Bret Stephens does not go back far enough to properly place blame regarding Ferguson and Fallujah. (Wall Street Journal, August 19)
He expects us, the taxpayers, to repair the damage done by the meddling he supported that destroyed order in Iraq. And he blames a decrepit culture in the black community of Ferguson on lack of a police state when welfare and the war on drugs were to blame for that culture.
He is correct in blaming a “broken window” mentality for the disorder in both places today, but that broken window didn’t just materialize out of thin air.
A lot more “do nothing” government over the years would have prevented a need to correct the damage done by a do-something government. The question now is, “Do we continue with our destructive unlimited government or do we suffer the withdrawals as we try to limit it?”
Here is Bret Stephens’ article:
Bill Bratton has no doubt as to what went wrong with policing in the U.S. in the bad old days of the 1970s and ’80s. “The biggest mistake,” he insists, was too much “focus onresponse to crime and not enough focus on trying to prevent it.”
In a lengthy Monday morning interview with The Wall Street Journal, New York’s top cop refuses to be drawn into second-guessing his colleagues in Ferguson, Mo. When I ask about the seeming militarization of police forces in the U.S., he replies that each community “equips its police based on the needs for its city.” If people can lawfully own Kalashnikov-style weapons, the cops inevitably are going to go one better.
What Mr. Bratton mainly wants to underscore is that crime in the Big Apple continues to plumb historic lows, never mind recent tabloid headlines. He wants to underscore, also, the reason for it: broken-windows policing methods. Such is his belief in broken windows that he comes to the meeting flanked by the man who helped come up with the idea: George Kelling, the legendary criminologist.
Broken windows stresses that endemic criminality is not primarily a function of the usual “root causes”—poverty, racism, bad schools, broken families and so on. The real problem is disorder itself.
“Disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence,” Mr. Kelling observed in a seminal 1982 Atlantic article, co-written with the late James Q. Wilson. The mere appearance of disorder—graffiti, broken windows, an abandoned car, drug dealers or prostitutes openly plying their trades—creates a sense that nobody’s looking, nobody cares, nobody is in charge. Bad guys respond to these environmental cues by acting badly. Good people stay off the street, bolt their doors, move out.
Ferguson is hardly the most dangerous neighborhood in St. Louis County; rates of violent crime are just below the national median, and far below those of East St. Louis, probably the most violent neighborhood in America.
But there is disorder in Ferguson. The city has 190 crimes per square mile, compared with a national median of 39.3. If you live in Ferguson, you are nearly twice as likely to have your car stolen, get mugged, or have your house broken into, than if you live in Averageville, U.S.A. Before last week, the biggest story out of Ferguson was the case of a woman who had opened a strip club/brothel in the basement of her home. Her 16-year-old son had the job of tending bar.
This was the environment in which police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed teenager Michael Brown. Whatever the exact circumstances of Brown’s death, everything else about the case suggests a town where broken-windows policing was not being done, or at least not done well. A sense of insecurity and disorder. A police force badly out of step with the community it ostensibly serves. Reactive law enforcement.
At the Journal, Mr. Bratton made a point of emphasizing the nine principles of policing laid down in the 19th century by Sir Robert Peel, founder of London’s Metropolitan Police. Principle No. 9: “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.” By this standard, policing in Ferguson has been a total failure.
Which brings me to Fallujah.
Last October I wrote a column with the headline “Iraq Tips Toward the Abyss.” It was prompted by the news that 7,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed over the previous 10 months alone.
“Americans may think they’ve changed the channel on Iraq, but the grisly show goes on,” I wrote. “Pay attention before it gets worse.” The world yawned and the Obama administration did nothing.
In January came the news that a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham had retaken Fallujah, just 40 or so miles west of Baghdad, a city that U.S. Marines had liberated a decade earlier at a major cost in lives. The media ran a few stories about the heartache of the battle’s veterans. President Obama said nothing.
In July, ISIS took Mosul and seized six divisions worth of U.S. supplied Iraqi military equipment. For once, President Obama took public notice but waited another month before doing anything, ostensibly because he disapproved of the leadership in Baghdad. That was around the time Kurdistan nearly fell to ISIS and the Yazidis were nearly wiped out.
This is a case study of allowing neighborhoods to decay and disorder to fester; of doing things reactively, not preventively. Where would we be in Iraq today if Mr. Obama hadn’t simply walked and looked away for the past three years?
The answer to disorder is to provide order. To engage community leaders. To enforce norms. To reassure good citizens that their security is being looked after and it’s not every man for himself. To maintain a visible presence that deters would-be lawbreakers from committing criminal acts. To prevent bad people from acting badly, and to punish them swiftly when they do.
This is how a successful police force like the NYPD works. And it’s how a competent foreign policy should operate. Bill Bratton knows his job—which is more than can be said of the Keystone cops in Ferguson, or at the White House.
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