Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Broken Windows, Hotdogs, and the Social Order
It was James Q. Wilson who championed what has become known as "the Broken Window theory." He, along with the police and social psychologists, noticed that a broken window in a building, unless repaired, led to the rest of the windows being broken. It's verification of the old saying, "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile."
When police began to use the Broken Window theory – taking care of small crimes like begging and drunkenness – the major crimes started dropping.
I first noticed this when I was a teenager in my hometown, which has about 40,000 people. The police at that time were not hampered by a lot of PC laws. They also did a lot of "informal" policing, like pulling us over and dumping out our beer and wine in front of us. Anything else they found they dumped out of the baggies and scattered to the four winds. That was a lot of money lost when you worked at McDonald's or a bowling alley. Then they told us, "First warning. Next time, we take you home and tell your parents."
That did it; we realized there are things you do in public – and things you do in private. All of us grew up to be chemists and lawyers and newspaper editors.
We found consequences were immediate. No arrests, no being taken in, no going to trial three months later. However, the third time always resulted in an arrest. These were very, very rare, and always the dumb kids who usually ended up being criminals anyway. And in high school, didn't everyone know who the bad kids were without anyone telling them?
At that time the streets in my hometown were safe to walk at any time of night. Even today, they still are. And the cops haven't changed, except now most of them (including the police chief) are ones I went to high school with.
Once, several years ago, as I was getting into my car, some gangbanger wannabe, who had obviously wandered in from out of town and had no idea whatsoever what town he was in, tried to strongarm me in a parking lot. I chased him around the lot for 15 to 20 seconds in my Caprice. It was pretty amusing to watch him jump out of the way. Then I got the cops, who couldn't find him. They did have me look at mugshots. He wasn't among them, which meant he had never been arrested in my town. If I had identified him, he would have been taken in, knocked around, and told, "If we ever catch you in this town again, next time we won't be so nice."
The cop who I found was one I have known since kindergarten. He doesn't remember that I and another kid launched a wooden block across the room and bloodied his forehead. For the best, probably.
When I told him I had chased this guy around the lot with my car, he didn't even blink an eye. He did comment, "If I had been you, I would have beat the fuck out of him." Which was a way of saying, "If you had hurt him, and claimed self-defense, nothing would have happened to you."
He, and the police chief, and all the rest of the cops, were raised
in my hometown, and still live there. The citizens know who they are, and they know the citizens. It was the same in high school. The police used to give me rides when they saw me hitchhiking.
Yet, years later, when I moved seven miles away, to a city with
half-a-million people, it was as if I had moved to a different world. The police force was ten times bigger, but not even one-quarter as good.
The cops didn't know the citizens. They didn't walk foot-patrols. They were more interested in running speed-traps, conning themselves they were doing real police work, and filling city coffers. And worst of all, they ignored minor crimes.
I used to live in an apartment a few years ago. One morning, as I was leaving for work, I heard a screeching sound from across the street. When I looked in the direction of the sound, I saw a car make a U-turn, go up on the curb, and crash headfirst into a tree.
So, of course, I stopped to watch, wondering what was going on. And
out of this car pops a 250-pound bronto-sapien of a woman, who starts shrieking in my direction and heading towards me. Hey, lady, what did I do to you?
Then I noticed she was heading toward some guy on the sidewalk, whom I had not noticed at first. He weighed about 125 pounds, and was so skinny I wondered how his pants stayed up because he had no butt. He was into that pants-half-way-down-the-butt thing.
Since she was obviously going to smush this guy, he runs up by my door, with her in hot pursuit. "Hey, look," I tell both of them, "This is private property, so get off or I'm going to call the police."
It was like I wasn't even there. I might as well have been talking to two cats fighting. Then, right in front of me, they start swapping punches! Only they were missing each other by two feet. It reminded me of the scene in the movie, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World where Terry Thomas and Milton Berle get into a ten-minute fight and can't damage each other. In one scene Berle is swinging mightily at Thomas and missing him by a foot. Step-swing-oof! Step-swing-oof!
I was looking at Antwon and LaShonda imitating Milton Berle and Terry Thomas! That's when I began to get The Twilight Zone feeling.
Since they weren't listening to me, my next thought was to run upstairs, get my bat and smack 'em. It's aluminum, which makes a pleasant melodious bonging sound on the head. Wood makes an unpleasant cracking sound and has a tendency to fracture. I'm sure this would have amused an elderly couple driving by. ("Oh look, Herm, that guy is beating that fat negro lady and that skinny negro man with a baseball bat." "Maybe we should call the police, Mabel." Both look at each other for a second and burst into, "HAHAHAHA!")
Then, before I have a chance to do anything else, this guy runs inside the front door of my apartment building and locks it. He's locked me out of my own apartment building. By this time I'm starting to get a little angry.
What does he do next? Through the glass in the door I see him throw up a bunch of half-digested hotdogs. Who eats hotdogs for breakfast?
That's it; now I'm mad. "I'm calling the police!" I yell at them. I
unlock the door, and the hell if she spins this guy around like a
cheerleader's baton! I don't care!
He darts out and around the building with Buffalo Girl after him.
Apparently he hops the fence into my back yard, because several seconds later here she comes around to the front again, unable to get up enough speed to plow the fence down.
Chug-chug-chug she goes by me and around the other side to where the entrance to my backyard is. Then upstairs I go to dial 911. "Do they live there?" the retard on the other end asks me. "No," I tell her, "she crashed her car into a tree, they're fighting in my front yard, and he PUKED HOTDOGS ALL OVER MY LANDING!!"
"We'll send somebody there," she tells me. Oh, really, is that so? Thank you so very much. I head out my door and run into my neighbor across the hall. "I called 911," I tell her. "So did I," she tells me.
Then I'm out in the front yard, and here comes twigboy with his bisonic girlfriend across the front yard again and then into the neighbor's yard, then back into mine, all the while yelling and screaming at each other. I have no idea what they shrieking. It's
all in Ebonics.
"GET OUT OF HERE!!!" I yell again. No response; I've moved from The Twilight Zone straight into Outer Limits. "The Zanti Misfits," that's it! They're aliens sent here to torture me to madness!
Then they're in the front yard swapping punches again! And still
missing each other!
Where's that cop? Back upstairs I go – avoiding the hotdogs
- and I dial 911 again. "Please send some cops out here," I beg. "They're on their way," the double-plus retard promises me. Back in the hall I run across my neighbor again. "I called 911 again," I tell her. "So did I," she responds. Four calls!
Out in the front yard I find both these heinous beasts are gone. But
when I look down the street, I see the Blob From Hell sitting in her
car around the corner, probably waiting for a chance to mow down her scrawny boyfriend's nonexistent butt.
Then a police car rolls up. No lights, no siren, nothing. Just kind
of casually rolls up. And who gets out? Some fat female cop! She blobs her way up to me. By this time my neighbor is in the front yard.
"…and...and then...crash...puke...fight...fat...ugly...stupid," I babble, then point to the car, as does my neighbor. What does the car do? It starts and pulls away! "Go get 'em!" I yell.
The cop looks at the car like a dog watching a yo-yo. "That's a good
girl!" I think. "Car! Chase!"
"Well, it looks like it's all over now," this got-in-on-lowered-standards oinker tells us. And people wonder why I hate Political Correctness! I gape at her. I look at my neighbor. She's also gaping at the cop.
Damaging city property, fighting, creating a nuisance, disorderly
conduct, leaving the scene of a wreck, trespassing, PUKING UP HOTDOGS...and who knows what else! And what does this brainless cop tell us? "Well, it looks like it's all over now."
Then she gets in her police car and leaves. If someone had taken a picture of me, it would have been a classic: shoulders slumped, mouth hanging open in disbelief, one hand pointing limply at the now-disappeared perp in the car.
Then I think about the hotdogs. "I have to go to work," I tell my neighbor. "I'll clean it up," she tells me.
This is an example of horrible policing. It's not putting a stop to these kinds of crimes that lead to bigger, and worse, crimes. And guess what? In that neighborhood it wasn't particularly safe to walk
around at night. Who woulda thunk it?