Policing

Great News: Transportation Alternatives to Focus on Racial Justice

I just received an e-mail with the only good news I have heard in the horrific last week. Transportation Alternatives, the NYC-based advocacy organization that works on pedestrian and cyclist safety and access, has issued a statement of its commitment to putting racial justice at the core of its work. The statement recognizes not only that unsafe streets are more unsafe for people of color but also that demands for police intervention to make streets safer can put those very same folks at new risks of penal sanction. This is extremely important.

Against the Romance of Community Policing

Community policing is a confusing term. It joins together two of the most ambiguous words in the English language. Despite this ambiguity, its power resides not in what it purports to mean—a partnership of the police agencies and the people they protect forged through the fluid exchange of intelligence from the latter to the former—but in what it reveals about the purpose and mechanism of the police-led fabrication of social order. Here are some thoughts about why we should be wary not simply of community policing but of community itself.

Defining Key Policing Terms

In the spring semester of 2016, I taught a seminar in the Harvard History Department called The History of Policing in the United States. It was a wonderful experience, chiefly because of the brilliant and hard-working students. In one of the first weeks of the seminar, we read the famous "Broken Windows" article by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson from The Atlantic Monthly, published in 1982, as well as a critique of it published soon thereafter by Samuel Walker in Justice Quarterly. Over the semester, the class discussions continually referred to issues these articles raised, about police tactics, police philosophy, police reform, and the uses of history to shape, legitimize, and critique policing.

As I was preparing for our initial discussion of these readings, and because I was also writing a short article on broken windows policing at the time (in Harvard Design Magazine), I found it necessary to do some parsing of muddy terms. The terms are Broken Windows, Quality of Life, Zero Tolerance, Stop and Frisk, and Order Maintenance.

Against Punitive Approaches to Safer Streets

Yesterday, on Halloween, a driver killed three people and injured four on a sidewalk in The Bronx. This morning, across New York City many streets were free of automobiles. Public space usually reserved solely for cars and trucks became dedicated to runners in the Marathon, spectators, and anyone who wanted to enjoy a bit of the fleeting car-free utopia on foot, bicycle, skateboard, or whatever. The contrast is stark. Not only are NYC streets given over to private vehicles almost all of the time, when a driver rampages onto a sidewalk, on the day when children are most likely to be frolicking on sidewalks and streets, the city seems to give a collective shrug—despite waking up to the pacific, friendly experience of today’s utterly different streetscape.

Advocates for safe streets rightly insist that deaths like yesterday’s are preventable, not inevitable. (So too can we fix the very dangerous situations of aggressive and irresponsible driving witnessed daily on city streets that don’t lead to death or injury.) Advocates also recognize that such deaths signal or portend the failure of the efforts on the part of the Mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make streets safer, whether as “Vision Zero” or in the more diffuse and myriad forms that have proliferated since Janette Sadik-Khan began her six years heading the DOT in 2007. For many advocates of safe streets, however, this failure also signals a need for a punitive, police-led effort in preventing such vehicular violence. Here is where I part ways with (some of) my fellow advocates for safe streets. The carceral state is no answer.

New Writing

I finished my dissertation this spring, with the defense at the beginning of May. To finish was a big relief but in many ways it was anticlimactic. There were too many intermediate steps at which I was almost done. I never felt like I was actually done, even when I graduated. On the bright side, at each almost-done step, I celebrated. Here's a snapshot of what I did in the ensuing couple months.

I have mostly left the dissertation aside in the weeks since I finished, trying to estrange myself from it so that when I return to it to begin revisions it will not be so familiar. The other day I glanced at a page while looking for a citation. I read a sentence or two. Though extremely familiar, they did not sound exactly as I thought they sounded the first hundred times I re-read them. That is a good thing. A little while longer, and I will be ready to begin rethinking.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of other writing.

© 2017 Stuart Schrader