Monday, February 05, 2007

Fixing Broken Windows or Breaking Fragile Networks: Dilemmas of Fighting Violence in New Orleans

The terrible suffering of New Orlean's during the flood of 2005 and its difficult path to recovery are now edged in a frame of red, a raging murder rate that continues to produce corposes and headlines (well summarized in a NYT story by Adam Nossiter and Christopher Drew). The driving forces are a familiar litany of urban problems, churning drug markets, impoverished neighborhoods where the division of labor has been replaced by a volatile honor ethos among angry young men, a history of mistrust between police and same neighborhoods, a faulty and now crippled criminal justice sytem, etc. One feature, highlighted by Nossiter and Drew, is particularly germane to any discussion of solutions. The one thing police do lots of and well and in N.O., apparently, is arrest drug users and dealers. This focus on low level street crime is consistent with the reighing gospel of urban crime control, i.e. the broken windows theory of Kelling and Wilson, which encourages strict enforcement against routine crimes as a way of effectively deterring more serious ones and producing public confidence. In New Orleans, at least, this logic seems to be backfiring. The constant arrests have added to the chaos of a justice system that cannot solve or punish serious crimes, and has heightened the alienation of exposed community members from the police. It is probably also raising the violence by further churning drug markets and their suppliers.


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