Reverse Broken Windows
65 J. Leg. Educ. 265 (2015)
13 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2015 Last revised: 13 Nov 2015
Date Written: August 5, 2015
On March 4, 2015, the Department of Justice released two reports related to Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. Brown’s death produced two waves of violent protests, one immediately after the shooting, lasting a few weeks, and another beginning on November 24, 2014, after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson.
The 86-page Brown Report exhaustively considered Brown's shooting itself, exonerating Wilson, but the 105-page Ferguson Report unearthed a a great number of racial disparities in the practices of the Ferguson police department and municipal court.
This very brief essay considers some of the implications of the Ferguson Report for how we understand the Brown Report, particularly the amazing number of witnesses initially claiming to have seen spectacular police misconduct. In short, it seems quite likely that police misbehavior over relatively low-level issues, like stop-and-frisk and arrest practice, led huge parts of the black community to disbelieve police and grand-jury assessments of the Brown-Wilson situation, encouraging the August and November waves of violence.
The “broken windows” theory of social order holds that maintaining order on high-level issues like murder, vandalism, and assault requires the maintenance of order on low-level issues like jaywalking, trespassing, public drunkenness, and the like. A corresponding theory, I suggest, applies to perceptions of police legitimacy: the maintenance of law-enforcement officials’ credibility with respect to the most serious accusations of misbehavior — i.e., whether a police officer would summarily execute an unarmed black man like Michael Brown posing no threat to the office — depends on police credibility with respect to everyday practices like stop-and-frisk policy. Police officers must defend themselves when attacked, and their work protecting crime victims is the first duty of government. But police cannot perform their most critical protective tasks without the trust of the citizenry, and that trust depends on police performing even their most minor tasks fairly and equitably. That did not happen in Ferguson.
Keywords: Ferguson, Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, William Stuntz, broken windows, police credibility
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