Two summers ago, a sobbing relative called to say that she’d just seen one youth stab another in the chest outside her front door in gentrifying Harlem. As she spoke, she noticed that the blood had splattered her shoes. The victim didn’t die, thank heaven, but staggered across the street and got help. It was a neighborhood annual reunion—barbecues blazing, salsa music blasting—and the victim and his assailant, simmering with decades’-long loathing now heightened by drug-dealing rivalry, exploded. I e-mailed my friend Bill Bratton, then still police commissioner, to say that a lack of quality-of-life policing in that neighborhood, including an official blind eye to petty dope traffic, clearly contributed to the do-what-you-want mind-set that prevailed in that precinct, whose former corruption once dubbed it the Dirty Thirty.
Bratton needed no convincing: he was an even truer believer than I in the Broken Windows theory of crime prevention—the idea that if cops let minor crimes of disorder, such as low-level marijuana selling or subway fare-beating or public urination (or, these days, masturbation), go unpunished, the malicious will conclude that anything goes and do what their evil hearts prompt. He soon had a narcotics squad patrolling the neighborhood, and within months, the police had won a score of convictions of the pushers.
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