And it is so in the city where it has had the greatest impact on reducing crime, New York City, as this article from City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald—the best criminal justice journalist in the country—writes.
Longtime critics of the New York Police Department are seizing on the death of Eric Garner while in police custody to call for an end to proactive policing. Officers approached the 43-year-old Garner last Thursday in a high-crime area near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and accused him of illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner had been arrested more than 30 times before, mostly for selling loose cigarettes but also for marijuana possession and other offenses. As captured in a cell-phone video, the 350-pound man loudly objected to the charge and broke free when an officer tried to handcuff him. The officer then put his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him to the ground. Garner repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe, then went eerily stiff and quiet. After a seemingly interminable time on the ground without assistance, Garner was finally put on a stretcher to be taken to the emergency room. He died of cardiac arrest before arriving at the hospital. The autopsy has not yet been concluded, and it is too soon to say whether the officer’s apparent chokehold caused Garner’s death; Garner suffered from severe asthma and diabetes, among other ailments, which could have contributed to his heart attack.
Anger over Garner’s death is understandable. No one should die for selling untaxed cigarettes or even for resisting arrest, though the officers certainly did not intend to kill Garner, and a takedown may be justified when a suspect resists. Protests initially centered on the officer’s seeming use of a chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD and is thus against departmental policy. But NYPD critics have now expanded the campaign against the police to include misdemeanor enforcement—such as against Garner’s illegal vending—itself. This is pure opportunism. There is no connection between the theory and practice of quality-of-life enforcement, on the one hand, and Garner’s death, on the other. It was Garner’s resistance to arrest which triggered the events leading to his death, however disproportionate that outcome, not the policing of illegal cigarette sales. Suspects resist arrest for all sorts of crimes. The only way to prevent the remote possibility of death following an attempted arrest, beyond eliminating the use of choke-holds (if that is indeed what caused Garner’s heart attack), is to make no arrests at all, including for felonies. Nevertheless, we’re witnessing the start of the next chapter of anti-NYPD agitation. Having eviscerated the legitimate practice of pedestrian stops, the anti-cop brigades have now set their sights on broken-windows policing.
Broken-windows theory calls for the enforcement of low-level misdemeanor laws regulating public order, such as the ban on illegal cigarette selling that Garner repeatedly violated. Manhattan Institute fellow George Kelling and Harvard professor James Q. Wilson first articulated the theory in 1982 as a means of quelling public fear of crime and restoring order to fraying communities. William Bratton embraced the thinking in his first tour as NYPD commissioner in the 1990s; police commanders across the country have also adopted it.
Retrieved July 26, 2014 from http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon0723hm.html