Broken Windows, Workfare, and the Battle for Public Space in Giuliani’s New York

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EastNYAbandonmentBy Jacob Ertel

(Abandoned homes in east NY. Creative Commons license.)


[D]aniel Pantaleo, the rogue police officer who choked the unarmed 43-year-old Black man named Eric Garner to death for allegedly selling single untaxed cigarettes, will not go to trial. Garner was murdered on July 17, 2014 in his native borough of Staten Island. A grandfather as well as a father of six, Garner had previously submitted a complaint in federal court in 2007 after an officer conducted a cavity search on him in a public street.[1] In his final words (recorded on a videotape by a man who was indicted for filming the murder[2]), Garner can be heard pleading with several officers to leave him alone, voicing his innocence and explaining that he routinely faced police aggression and intimidation. This kind of police harassment was business as usual for Pantaleo as well, having been dubbed “one of the most active cops on Staten Island”[3] since beginning his career with the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 2007. Pantaleo has been the arresting officer in 259 criminal court cases, all but 24 of them for misdemeanor crimes including marijuana possession and trespassing.[4]


NYPD Daniel Panteleo hold Eric Garner in a chokehold. Garner died at the scene.

Though the NYPD officially banned chokeholds in 1993[5], the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) reported having received 233 chokehold allegations in 2013, 2.3 percent higher than a decade ago.[6] Bill de Blasio, New York’s putatively liberal new mayor who ran an effective campaign premised on condemning the city’s so-called Dickensian wealth gap, has been absent regarding police brutality, or worse. In the same month in which Eric Garner was killed, police choked a subway fare-beater, severely beat a mentally ill man, and dragged a naked 48-year-old woman from her Brooklyn apartment into the street while pepper spraying her baby.[7] In fact, in a shock to his constituency, one of de Blasio’s first actions upon taking office was to appoint Bill Bratton as Police Commissioner. Bratton himself is no stranger to New York, having served in the same position under neoconservative Rudolph Giuliani from 1994 to 1996 before leaving to work in the private security industry. It should come as ironic, then, that chokeholds were banned in 1993; together, Bratton and Giuliani implemented a new, zero-tolerance policing strategy focused on criminalizing a wide range of misdemeanor activity attributable to what they characterized as disorderly conduct. This zero-tolerance policy, otherwise known as ‘broken windows policing’ or ‘quality-of-life policing,’ rests on the assumption that small-scale misdemeanors—selling untaxed cigarettes, for example—open the proverbial door for serious felony crimes. This policing strategy has been coterminous with revamped police empowerment, as police may now act extra-legally (i.e., in juridically deregulated ways) in deciding whom to apprehend and what for. Not everyone accused of misdemeanor crimes is killed by police, but Eric Garner’s death is hardly an aberration; it represents—along with the impunity with which racist white people may murder Black people in the United States—the effects of a now two-decade long war over public space in New York City. As all corners of the city are becoming gentrified faster than ever, it may be useful now to critically re-examine what Marxist geographer Neil Smith refers to as ‘Giuliani Time,’ an era characterized by the aggressive slashing of social services and implementation of workfare programs, rapid police expansion, and the unprecedented growth of the US penal nexus.

Zero Tolerance for Capital’s Surplus Population

Though the post-Fordist US welfare state has largely contracted its assistance programs to propel individuals into the workforce, it has done so by further obliterating opportunities for working class mobility and cementing an underclass that is unable to procure secure employment that can provide even the most minimal material needs and punishing those who are unable to succeed under such circumstances through intensified policing and warehousing. Within a globalizing, post-Fordist economy in which labor and capital are increasingly mobilized across borders, growing numbers of people—often from aggrieved communities of racial minorities—become unnecessary for the reproduction of capital. In the words of Marx, capitalism produces “a relatively redundant population of laborers…of greater extant than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population.”[8] As we shall see, this tendency is exacerbated vis-à-vis the redistribution of wealth and power to the political class under neoliberal restructuring through retrenchment policies and workfare programs. Programs such as Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), for example, make clear that these programs are premised on the restoration of economic order to a society infested with ‘overly dependent’ cheaters of the welfare system thought to threaten both the longevity of the free market and the ‘American values’ associated with it. Yet as these populations are construed as surplus and their livelihood hence irrelevant to the functioning of capital, the political class must decide their fate—who will live and who must die. When economic crises hit and municipalities must contemplate recovery schemes, the ‘surplus population’ can threaten the ability of the state to attract capital speculation by inhabiting the city spaces in which they have, as entities of social and capital reproduction, become obsolete.

This paper seeks to examine the process through which workfare policies and the paramilitarization of the police force developed as mutually reinforcing political-economic instruments under Rudolph Giuliani’s mayoral regime in New York City from 1994 to 2001. In particular, Bill Bratton’s application of the ‘broken windows theory’ to law enforcement tactics represents one method through which New York’s workfare and policing functions were not solely implemented simultaneously, but substantiated one another in the remaking of New York City into a theme park for capital investment. Through the criminalization of the most minor offenses, Bratton’s police force waged a veritable war on the poor in which social assistance was subsumed by revamped policing and penal policies. As I will suggest, the process of statecraft as constituted through shifts in both welfare and policing took the form of geopolitical warfare against the poor. I will examine workfare initiatives specific to New York City within the context of larger nation-wide legislative trends in order to better trace the linkages between the transformation of the welfare state and the criminalization of poor people of color under Giuliani’s mayoral regime.

From Black Codes to Broken Windows The Vagrancy of Geography

One could trace the genealogy of the police back to slavery, when white vigilantes would organize to retake and discipline those who had fled in search of freedom. Yet broken windows-style policing may actually have its origins in the passage of the Black Codes in 1865 and 1866 after the official abolition of slavery. Section I of the Vagrancy Law of the 1865 Mississippi Black Code states:

A sign in Jackson, Mississippi which reads 'Waiting Room For Colored Only by order Police Dept.', 25th May 1961. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A sign in Jackson, Mississippi which reads ‘Waiting Room For Colored Only by order Police Dept.’, 25th May 1961. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that all rogues and vagabonds, idle and dissipated persons, beggars, jugglers, or persons practicing unlawful games or plays, runaways, common drunkards, common nightwalkers, pilferers, lewd, wanton, or lascivious persons, in speech or behavior, common railers and brawlers, persons who neglect their calling or employment, misspend what they earn, or do not provide for the support of themselves or their families or dependents, and all other idle and disorderly persons, including all who neglect all lawful business, or habitually misspend their time by frequenting houses of ill-fame, gaming houses, or tippling shops, shall be deemed and considered vagrants under the provisions of this act; and, on conviction thereof shall be fined not exceeding $100, with all accruing costs, and be imprisoned at the discretion of the court not exceeding ten days.[9]

Because the end of slavery signified an economic crisis for the American South, which had been dependent on the perpetual control of Black labor to maintain its agricultural industry, political-economic circumstances dictated the creation of new legal institutions that juridified white dominance over the Black populous. The vagrancy law cited above, though legally neutral, was directed towards Black people who after slavery still enjoyed only severely limited employment opportunities and lived in constant financial precarity. The law pathologizes this condition as a kind of social or behavioral disorder while concurrently qualifying proper ways to spend time and money. Vagrancy, then, characterized by a range of activities from public drunkenness to poor money management to gambling, sets the parameters for a code of conduct that attempts to reclaim the usefulness of Black labor for the economy, ostracizing and punishing those who are unable to comply. Yet though Black people were even mandated to provide proof of employment to the government every January[10], secure employment did nothing to neutralize other forms of vagrancy and disorder. If hard-earned money was spent in ways deemed inappropriate by the state, Black people faced fines or imprisonment. If they walked on the street late at night they might be subject to police or vigilante violence. And if they defended themselves in ways deemed ‘malicious’ or ‘disorderly,’ they risked facing further harassment or legal punishment.

Laws such as the Mississippi Black Code were inextricable from geographical segregation. As Sandra Bass notes, “spatial segregation provided a means for differential delivery and distribution of public goods and services to black communities,”[11] thus economically immobilizing the Black population. Under such conditions it is not unthinkable that individuals would have difficulty supporting their families (despite the law’s endorsement of nuclear family structures), that they might out of necessity resort to alternative economies to try to make ends meet, and that they would therefore be more susceptible to the iron fist of this hard-lined legislation. This is not to preclude the notion that white people were not partaking in ‘disorderly’ behavior as well; rather, it is to assert that the construction of disorder itself was (and continues to be) inextricable from racial identity and socioeconomic position. The police served as the primary enforcers of this racialized double standard. “As the police are essentially a spatially deployed public service,” Bass explains, “the interaction between race and space are central to understanding police practices. Policing in the segregated zones has historically been qualitatively different from that in predominately white neighborhoods.”[12] In turning to the origins of the broken windows theory it is crucial to emphasize the importance of geography as a political-economic tool, as it is often through the manipulation and control of public space that exploitation and racism as the “specific mechanism which ‘reproduces’ the black labor force, from one generation to another, in the places and positions which are race specific,”[13] are executed and experienced most severely.


The Disorder of Threat

In March 1982, conservative theoreticians James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published a brief article in The Atlantic entitled “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety” that was to drastically alter the scope of policing. As opposed to previous ‘community policing’ stratagems in which police officers were encouraged to play an active if not collaborative role in building relationships with the community in their designated location, Wilson and Kelling advocated for the deployment of heightened police aggression—‘zero tolerance’—towards small-time offenders. The central thesis in “Broken Windows” is that petty crimes inevitably lead to serious, potentially violent ones. Only by cracking down most intensely on low-level offenses, they argue, can order be restored to society. Citing the conduct of an exemplary police officer in Newark, New Jersey, Wilson and Kelling note, “Persons who broke the informal rules, especially those who bothered people waiting at bus stops, were arrested for vagrancy.” They continue, “Arresting a single drunk or a single vagrant who has harmed no identifiable person seems unjust, and in a sense it is. But failing to do anything about a score of drunks or a hundred vagrants may destroy an entire community.”[14]


Police break up a group of boys at the Tilden Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Courtesy The Rant.)

Police break up a group of boys at the Tilden Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Courtesy The Rant.)

Like the Black Codes over one hundred years prior, quality-of-life policing hinges on the rhetoric of vagrancy and the disruption of orderly public space as a means of ensuring community safety. As lawyer and theorist Bernard Harcourt explains, however, the broken windows rubric rests on white, middle-class norms of orderliness, in turn criminalizing those who deviate from the juridical standard: “The approach privileges the law abider who cares for his home, his lawn, and his children, and the neighborhood merchant. It frowns on the unattached adult and the kids hanging out on the corners. It privileges order, regularity, and predictability. It frowns on the disorderly, the obstreperous, and the unpredictable.”[15] Wilson and Kelling likewise assert that by policing deviant, disorderly conduct, the crime rate will recede. In addition to a lack of supporting statistical evidence, this strategy provides police with extra-legal power to monitor and act with hostility towards anyone guilty of vagrancy, homelessness,[16] or engaging in alternative economies. Taking into consideration the racial and spatialized deployment of police across urban centers, it is unsurprising that broken windows-style policing would disproportionately affect low-income communities of color.

Despite the conflicting opinions surrounding the broken windows theory immediately following its inception, it also received significant support. Influential neoconservative eugenicist Charles Murray, for example, argued that without zero-tolerance controls, aggrieved communities would be transformed into a permanent underclass unable to care for itself.[17] In conjunction with Wilson and Kelling, Murray details “the ‘interlinking of welfare dependency,’ single parenthood, undisciplined children, and crime in an unbroken causal chain,” while promoting “a gendered imagery of ‘disease and infection,’ providing a popular front to the underlying reactionary theories of moral degeneracy and social pathology.”[18] In his 1984 libertarian opus Losing Ground in particular, Murray contends that past federal welfare incentives have contributed to the alienation of the poor by providing them with perverse disincentives to work. Once the poor were allowed access to means-tested programs, Murray insists, “it became socially acceptable within poor communities to be unemployed, because working families too were receiving welfare.”[19] Murray’s historical interpretation undoubtedly engenders the racialized trope of the ‘welfare queen,’ while decrying the presumptively dead ‘work ethic’ that convened a level of stigmatization on the poor powerful enough to prevent crime and instead seek a substantial working class job. Herein lies a crucial distinction between the Black Codes and the broken windows theory: whereas the Black Codes punished Black people for failing to contribute to an economy that needed their labor, broken windows punishes them for limiting the potential efficiency of others (namely, the white middle- and upper- class gentry) to contribute to the economy. Here one may begin to trace the linkages between the transformation of the US welfare state in the mid-1990s and the implementation of the broken windows theory. While Murray represents a particularly extreme voice on the Right, the extent of his influence is not to be dismissed. In fact, the prefigured causality between an imagined dependency on welfare, disorderliness, and violent crime largely determined the criterion for the governing paradigm that would be effectuated after the election of former star federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York City.


Twin Paradoxes of ‘Urban Renewal’

Giuliani entered his mayoral tenure amidst severe economic turmoil in New York City. Even by 1994, the city was experiencing the effects of the 1987 stock market crash and subsequent depression that further paved the way for retrenchment policies and economic restructuring programs across the country, including on the local level. New York in particular bore witness to the mass transfer of public funds into private corporate coffers. Neil Smith explains, for example, that as “hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatement ‘geo-bribes’ flowed regularly to attract or keep megacorporations in the city, the official unemployment rate soared to over 10 percent. Public fear replaced self-centered optimism in the early 1990s and it was this fear that Giuliani skillfully played upon.”[20] Welfare services were rapidly decentralized along with the popularization of the broken windows theory, as the search for capital investment necessitated the mass ethnic cleansing qua gentrification of the city’s most disorderly areas so as to clear room for development plans that would revitalize the city. Such a project necessarily entailed the kind of fear mongering alluded to by Smith; safety and security of the citizenry became synonymous with financial speculation and profit.

Here one may identify a critical paradox: that though the economic restructuring by way of urban renewal under Giuliani had the effect of exacerbating poverty through cuts to social services, it produced new spaces that were epistemologically contingent on the constant threat of poverty.[21] Sociologist Loïc Wacquant expands this paradigm to identify a “paradox of neoliberal penality,” in which “the state stridently reasserts its responsibility, potency, and efficiency in the narrow register of crime management at the very moment when it proclaims and organizes its own impotence on the economic front, thereby revitalizing the twin historical-cum-scholarly myths of the efficient police and the free market.”[22] Giuliani’s New York is exemplary of both paradoxes, with the latter compounding the former through the fortification of law enforcement to maintain the security of newly fashioned enclaves perpetually under the threat of impending disorder to white middle-class life primarily aggravated by capital investment in those very spaces.

To be fair, the transformation of welfare programs was not occurring solely in New York: it was largely a federally initiated phenomenon perhaps best typified by the elimination of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in 1995 and the ratification of PRWORA in 1996. From a bird’s-eye view, this act was characterized by the decentralization of welfare through federal defunding, the bureaucratic erasure of political dissent in Washington through the transference of federal responsibilities to the state level, and the intensification of competition for increasingly scarce resources on the state and local levels.[23] New policies have also increasingly focused on low-cost targeting programs that yield unsustainable yet politically expedient results.[24] Though PRWORA is emblematic of restructuring according to neoliberal free-market ideology, however, it is crucial to understand that these market relations are not “outside, separate from, or above state action, just as relief systems are not ‘external’ to the labor market.”[25] Rather, the state and the economy are “fundamentally and irretrievably linked…their structures and dynamics mutually constitutive.”[26] The process of neoliberal welfare reform, then, can only be explained as one of statecraft, through which the state remolds itself according to the legitimation of new regulatory institutions and their intersections with the depleted labor market. As geographer Jamie Peck laments, the “principal victims” of this restructuring “are the poor, who repeatedly pay the price for their structural position at this pressure point in the job market.”[27]

Terre Haute facility courtesy  All Gov.

Terre Haute facility courtesy All Gov.

The twin defunding and decentralization of federal welfare has been concurrent with the rise of corrections-based spending. It is important to emphasize that this trend is not necessarily zero-sum, but that it is representative of the state’s priorities with regard to the chronically unemployed post-Fordist working class. By the time AFDC was eliminated, “the United States was spending twice as much to incarcerate ($46 billion) as to support destitute single mothers with children ($20 billion), and as much as AFDC and food stamps put together.”[28] Likewise with public housing: by 1995, corrections budget appropriations exceeded funding for public housing by a factor of three, resembling the inverse relationship of 1980 funding allocations.[29] “Considering that inmates are overwhelmingly drawn from the lowest fractions of the working class, who are for this very reason most likely to resort to welfare, food stamps, and housing support,” Wacquant avers, “this trend suggests that incarceration has de facto become America’s largest government program for the poor.”[30] Quality-of-life policing may thus be understood as a correlate to welfare decentralization, as the newly re-empowered police force is imbued with extra-legal authority to discipline the poor for presumptively disorderly behavior, either forcing them into the emaciated labor market or warehousing those who must turn to alternative economies. Within this model, the ‘deserving’ poor are construed as proper citizens bearing a productive work ethic in a largely desocialized, de-industrialized economy, while the ‘undeserving’ who fail to adequately insert themselves into the state-legitimated market exist under the constant threat of legal discipline or worse.[31]

PRWORA and WEP: Workfare National and Local

Workfare in Theory

A more thorough examination of the theory and practice of workfare is in order so as to better understand the relationship between broken windows policing and the imposition of welfare-to-work policies on both the federal and state levels. As sociologists Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward aver, “relief arrangements are ancillary to economic arrangements,” such that these arrangements exert a regulatory effect on labor by expanding to placate the unemployed in times of economic crisis, later to rapidly contract and send aid recipients back into the labor market.[32] In capitalist economies, they note, labor is distributed according to financial imperatives characterized by economic flux.[33] Constant changes regarding how labor is distributed thus necessitate some level of unemployment. When mass unemployment occurs in capitalism’s most volatile phases, however, people lose their affective attachment to the welfare state and so the regulatory capacity of relief institutions weakens.[34] It is for this reason that the Fordist welfare state was more amenable to working class life: without mass public spending on programs for the poor, capitalism’s penchant for volatility could threaten its own legitimacy as an economic system. Under the workfare paradigm, however, the threat of ‘welfare dependency’ undergirds both rhetorical and material shifts in the restructuring of aid programs through the concurrent restructuring of the individual. As Peck submits, this “new imperative is to end welfare, not poverty per se; the objective is to correct those individual behavioral dysfunctions—such as moral laxity and inadequate work discipline—that are seen as a cause of poverty but more importantly as a consequence of the welfare system.”[35] Workfare thus enforces mandatory participation in work programs in order to attain relief while simultaneously forcing the poor into a sustained yet always tenuous relation to the labor market[36] in which “civil rights, including rights of access to state support, intervention, and benefits, are presented as the flipside of civic responsibilities.”[37]


PRWORA and Neoliberal Rationality

 Bill Clinton signed PRWORA into law on August 22, 1996, signifying the culmination of his promise to “end welfare as we know it.” Perhaps more than any single piece of legislation before or since, PRWORA embodied the transformation of poor relief form welfare to workfare. Though most welfare recipients already participated in some form of employment when the act was ratified—often part-time or irregular—the changes to the welfare programs marked by PRWORA would “necessarily disrupt these informal arrangements and lead to lower family incomes.”[38] Here the constructions of deservedness outlined above are again useful, as those who relied on insubstantial employment under past welfare programs such as AFDC in the attempt to make ends meet were construed as pathologically dependent on welfare under PRWORA and punished by the state for their inability to procure steady yet unskilled and desocialized employment through the actual dissolution of work opportunities. Rather than offering carrots to incentivize fuller participation in the labor force, PRWORA brandished the nightstick in order to ‘enable’ a more productive work ethic. Within this rubric the actions of aid recipients are intrinsically attached to the notion of rational choice and imbued with a mythical sense of agency: they are freed from the constrictions of a faulty welfare program and can make their own choices and conclusions about the kind of life they want to lead. This fabrication of neoliberal rationality is inherently contradictory, however, as the encouragement of individual choice vis-à-vis the free market is ineluctable from the high level of scrutiny and moral regulation under workfare.[39] Rather than simply exhibiting a presumed overreliance on welfare, however, “the more insecure factions of the American proletariat are now dependent on poverty-level wage labor, the brittle social economy centered on the family, and the parallel circuits of informal and criminal enterprise.”[40] Just as the broken windows theory was premised on the restoration of order to the streets of New York through the punishment of the most minor offenses, workfare presupposed economic order vis-à-vis the castigation of moral-financial deviance from the proper behavioral norms developed for the poor.

PRWORA effectively marked the undoing of AFDC and the subsequent implementation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a rhetorically coded program whose key features included setting a five-year cap on the amount of aid recipients are allowed over the course of their lives, while making assistance contingent on employment after two years, regardless of the type. Emblematic of new workfare regime, TANF cut aid budgets by one-fifth without any supplementary job creation.[41] This is not to glorify AFDC, however. By the time the time of its collapse the program’s value had decreased by 47 percent since 1975 and covered over 16 percent fewer single-parent families.[42] Rather, the replacement of AFDC with TANF marked a reification of this trend and a concretization of the US workfare regime. Yet though Clinton’s brand of welfare reform radically altered the reach and effectiveness of means-tested programs, it left universal programs such as Medicare and Social Security—the two largest social expenditures in the country, at $143 billion and $419 billion in 1994—entirely unencroached upon.[43] In contrast, AFDC had cost $22 billion and food stamps $23 billion.[44]

PRWORA was not only a remarkably stringent measure intended to liberate the poor from their unwillingness to work: it was also financially inefficient. Above all is the fact that though PRWORA succeeded in removing aid recipients from the federal relief rolls, it did nothing to reduce the national poverty rate. By 2004 the poverty rate in the US had declined one percent from 13.7 to 12.7, statistically insignificant in demonstrating any viable causality.[45] Moreover, the intensity of poverty itself increased. In 2002, Wacquant notes, “the gap between the average income of poor households and the federal poverty line (taking into account housing support, food stamps, and in-kind assistance) came to $2,913, which is 23 percent more than in 1996 in constant dollars.”[46] Part of the reason as to why poverty intensified during this time can be attributed to TANF’s ineffectiveness at promoting the kind of liberal free-choice model it claimed to symbolize. By 2003, for example, more than 40 percent of households expelled from the program had been unable to maintain stable employment and had to engage in alternative economies in order to survive.[47] It is thus unsurprising that a massive amount of income in the US comes from work in the underground economy, an estimated 8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).[48] Workfare programs can then be understood to have a grave effect on households dually connected to the US penal nexus. The demographic profile of those who received aid under AFDC, for example, mirrors that of jail inmates, but with gender inverted.[49] It is thus unsurprising that PRWORA also functioned in close relation to the prison system. Section 115 of the act, for example, denies TANF recipients assistance if they have been convicted of the “use, possession, or distribution of controlled substances,”[50] while section 203 prohibits the payment of benefits to prisoners.[51] It is through this process that those deemed newly enabled to work and better able to exercise their civic responsibilities under the rubric of neoliberal rationality become deeply enmeshed within the repressive state apparatus, from police to prison. They are the vagrants of welfare policy.


New York City: The “Workfare Pioneer”

Courtesy amppod.

Courtesy amppod.

Though Clinton launched the most intensive federal workfare programs in 1996, New York City can be understood as the original “workfare pioneer,”[52] implementing a workfare program of its own before the ratification of PRWORA. The 1995 Work Experience Program (WEP), for example, marked similar initiatives to that of the federal plan, while also placing new restrictions on educational accessibility and municipal employment opportunities. New York’s own Personal Responsibility Act (PRA), enacted in tandem with the federal legislation, purported to encourage self-sufficiency and economic dependence but actually damaged any possibility for stable, long-term employment. In promoting a ‘work-first’ policy, TANF recipients under the PRA were forced to abandon their education. With public aid now contingent on employment, over 12,000 TANF recipients dropped out of college, while low-wage job employment and use of food pantries and shelters simultaneously increased.[53] Even though data shows higher education, more than any other factor, is be linked to long-term self-sufficiency for former AFDC recipients, the PRA provided TANF recipients with short-term vocational training rather than supporting those in pursuit of four-year college degrees.[54] Despite these sacrifices, by August of 2000 “the number of persons receiving public assistance in New York City had dropped to 563,246, the lowest level since January 1967. This figure represented a decline of 597,347 persons (51.5%) since March 1995.”[55] Between 1995 and 1998, New York’s workfare program expanded, while welfare allocations were slashed in half. [56]

As we have already observed in the national data, the declining rates of public aid recipients cannot be attributed to falling poverty or unemployment rates. Programs like WEP, for example, created disincentives for staying on welfare by authorizing the state to sanction aid recipients.[57] In New York, these programs served a dual function by replacing unionized workers in the public sector with workfare recipients, disempowering both unions and workfare recipients who were desperate for work while simultaneously only paying one-quarter the amount of benefits as it did before and saving an average of $2 billion dollars every year through welfare disincentives.[58] Moreover, though workfare programs placed the onus on responsibility while decrying individuals who were not able to sufficiently support their families, the long hours worked for paltry welfare benefits (often less than $20 a day) required sacrificing the very kind of family time rhetorically championed by workfare programs like WEP.[59] New York also emulates national trends in that its workfare programs did not lead to jobs; in fact, through its capacity to both depress wages and wage war on public unionized workers, by 1996 the city had lost nearly 20,000 municipal jobs, with workfare recipients assigned in smaller numbers to the Parks and Sanitation departments to replace the municipal workers who had been removed.[60] By 1997 over 40,000 workfare recipients were refurbishing the parks, streets, and subways of New York City—the same areas that were simultaneously being ‘cleaned up’ by Bratton’s police force—without any kind of employment protections or regulations.[61] Yet even with the job loss and intensification of poverty under New York’s workfare programs, in 1995 Giuliani voiced his opposition to job training of any sort.[62] Further examination demonstrates that though Giuliani’s administration claimed that most exits from welfare rolls signified secure employment, over 33 percent of exits from the rolls ended in unemployment.[63]

Perhaps most troubling in assessing New York City’s workfare programs is the level of ‘disorder,’ or ‘vagrancy’ they created. At a time when the broken windows theory was being implemented as a viable policing strategy thought to ease the city’s gentry of its fear of Black lower-class ‘disorder,’ its laws constituted a self-fulfilling prophecy by further exacerbating the conditions it purportedly existed to protect against. Though unemployment fell considerably from 1992 to 1999 from 11 to 6.7 percent, underemployment remained unchanged.[64] As one might deduce from the information provided above, the number of low-wage jobs (under $25,000 per year) boomed, making up 22 percent of total jobs in the city and four times as much as jobs paying between $25,000 and $75,000.[65] The decentralized block-grant programs that were a cornerstone of PRWORA (in which the federal government supplied states with finite grants to use for welfare distribution) were also crucial to New York’s economic restructuring. By 2000, Giuliani had used this funding to alter training and job-placement programs in order to favor large firms while concurrently introducing private for-profit firms into the city’s social service network.[66] This shift occurred in conjunction with a shift to performance-based contracting premised on the assumption that the market would provide the impetus for workfare recipients to improve their qualifications if they truly wanted to work for public benefits.[67] Above all, however, New Yorkers found it increasingly difficult to feed their families under workfare. From 1995 to 1998 the number of Emergency Feeding Programs rose from 735 to 971, a factor of roughly one-third.[68] Meals served per month during this period increased from 2.7 million to 5.2 million, and the number of people served by these programs grew 99 percent, from 209,280 to 615,858.[69]

In turning from a statistical overview of workfare programs both federal and national to an analytical synthesis of zero-tolerance policing vis-à-vis the implementation of the broken windows theory, it crucial to recall the discussion of the Black Codes from above. Giuliani’s New York, perhaps the epicenter of new US workfare regime, marked a return to the criminalization of ‘improper’ (read: low-income) money management, but because these activities threatened capital speculation and the urban renewal of the city. Under workfare, one’s “neglect” of “their calling or employment” or “habitual misuse of time,” in the language of the Black Codes, are transmuted from the racialized legislation into the rhetoric of individual responsibility under the logic of free-market rationality. Whereas vagrancy was punishable in court under the Black Codes, workfare creates the conditions for such punishment. In New York City under Giuliani, the mayor’s administration spent only $223 million on public housing, a 44 percent decline in capital investment compared to his predecessor, David Dinkins.[70] With the rise in homelessness, Giuliani also managed to sell 80 percent of city-owned abandoned houses to private developers, catalyzing capital investment and gentrification across the city.[71] Between the increase in chronic underemployment in New York, the rise of unsustainable low-wage jobs, and the defunding of public housing, evictions and homelessness—codified as inherent disruptions to the sanctity public space—become an imminent reality, necessitating participation in a range of informal economies to make up for the lack of assistance under workfare.

Broken Windows in Practice


Producing Criminals

Giuliani’s 1993 appointment of Bratton to the position of Police Commissioner marked the beginning of the quality-of-life initiative, a form of policing explicitly grounded in the broken windows theory. Bratton had previously served as the head of the New York City Transit Police from 1990 to 1992 before leaving to Boston for a brief stint as Police Commissioner there. As the head of the Transit Police, Bratton focused his efforts on ‘retaking’ the city’s famed subway system from the homeless and the fare-beaters, lobbying the city for new semiautomatic hand guns in order to “make police work more interesting.”[72] Police officers were asked to ride the trains, frequent tunnels at all hours of the day and night, and attend early morning strategy sharing meetings.[73] This decentralization of the transit police was intended to reinvigorate officers to crackdown on misdemeanors and encourage them to identify the presumed linkages between small-time violations and felony crimes. Bratton continued this practice throughout his tenure as police commissioner, focusing on reducing crime rates by any means necessary. This strategy entailed “giving the law enforcement authorities carte blanche to hunt out petty crime and to drive the homeless and the derelict back into the shadows of dispossessed neighborhoods.”[74] Though Giuliani still encouraged officers to act within the means of the law[75], zero-tolerance policing fundamentally deregulates judicial standards by giving police the authority to protect the ‘sanctity of public space’[76] from the ‘disorderly’ and corrosive behavior of the urban poor with legal impunity.

(This map is similar to those generated by the NYPD. The maps are interactive, so you may  target="_blank">Click here to get an idea of the type of detail the system offers.)

This map is similar to those generated by the NYPD. The maps are interactive, so you may Click here to get an idea of the type of detail the system offers.)

While Bratton’s decentralization of the police force was coupled with integration of computerized programs such as COMPSTAT to geographically demarcate particularly disorderly areas and flood them with officers, it is critical to note that the broken windows theory is not premised on a theoretically neutral understanding of criminality. As Harcourt explains, the entire theory is premised on the notion that “disorder operates on honest people and on the disorderly in different ways. Neighborhood disorder influences honest people to move out of the neighborhood or to lock themselves in their homes…But neighborhood disorder influences the disorderly—and especially criminals—to move into the neighborhood to commit crimes.”[77] Likewise, 1994’s Police Report No. 5, characterized by the NYPD as the “linchpin of efforts now being undertaken…to reduce crime and fear in the city,”[78] repeatedly cites the racist 1965 Moynihan Report that blamed poverty on deep-rooted ‘ghetto culture.’ Defining an ideal society as a “society of civility,” Bratton referred the now-debunked[79] study by sociologist Wesley Skogan as proof that “Aggressive panhandling, squeegee cleaners, street prostitution, ‘boombox cars,’ public drunkenness, reckless bicyclists, and graffiti have added to the sense that the entire public environment is a threatening place.”[80] In considering Giuliani’s approach to attracting capital investment to the city, then, the broken windows theory would seem a natural fit for the necessary neighborhood ‘cleanup’ involved. It is no surprise that Charles Murray, one of the theory’s core proponents, is perhaps most famous for his eugenics-based study, The Bell Curve (a veritable companion to Losing Ground). In this study, Murray argues that “IQ determines not only who attends college and who succeeds on campus but also who becomes an unemployed drifter or an enterprising millionaire, who lives within the sacraments of marriage rather than in unwed cohabitation…whether a mother raises her children properly or neglects them, and who fulfills their civic duties conscientiously.”[81] As a corollary, those with lower IQs are more likely to commit crimes. Rather than stemming from material conditions, crime is intrinsically attached to mental deficiency and moral pathology. Such a narrative is founded on a normative construction middle-class whiteness that precludes any relationship between the routinized practices of wealthy ‘disorder’ (insider trading, misrepresenting loans, or noncompliance with environmental standards, for example) and police brutality.[82] Activities such as these, in comparison to misdemeanor crimes including panhandling or selling marijuana they can be carried out from within an office, on the computer. They are not generally associated with the kind of spatial enclosures heavily policed by the NYPD.


Assessing Broken Windows

Police brutality was never considered an aberration to an otherwise sound method of quality-of-life policing: it was (and continues to be, as the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo so clearly illustrates) a necessary cost in the mandating of aggressive police responses to crime.[83] Officers are legally impugned as long as they claim reasonable fear for their leaves and act in self-defense.[84] There is nothing ‘accidental’ about accidental killings in the practice of a theoretical paradigm that essentially requires the use of brutal force, because the zero-tolerance strategy relies on the exercising of such tactics in order to enforce neighborhood order. The effect of quality-of-life policing on communities can be easily understood. In 1993, for instance, New York City ranked third (behind Philadelphia and Chicago) in terms of the total number of police officers per 10,000 citizens, with 40.[85] By 1998, New York ranked first the number had risen to 53.[86] This influx of law enforcement encouraged to act aggressively towards disorderly activity unsurprisingly resulted in higher rates of brutality, as well as individual grievances. In 1996 (when the number of police per 10,000 citizens stood at 50), the number of allegations of police misconduct in New York reached 9,390 while the number of complaints tallied 5,550. These numbers represented respective 68 and 55 percent increases since 1993, the year Giuliani was elected.[87] True to its promise, broken windows policing also produced between 40,000 and 85,000 additional misdemeanor arrests between 1994 and 1998[88], and by 1996 nearly 13 percent of Black men in New York were arrested for misdemeanor crimes, up from roughly 10.5 percent in 1994.[89] Moreover, the amount of arrests in New York grew 41 percent between 1993 and 1998, with misdemeanor arrests in particular spiking by 71 percent.[90] At the same time, the total number of reported offenses declined by 46 percent. This means that by 1997, “the city police were making more arrests than there were offenses reported to them,” while the number of complaints of police brutality rose by 50 percent.[91]

Despite the disturbing increase of police aggression, it might appear intuitive to attribute the drop in crime during Giuliani’s tenure to the success of the broken windows theory. Closer inspection disproves such an analysis. Between 1994 and 1996, violent crime dropped in the city from a rate of 1.5 percent to 1 percent, continuing the trend of decline since 1990, when such crime was over 2 percent.[92] Though the level of violent crime began to decline well before Bratton’s appointment, the police commissioner was quick to congratulate himself on his performance as police commissioner, writing in a 1996 article with George Kelling that “the restoration of assertive policing in 1994 and 1995” had “interacted with community forces to achieve an unprecedented ‘tipping point’ in violent and other forms of crime.”[93] Yet the actual evidence for broken windows’ success is dubious at best. Wacquant provides the most effective proofs in this case. First, as depicted above, he notes that violent crime began to decrease three years before Giuliani’s election in 1993 and continued at the same pace afterwards. Second, the diminution of violent crime was just as prevalent in cities that did not adopt quality-of-life policing strategies, including ones such as San Diego that implemented significantly more lax tactics such as community policing. Finally, between 1984 and 1987, former New York City mayor David Dinkins had attempted to implement an aggressive policing policy similar to the quality-of-life initiative, named ‘Operation Pressure Point.’ Operation Pressure Point was marred by a steep increase in violent crime, including homicides. Wacquant attributes this pattern to the booming underground drug economy during these years.[94] It is difficult, then, to define a causal relationship between quality-of-life policing and the decrease in crime.

In addition to the factors indicating why quality-of-life policing had no discernable impact on the rate of violent crime, Wacquant offers several suggestions to explain the decrease of violence in the city, all of which are independent of the broken windows theory. First, unparalleled economic growth in the early 1990s marked new employment opportunities for young men who were just able to evade the reach of workfare programs, despite the fact that nearly all of them were severely underpaying positions. Wacquant explains that the job creation associated with the first years of the 1990s contributed to a growing optimism within the Black community regarding the prospect of economic mobility, as growing numbers of Black teens began to enroll in post-secondary education, thus reducing the likelihood of violent crime. Combined with the decline (however insufficient) of unemployment, the direct and indirect impacts of this job creation may attribute for 30 percent of the decrease of crime nationwide. Second, the violence associated with the boom of crack-cocaine in the 1980s began to dwindle as “the retail trade in crack in impoverished neighborhoods gained structure and stability,” thus resulting in less intra-communal violence than before. As crack was subsumed by other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines, the informal economies providing these substances were transmuted into less competitive and hostile markets, resulting in a drop in the violent crime associated with the trafficking of narcotics. Third, the number of young people between the ages of 18 and 24—the age category always statistically responsible for the highest level of violent crime—decreased during this period. Fourth, Wacquant describes a generational learning effect in which young people born after 1980 were able to escape gang violence after observing the fate of family members, while various grassroots organizations worked to mobilize youths by providing outlets for education and community building. Moreover, the rate of violent crime in the early 1990s was significantly and irregularly higher than historical standards and was thus statistically bound to decrease without any further action being taken. Finally, it is critical to note that especially in New York, the indictment and conviction rates for those arrested for felonies dropped significantly after 1992, indicating that the expansion of and heightened aggression used by the NYPD in making greater numbers of arrests were often premised on faulty evidence.[95] This information indicates that the broken windows theory should not be attributed to the decline in violent crime in New York; rather, its implementation further alienated those in economically unstable positions by punishing behavior that did not fit the normativized rubric of middle-class whiteness. It was in tandem with New York City’s workfare programs under Giuliani, then, that the imposition of the quality-of-life policing marked a battle for public space, disciplining those who—under the dual logics of the broken windows theory and workfarism—were ontologically inseparable from the construction of disorder.

The Battle for Public Space

Accumulation by Dispossession, Dispossession by Criminalization

Workfare and broken windows policing are mutually reinforcing political-economic institutions, but they do not have to be. As Smith explains, the level of “revanchism” displayed by the Giuliani administration “was neither a politically nor a socially necessary outcome of economic crisis and restructuring. It was a choice by a narrow group of political and corporate leaders who really do constitute, with others, a ruling class.”[96] Whereas the Keynesian urban policy in place from the 1930s to the 1970s was rooted in the “broad-based subsidy of local social reproduction that underscored capital accumulation in economic, political, and ideological terms,” the state’s responsibility for managing the stark contradiction between the “reproduction of class and capital accumulation” under liberal social policy has nearly entirely dissolved with the development of post-Fordist globalization.[97] In other words, I return to an argument laid out earlier in suggesting that the unprecedented movement of both capital and labor across borders in an increasingly globalizing economy has provided city governments with “an increased incentive to abandon that sector of the population surplused by both the restructuring of the economy and the gutting of social services.”[98] In doing so, the political class is granted new levels of power in determining how to deal with those who, when considered economically, are human surplus. While broken windows should not be read as a necessarily inherent correlate of the gradual defunding and decentralization of the welfare state, it is a logical outgrowth of population management under a restructured workfarist economy. Crisis creates disorder for the political and upper classes. How they respond to it is up to their discretion.

Photo courtesy Brett Stevens Amerika.

Photo courtesy Brett Stevens Amerika.

Compounded with workfare programs from PRWORA to WEP, broken windows policing typified a war on the poor by way of the reclamation of public space from the vagrants of welfare. The destruction of viable employment opportunities under the programs of the mid-1990s, rather than encouraging self-sufficiency and eliminating lower-class ‘disorder,’ exported crime from the gleaming centers of the metropolis to its neglected margins, giving rise to greater participation in alternative economies, from drug dealing to burglary.[99] Whereas business-heavy areas such as midtown Manhattan rarely experience homicides, crime in the most subdued precincts dropped 50 percent during the first three years of Giuliani’s time as mayor.[100] In less trafficked areas lying beyond the reach of the subway, however, as well as in Harlem and central Brooklyn, homicide rates rose consistently and real danger increased along with the dual implementation of workfare and broken windows.[101] In this sense one may trace a direct link between the ‘cleaning up of New York’ through the ousting of squeegee men and fare-beaters and the urban decay occurring beyond the city’s core. Facilities such as homeless shelters, free clinics, detox centers, and even welfare offices were relocated away from central locations in the city to significantly more distant areas. “Of New York’s thirteen newest shelters,” journalist Chris Parenti notes, “nine are located in peripheral and impoverished parts of Brooklyn and the South Bronx; one is in northern Manhattan.”[102] Yet, as illustrated above, it is not sufficient to understand this form of capital accumulation by dispossession as intrinsic to capitalism’s quotidian functioning; it is dispossession via deliberate criminalization.

As I have demonstrated through discussing the characteristics and effects specific to workfare programs both national and local, the imposition of both workfare programs and broken windows on the poor resonates loudly under neoliberal capitalism. This is not to assert that the two are inextricable from one another: for instance, workfare programs have not always been accompanied by quality-of-life initiatives, yet social services have continued to undergo defunding since the 1980s. Rather, I suggest that these two mechanisms, when dually implemented, are mutually reinforcing; though they are not co-constitutive, they do share coherence. The affinity between workfare and broken windows in New York City is particularly direct. For example, Giuliani defunded social service spending by 9 percent while increasing funding for public safety by 20 percent during his first five years as mayor, amounting to a “transfer of nearly one billion dollars from social services to public safety, with the brunt of the monies going to pay for the increase in uniformed staff, whose average wages and long-term benefits are much higher than those of civilian employees.”[103] Unsurprisingly, the homelessness rate grew by 15 percent from 1994 to 1997, while 363,000 people were thrown off the welfare rolls from 1995 to 1998.[104] In 1998, to the repudiation of even New York State’s supreme court, Giuliani refused to follow legal requirements for sheltering those evicted from their homes, while firing half of the entire staff of the Department of Homeless Services in the attempt to entirely privatize the agency.[105] Instead of providing people with jobs, those unable to support themselves on workfare were subject to eviction and homelessness, police harassment, or incarceration. Between 1988 and 1998, New York State increased spending for corrections by 76 percent while decreasing its high education funding by 29 percent.[106] In a post-Fordist welfare state, the flexibilization of labor necessarily leads to warehousing.

The simultaneous defunding of social services and ramping up of penal expenditures shows where the state’s priorities lie, as it focuses on self-fulfilling punitive non-solutions rather than sufficient benefits and assistance measures. This process can only function properly through the criminalization of poverty in conjunction with severely underpaid wage labor construed as a “civic obligation for those locked at the bottom of the class and ethnic structure, as well as the redeployment of social-welfare programs in a restrictive and punitive sense that is concomitant with it.”[107] Such a pattern is emblematic of the transition from Keynesian welfare statism—in which massive influxes of funds were deployed to combat social-economic crises and buffer the standard of living in order to placate tension—to neoliberal criminalization via workfarism. Welfare is now ineluctable from flexible, insecure employment, always one step closer to the penal nexus. The fundamental character of crime has not changed since the mid-1970s, but the “attitude of the society and the responses of the authorities toward street delinquency and its principal source, urban poverty concentrated in big cities,” have.[108] Repressing crime while simultaneously redefining it thus serves as a means to the constant regulation of racialized class antagonisms. As welfare has become workfare, “desocialized wage labor in the low-wage service sectors” has become “the normal horizon of work for the deskilled fractions of the postindustrial working class.”[109] New York City emblematizes the new neoliberal city, a ‘playground for the rich’ dependent on the pathologization of, and enforcement of paltry wage labor on, the urban poor through the criminalization of poverty.


The Neoliberal City

As Parenti argues, poverty is a sine qua non of capitalism, of the crises of the free market. Capitalism needs poverty to survive, to regulate lower class life. Yet poverty also frightens capitalism. As a “political force, poverty is very useful; it scares and disciplines the working classes, keeps wages down, and provides a platform for moralizing political circus.”[110] At the same time, however, the presence of the poor in public space represents a threat to the political and economic elite. The urban poor is the subject of broken windows policing because its existence necessarily disrupts the quality of life of the white middle class. It calls attention to the violences that are systematically obfuscated. It haunts the subways and Times Square. No matter how many lower-class Black people are extra-legally killed by the police for alleged misdemeanor crimes by a government that has abandoned all responsibility for providing the most minimal amenities to capitalism’s victims, no matter how many are warehoused because they are forced to turn to alternative economies, the urban poor will always threaten capitalism because the free market makes it so. In New York City, this tension has manifested itself in the battle for public space. As Smith proffers, “Criminality is spatialized, postmodernized even, insofar as the sign and the symptom are the same thing; it is identified with certain kinds of social presence in the urban landscape.”[111] If we revisit the twin paradoxes of ‘urban renewal’ discussed earlier, we may better understand the ways in which gentrification schemes are critical to broken windows policing. The economic restructuring of New York City after the turmoil of the late-1980s and early 1990s rested on the simultaneous decentralization and defunding of social services as well as the provision of attractive real estate for capital investment, all while the Giuliani administration expanded its policing power. Disorder in public spaces (i.e., being visibly poor or Black in spaces designated for reclamation by white middle-class normativity) became the signifier of, in Giuliani’s words, a “city out of control.”[112] No sooner were the 75 to 100 squeegee men were eliminated from the city’s streets in one of Bratton’s first quality-of-life initiatives than the “police set about evicting the ever larger shantytowns from beneath the FDR Drive and the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges. The plan was clear enough: centrifugal police pressures would extrude Manhattan’s poor into outlying boroughs.”[113] Rather than ameliorating the very ‘disorder’ that threatened white public space through public relief, Giuliani, with the help of Bratton, simply exported it while diminishing the capacity of public agencies to respond. This is the neoliberal city, a locale premised on ethnic cleansing through the mutually reinforcing paradigms of workfare and broken windows policing.


Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows Reformism

Giuliani is gone, but broken windows persists. Michael Bloomberg, the thirteenth wealthiest person in the United States,[114] succeeded Giuliani in 2002, serving an unprecedented three terms in the mayoral position until 2013. Throughout his decade-long stint as mayor, Bloomberg gained notoriety for expanding the stop-and-frisk policing program, a logical outgrowth of broken windows. Stop-and-frisk extends the power of police even further, as officers may stop local urbanites for alleged criminal activity, whether they can prove it or not. In this sense stop-and-frisk continues on the draconian trajectory of broken windows by giving the police the authority to stop anyone who might be presumed likely to engage in disorder. Throughout Bloomberg’s tenure, Black and Latino people constituted nearly 90 percent of the total stops (which in peak years totaled nearly 700,000) made throughout the city (at roughly 55 and 35 percent, respectively).[115] Moreover, though the proclaimed objective of stop-and-frisk was to decrease the rate of guns in the city, from 2002 to 2011 the number of victims of gunfire decreased by only 71.[116] Only 0.2 percent of stops yielded an actual gun, and nearly 90 percent of those stopped under Bloomberg were completely innocent of any crime.[117] And while the murder rate in New York City dropped roughly 12 percent between 2002 and 2012, the murder rate in cities such as Los Angeles and Washington D.C., two cities with significantly less aggressive stop and frisk policies, declined by 43 percent.[118] Like broken windows, the efficiency of stop-and-frisk is statistically irrelevant, and the program extends the criminalization of the poor to advance a more intensive racial profiling regime than ever before.

One of de Blasio’s first initiatives upon becoming mayor was to drastically curb stop and frisk. This is one promise de Blasio has held true to: in 2013, nearly 200,000 people were stopped in New York, compared to over 500,000 the year before under Bloomberg.[119] Yet though de Blasio’s reformist agenda may initially please liberals appalled by Bloomberg’s tactics, broken windows is back, along with Bratton. Especially in the subways, a haven in which impoverished people routinely perform for tax-free tips, arrests had tripled by early 2014.[120] By this past summer, over 240 people—primarily young Black men—were arrested for break dancing in the trains, compared with only 40 by the same time the previous year.[121] And while de Blasio has recently made headlines through his refusal to endorse the New York grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo,[122] such acknowledgement is merely symbolic without the dissolution of zero-tolerance policing. The sale of untaxed cigarettes is a quality-of-life crime; broken windows is responsible for Eric Garner’s death. It is unsurprising, then, that as the protests against police brutality catalyzed by the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in Ferguson continue across the country, the abolition of broken windows has surfaced as one of the critical demands in New York City.

The dissolution of broken windows policing is crucial to reclaiming the streets of New York from the police, but it must be attached to other structural initiatives including the increase of funding to public schools, the creation of more social service providers, the raise of the minimum wage, and the re-envisioning of welfare policies on the municipal, state, and federal levels. The racialized and pathologized notion of ‘disorder’ must be confronted if workfare capitalism is to be substantively challenged in both its repressive and exploitative forms. Sustainable resistance, then, entails bridging the gaps between welfare and policing while creating locally based alternatives such as community defense patrols and educational programs. I have attempted to bridge some of these gaps in this paper. What these bridges will look like in practice, however, remains to be seen.


Jacob Ertel is a student organizer at Oberlin College interested in internationalism, workers’ rights, the BDS movement, and prison abolition. He can be contacted by email at 

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[1] Joseph Goldstein and Nate Schweber, “Man’s Death After Chokehold Raises Old Issue for the Police,” New York Times, July 18, 2014,

[2] Arturo Garcia, “NYPD Cop Who Choked Eric Garner Wasn’t Indicted—But the Man Who Recorded the Incident Was,” Raw Story, December 3, 2014,

[3] Robert Lewis, “This is the Face of Broken Windows,” WNYC, September 15, 2014,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Goldstein and Schweber, “Man’s Death After Chokehold Raises Old Issue for the Police.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ari Paul, “Broken Windows Liberalism,” Jacobin, August 7, 2014,

[8] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy (New York: Random House, 1976), 781, quoted in Salar Mohandesi, “Who Killed Eric Garner?” Jacobin, December 17, 2014,

[9] Mississippi Black Code, 1865, accessed

[10] Sandra Bass, “Policing Space, Policing Race: Social Control Imperatives and Police Discretionary Decisions,” Social Justice, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 2001), 160.

[11] Ibid, 163.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Stuart Hall et. al., Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, (London: MacMillian, 389), quoted in Bass, “Policing Space, Policing Race,” 158.

[14] George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” The Atlantic, March 1, 1982, accessed

[15] Bernard Harcourt, Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 127.

[16] C. R. Sridhar, “Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance: Policing Urban Crimes,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 19 (May 2006), 1843.

[17] Phil Scraton, “Streets of Terror: Marginalization, Criminalization, and Authoritarian Renewal,” Social Justice, Vol. 31, No. 1/2 (95-96), 140.

[18] Ibid, 141-142

[19] Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 185.

[20] Neil Smith, “Which New Urbanism? The Revanchist 90s,” Perspecta, Vol. 30, Settlement Patterns (1999), 99.

[21] Chris Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (New York: Verso, 1999), 70.

[22] Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), xviii.

[23] Jamie Peck, Workfare States (New York: The Guilford Press, 2001), 70-71.

[24] Ibid, 71.

[25] Ibid, 44.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Loïc Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 68.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid, 68-69.

[31] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, xvii

[32] Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (New York: Random House, 1971), 3.

[33] Ibid, 5.

[34] Ibid, 7.

[35] Peck, Workfare States, 88.

[36] Ibid, 12.

[37] Scraton, “Streets of Terror,” 143.

[38] Frances Fox Piven, “Welfare and Work,” Social Justice Vol. 25, No. 1 (71), Disdained Mothers & Despised Others: The Politics & Impact of Welfare Reform (Spring 1998), 69.

[39] Barnard Center for Research on Women, “Paradoxes of Neoliberalism,” S&F Online 11.1 (2012),

[40] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 97-98.

[41] Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, 56.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 80.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid, 97.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid, 95.

[48] Taylor Barnes, “America’s ‘Shadow Economy’ Is Bigger Than You Think—And Growing,” Christian Science Monitor,

[49] Ibid, 98-99.

[50] PRWORA, Section 115, accessed

[51] PRWORA, Section 203, accessed

[52] Piven, “Welfare and Work,” 73.

[53] Delores Jones-Brown and Jacqueline Mahoney, “Work First and Forget About Education: New York City’s Personal Responsibility Act and the Creation of a Working Underclass,” Social Justice, Vol. 28, No. 4 (86), In the Aftermath of Welfare “Reform” (Winter 2001), 33-34.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid, 34.

[56] John Krinsky, “The Dialectics of Privatization and Advocacy in New York City’s Workfare State,” Social Justice Vol. 33, No. 3 (105), Privatization and Resistance: Contesting Neoliberal Globalization (2006), 158.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid, 162.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Piven, “Welfare and Work,” 73.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Krinsky, “The Dialectics of Privatization and Advocacy,” 165.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Jones-Brown and Mahoney, “Work First,” 39.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Krinsky, “The Dialectics of Privatization and Advocacy,” 166-67.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Jones-Brown and Mahoney, “Work First,” 38.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid, 40.

[71] Robert Polner, America’s Mayor, America’s President? The Strange Career of Rudy Giuliani (Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, inc.), 105, quoted in On the Issues,

[72] Parenti, Lockdown America, 73.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, 14.

[75] Smith, “Which New Urbanism?” 100.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Harcourt, The Illusion of Order, 17.

[78] Bill Bratton, Police Report No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York, 1994, accessed–Reclaiming-the-public-spaces-of-NY.pdf.

[79] See: Harcourt, The Illusion of Order.

[80] William J. Bratton, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Police Report No.5., July 6, 1994, accessed–Reclaiming-the-public-spaces-of-NY.pdf.

[81] Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, 13.

[82] Harcourt, The Illusion of Order, 130.

[83] Sidney L. Harring and Gerday W. Ray, “Policing a Class Society: New York City in the 1990s,” Social Justice, Vol. 26, No. 2 (76), 25th Anniversary Commemoration (Summer 1999), 68.

[84] Ibid, 71.

[85] Harcourt, The Illusion of Order, 96.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid, 167.

[88] Ibid, 2.

[89] Preeti Chauhan et. al., with an Introduction by Jeremy Travis, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “Trends in Misdemeanor Arrest Rates in New York,” New York: New York, October, 2014,

[90] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 263

[91] Ibid.

[92] Chauhan, et. al., “Trends in Misdemeanor Arrest Rates in New York,”

[93] George L. Kelling and William J. Bratton, “Declining Crime Rates: Insiders’ Views of the New York City Story,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer 1998), 1228.

[94] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 253-54.

[95] Ibid, 255-59.

[96] Smith, “Which New Urbanism?” 105.

[97] Neil Smith, “Giuliani Time: The Revanchist 90s,” Social Text, No. 57 (Winter, 1998), 10.

[98] Ibid, 11.

[99] Smith, “Which New Urbanism?” 102.

[100] Parenti, Lockdown America, 107.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid, 106.

[103] Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, 263.

[104] Smith, “Which New Urbanism?” 101.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, 71.

[107] Ibid, 79.

[108] Ibid, 149.

[109] Ibid, 150.

[110] Parenti, Lockdown America, 90.

[111] Smith, “Which New Urbanism?” 100.

[112] Ibid.

[113] Parenti, Lockdown America, 77.

[114] “The World’s Billionaires,” Forbes, accessed

[115] New York Civil Liberties Union, “Stop and Frisk Data,”

[116] New York Civil Liberties Union, “Stop and Frisk Facts,”

[117] NYCLU, “Stop and Frisk Data,”

[118] Robert Gangi, “Focused on Crime Numbers, But Not Ones That Count,” The New York Times, July 17, 2014,

[119] NYCLU, “Stop and Frisk Data,”

[120] Joseph Goldstein and J. David Goodman, “Arrests of Panhandlers and Peddlers on Subways Triple under Bratton,” The New York Times, March 7, 2014,

[121] CBS / Associated Press, “NYPD Cracking Down on Subway Acrobats,” CBS News, July 1, 2014,

[122] Joanna Walters, “New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Refuses to Endorse Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision,” The Guardian, December 7, 2014,

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