From Page to Practice and Back Again: Broken Windows Policing and the Real Costs to Law-Abiding New Yorkers of Color


I am glad to be here as a member of this panel celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the N.Y.U Review of Law & Social Change and talking about how our work on Social Change has informed our practice. SocialChange was my home during my time in law school-a place where students who actually cared about social justice and the deepening injustices in our society gathered. It is for this reason that I placed my article, Broken Lives from Broken Windows: The Hidden Costs ofAggressive Order-Maintenance Policing, in Social Change. Though this panel is titled “From Page to Practice,” my trajectory was the opposite. It was my experience in the real world of practice that inspired me to put pen to page after years of struggling against injustice in New York City’s criminal courts. The mass criminalization of people resulting from ZeroTolerance Policing and “quality of life” initiatives adopted in the mid-1990s has made it nearly impossible for a young man of color in our city to avoid arrest or harassment, while White men and suburban youth engage in the same low-level victimless conduct and grow up to be president.

As a defense lawyer and a teacher, I struggle to make people understand and care about the real costs of these “minor arrests” and the injustices they impose on individuals, families, and communities. This is an uphill battle. People believe that misdemeanors are “minor” (at least until someone they care about is charged with one), and academics who write critically about the criminal justice system typically focus on felonies, excessive imprisonment, and capital cases. While these subjects are important, aggressive policing of minor offenses exacts disproportionately high costs from individuals who are generally as law-abiding as those of us sitting in this room, as the prosecutors who prosecute them, as the police who arrest them, as the bankers on Wall Street, and as the kids in Westchester.

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