Eric Garner’s killing at the hands of the police is about a lot of things. It is about racism, inequality, and male testosterone. It is also about bad policing policy. This came to mind when I read that Rand Paul declared recently that Garner got killed because of the high taxes in New York on cigarettes.
Paul’s tax lament is that “for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians, we put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.” [MSNBC, Hardball, 12/3/14]
The real issue is not taxes, however. It is the “Broken Windows” policing policy that has cops out looking for jay walkers, subway sleepers, spitters, open beer-can drinkers, and loose cigarette sellers. Broken Windows policy claims that reducing minor criminal infractions will result in the reduction of major criminal infractions. In practice, it means that police departments push cops to look for, fine, and arrest people for minor infractions. They end up doing this primarily to minorities, homeless, and the poor because they are the low-hanging fruit. This produces an ever increasing number of abusive interactions that often result in tragedy like what happened to Eric Garner.
The New York City Police, for their own malicious reasons, do not provide all the data that would conclusively prove the connections between their policing methods and increasing friction with poor and minority people. But analysis by organizations at the front lines provide estimates that reveals the high degree of terror by police in minority neighborhoods. As a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis shows, “81% of New Yorkers slapped with a criminal summons between 2001 and 2013 for minor infractions are black or Latino.” Fix the broken policing policies and you will help to radically reduce police killings of innocent and mostly harmless people.