preemption. So, instead of responding to major crimes, police gained the authorization to moderate and police individual behavior. This is an incredible expansion of police capacity. This has followed an enormous expansion of police—of funding for police departments at state and local levels. And this—while his supporters and detractors say that he revolutionized American policing, we have to think about his legacy as the death of Eric Garner, the death of Michael Brown, the death of Rekia Boyd, the death of Sean Bell. The implementation of broken windows policing has enabled a new intimacy of policing across the country and around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: At Tuesday’s news conference, Bill Bratton enumerated the successes of the NYPD under his leadership.

COMMISSIONER WILLIAM BRATTON: No police department in America, any time in any of their history, has ever been as well funded or supported as we have, to buy all of that equipment, to provide all of that training, to ensure that our officers, that we keep them as safe as we can, and they keep you safe as you need to be. We have begun that job from top to bottom. For our officers, it has involved new training about how to de-escalate situations. We’ve reduced stop and frisk by phenomenal amounts—said it couldn’t be done. But we continue to reduce crime at the same time. We have reduced our use of force, our civilian complaints, and launched the most innovative and far-reaching community policing program New York has ever attempted. And it will succeed this time.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s New York Police Commissioner and, before that, Boston and Los Angeles Police Commissioner Bill Bratton enumerating his accomplishments. Darius Charney, you are a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, specifically involved in a major stop-and-frisk case. Can you talk about his evaluation of his tenure?

DARIUS CHARNEY: Well, I think his tenure has been very complicated. And again, when we talk about his tenure, we’re talking about not only the last three or four years, but his tenure here in the 1990s, which, I think if you go back and you look at the history of policing in New York City over the last two decades, Commissioner Bratton is the architect not only of the broken windows policy and all of the harmful impacts it has had on particularly communities of color in the city, but the explosion of stop and frisk that we saw in the early 2000s was a natural extension of the policies that he put in place in the 1990s, which were, you know, as the professor said earlier, a, quote-unquote, “proactive” intervention in particularly poor communities of color, very, I guess, draconian and aggressive policing tactics of which stop and frisk was one. And so, I think when we talk about his legacy, you know, while he said we’ve reduced stop and frisk over the past few years, we have to look—we have to look back further and try to understand why was there such an explosion to begin with, and I think it’s a direct consequence of the policies and the philosophy that he advocated for.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, I wanted to ask you, because I had much—a lot of interaction with Bratton during his first stint as commissioner here. And I once asked him in a forum, because he was touting the huge reductions in New York City’s crime rate, and I said to him, “Commissioner, how much of this is actually due to your data-driven analysis and your broken windows theories? And how much of it is due to the actual increasing of surveillance of citizens, in general?” I mean, ATM machines, anyone who tries to do a robbery, an ATM machine, it automatically gets a camera—a picture of them captured. They may do it the first time, but they’re not going to be able to do it the second time. And that the reality is, from E-ZPass and Metro cards, there’s so many ways now for the state to surveil what people are doing on a daily basis that being a career criminal these days is not going to be a lucrative venture, because you’re not going to be able to continue to commit crimes over and over again.

DARIUS CHARNEY: Well, I think when you—you know, you mentioned surveillance. I think we really have seen an explosion of surveillance, on the part not only of law enforcement, but obviously the federal government, over the past several decades. And I think, you know, that reminds me of another, I guess, technological advancement that Commissioner Bratton is touting, which is the police body cameras. That is kind of the new trend in American policing. It’s something that the NYPD is about to roll out in a widespread way. And I think there are very much concerns there about the privacy rights of individual civilians, what will the footage be used for. You know, there’s going to be a huge amount of data sitting somewhere, whether it’s in the cloud or somewhere in an NYPD server, of hundreds of thousands or millions of New Yorkers, and at this point we have no idea what the NYPD is going to do with it. So, I think, you know, you’re right, Juan, that, I think, surveillance has had an impact on our society. And I guess the question is: Has it been for positive or negative reasons? And I think I tend to come down on the negative side.

AMY GOODMAN: What about stop and frisk, the deal that has been made? Explain that lawsuit, what you won and what it means now with Bratton leaving.

DARIUS CHARNEY: Sure. Well, in terms of what the case was about, I think many—anyone who lives here remembers, not so long ago, that there was an explosion of the use of stop, question and frisk by the NYPD over the course of, really, a decade, where at the height, in 2011, we had almost 700,000 New Yorkers being stopped, oftentimes searched, oftentimes having force used against them. And, of course, the overwhelming majority of those folks were particularly young and black and Latino men. So, CCR, in 2008, challenged this practice in federal court, and in 2013, a federal judge ruled that the way that the NYPD uses stop, question and frisk is unconstitutional, it violates the Fourth Amendment, and it was also racially discriminatory, and therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The prior administration attempted to appeal that decision, not surprisingly. But when Mayor de Blasio came in, mainly due to overwhelming, I think, organizing and pressure from the public and the grassroots, he realized that the better course was to actually accept the findings of the court and agree to, you know, change this practice, to try to end it.

And so, since 2014, we have been working with a federal monitor appointed by the court, we’ve been working with the NYPD, we’ve been working with many stakeholders in the community who have been most impacted by these practices, to develop a set of really fundamental reforms to how the NYPD polices these communities. It runs the gamut of training. It runs the gamut of monitoring officers, of how they will be held accountable if they violate people’s rights, how they will be evaluated to determine if they’re doing a good job or not. And we’re in the very early stages of that, of developing these remedies. In terms of what this means now, it is our expectation and our hope that nothing will change in terms of the NYPD’s agreement and, thus far, commitment to making these changes. But, you know, it has been a hard, very slow road so far, and so I think we have to remain vigilant and continue to hold the police department accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Nabil Hassein, the new commissioner now, James O’Neill, has promised that he’s going to move forward on a more community policing model; from your perspective, is there any kind of form of community policing that would—that would reduce the tensions and conflicts between the police and the African-American and Latino communities, or is it just a hopeless effort to try to reform the police department?

NABIL HASSEIN: So, Millions March NYC is a police and prison abolitionist organization. So, we do not—ultimately, we do not support community policing. It is possible that the NYPD could become less violent than it is now, while still existing, but we—in Millions March NYC, we envision a world without the police, without jails, without prisons. We think that’s what an actually free society would look like. And all of our three demands, which are, again—the first one, the first half of it was met, which is to fire Bill Bratton and end broken windows policing. So, Bill Bratton is on his way out. We’ll still have to see what kind of policies James O’Neill is going to put in. But to be honest, coming in, I’m not extremely optimistic, given the fact of his long tenure within the NYPD, his close work with Bill Bratton. I would say—I would just warn him, you know, based on the results of the grassroots organizing that’s been going on against Bill Bratton, those ties continue to exist and if he continues the same policies as his predecessor, he’s going to meet with the same fate as his predecessor.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to turn to Bill Bratton’s successor, Chief James O’Neill, the department’s top uniformed officer now. O’Neill addressed reporters on Tuesday.

CHIEF JAMES O’NEILL: I’m in full support of advocacy groups and everyone trying to peacefully protest. It’s what democracy and America are all about, and it’s our job to ensure that right. The protest in the fall of 2014 signaled that change was necessary. With the brutal assassination of Joe Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn that December, it was clear the NYPD had to evolve and find a new way forward to meet the needs of every New Yorker. That’s when our neighborhood-based policing initiative was really born. By this October, our neighborhood-based policing program, which is very much a crime-fighting tool, will be in more than half of our command citywide and in 100 percent of our public housing commands. … I’m leaving the uniform behind, fortunately and unfortunately. I love it. I’ve loved it since the first day I put it on. But it’s time for bigger and better things, and I just can’t wait for the opportunity to lead the great cops in this city to make this New York City an even safer place.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to professor Christina Heatherton, if you could respond to what he says and the policy or the direction you believe that, well, the incoming Commissioner O’Neill will be taking the department in?

CHRISTINA HEATHERTON: Of course. Well, I think—you know, in 2015, William Bratton himself said that there was no difference between broken windows policing and community policing. And so, we shouldn’t be distracted by any proposals to introduce community policing, neighborhood policing, tea-and-cookies-in-the-community-center policing. Whatever you call it, this is all the same kind of policing. I want to be clear that both broken windows and community policing emerged out of the crises of policing from the mid-1960s and late 1970s—in other words, the formal end of Jim Crow. So, where formal segregation was made illegal, a new form of policing emerged that was supposed to be responsive to the needs of communities, that was supposed to present itself as community-minded. As Naomi Murakawa describes in an interview in our book, Policing the Planet, the policies instituted in 1965 under the Johnson administration are no different than the proposals for community policing being proposed by the Obama administration, being supported by Commissioner Bratton, and, you know, the new commissioner, O’Neill, proposes to follow up on. This is simply rebranding.

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