“Broken windows is a criminologist theory which asserts that visible signs of crime and civil disorder, such as a broken window, snowball into an urban environment that encourages more serious crime… in other words, one broken window will lead to another broken window, and another, until there are a thousand broken windows and more serious crime occurs (Bell, 2019).”
Breaking Down Broken Windows, a critical analysis by criminal justice expert Leonna Bell, provides us with a looking glass to see the web of policies sown by the system to legally target undesirable communities. The parable of Broken Windows as we know it originated in French economist Frédéric Bastiat’s 1850 work “That Which We See and That Which We Do Not See”. Bastiat’s core assertion is that disasters disrupt economic activity.
Today, the theory has been fleshed out by conservative American academicians such as George Kelling and James Wilson to justify increased police presence in poor and non-white communities or those deemed undesirable. Yet, its roots in economics eerily remain unacknowledged.
This theory, despite having no logical basis, has extensively shaped the criminal justice system in the United States. It has been adopted as a logical model to ensure those deemed undesirable by the system are eliminated. This echoes loitering and vagrancy laws which “history has taught us… are often used to control the poor” (Bell, 2019).
Broken Windows has justified heavy police presence in poor and non-white communities, especially African-American communities, in the name of disorder. This begs the question — what happens when windows break in white neighbourhoods?
Essentially, there is no such thing as broken windows, only broken windows policing.
If light inside a prism hits one of the surfaces at a sufficiently steep angle, total internal reflection occurs and all of the light is reflected. This critical analysis of broken windows policing by scholar Leonna Bell sheds light at the right angle, lighting up the entire prism that is the mechanisms of colonialism in the modern world.
By building off this base, one can shed light and expose hegemonic systems through breaking down all the broken windows that justify white supremacy. We must be unafraid to break down these paradigms in order to break out of the cycles they create.
I invite you to read “Breaking Down Broken Windows” so we may undertake this project together and call others to do the same. As Edward Said expressed, “…there is no such thing as a merely given, or simply available, starting point: beginnings have to be made for each project in such a way to enable what follows from them” (1978). Who’s next?
Bell, L. (2019, May 1). Breaking Down Broken Windows: An Analysis of Quality of Life Policing and Equality. Retrieved from https://kb.osu.edu/handle/1811/87587.
Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. Pantheon Books.