“A History of the War on Drugs”: Public Eye Artist in the News

On September 15, hip-hop artist Jay Z and author and illustrator Molly Crabapple collaborated (along with dream hampton, Jim Batt, and Kim Boekbinder) on a short, animated video, “A History of the War on Drugs, from Prohibition to Gold Rush,” for The New York Times. In the four-minute piece, Jay Z chronicles U.S. drug policy from 1971 to the present day, highlighting these laws’ ineffectiveness and their uneven application across race and class lines. Juxtaposing the mass incarceration of Black and Latino men arrested on petty drug charges with the White bankers and college students whose drug use gets a pass, the video also calls into question who will profit now that some states have legalized the sale of marijuana. The same drug sales that left a generation of men of color in prison will now enrich White entrepreneurs.

The piece is a continuation of Crabapple’s video work on social justice issues, including “broken windows” policing. PRA recently used a still from Crabapple’s viral video explanation of broken windows on the cover of our Spring 2016 issue of The Public Eye. Crabapple’s work accompanied a cover article by activist, lawyer, and author Andrea Ritchie on the right-wing roots of broken windows theory.

The Spring issue of Public Eye featuring a still from Molly Crabapple’s video “How ‘broken windows’ policing harms people of color.”

As Ritchie writes, broken window policing is based on the premise that if small signs of disorder—like broken windows, turnstile jumping or loud music—are left unchecked, they will eventually lead to greater crime. Neoconservative thinkers George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, who popularized the broken windows theory in a 1982 Atlantic article, argued that the stringent enforcement of all misdemeanor laws was necessary in order to maintain safety and avoid community breakdown.

However, in reality, this type of policing manifests as both excessive force towards minor offences and heightened police presence in low-income Black communities—to the extent that it often appears to criminalize Blackness itself. Similar to the drug policing Jay Z and Crabapple discussed in their video, broken window policing doesn’t reduce crime rates, but just assuages White fears of poorer communities of color.

The current culture of policing appears to be based not on the protection of people of color, but rather their criminalization. From the drug wars to broken window policing, it is evident the current law enforcement system is in dire need of reform – immediate reform.

Black Lives Over Broken Windows: Challenging the Policing Paradigm Rooted in Right-Wing “Folk Wisdom”

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

When protesters developed a platform to end police violence in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the first of their 10 demands was to end “broken windows” policing, the law enforcement paradigm marked by aggressive policing of minor offenses and heavy police presence in low-income Black communities.1

Broken windows policing is what led Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to approach Michael Brown simply for walking in the middle of the street. It is what motivated police to repeatedly harass Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island resident who was killed earlier that summer by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, using a banned police chokehold during an encounter initiated over Garner’s alleged sale of loose cigarettes. And in 2015 it was what brought Baltimore police into contact with Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who was initially stopped while allegedly fleeing from police officers in his low-income Black community—and who died after his spinal cord was severed while he was in police custody.

The role of broken windows policing in each death quickly became the focus of protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights advocates. Just days after Brown’s death, national president of the NAACP Cornell William Brooks said, “The death of Michael Brown strikes me as the latest, sad chapter in an ongoing national narrative about a form of policing, broken windows policing, that is simply not right for the country.”2 In New York City, This Stops Today—an ad hoc coalition taking its name from Eric Garner’s words on the day he died to the officers who had repeatedly harassed him—made ending broken windows one of their 11 demands. (The 11 demands were issued in honor of the 11 times that Garner was seen on video telling the officers who killed him, “I can’t breathe.”3)

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Broken windows policing is not only all too often lethal, it also contributes to the use of excessive and illegal force in the context of the most mundane police encounters. It led a New York City officer to put Rosan Miller, a seven-months pregnant Black woman initially approached for grilling outside her home, into the same banned chokehold that had led to Garner’s death just a few weeks before.4 It was the excuse for another officer to slam Stephanie Maldonado to the ground in New York City’s West Village for “jaywalking” like Mike Brown.5 It was what led police to arrest Duanna Johnson, a Black transgender woman, for prostitution—one focus of broken windows policing—while walking down a street in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008, only to beat her bloody with metal handcuffs at the police station in an incident captured on video because she refused to answer to “faggot.”6 Broken windows policing also created opportunities for recently convicted Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holzclaw to stop women as they walked down the street to inquire as to what they were doing and where they were going, thus facilitating his sexual harassment, assault, and rape of 13 Black women and girls.7

The “Folk” Origins of Broken Windows

What does broken windows policing have to do with the Right? In part, the answer lies in where it came from: an outgrowth of the conservative “law and order” agendas of the early 1980s. Neoconservatives George Kelling and James Q. Wilson outlined the theory underlying broken windows policing in a 1982 Atlantic Quarterly article.  8 Kelling is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Wilson, before his death in 2012, was a board member at the American Enterprise Institute, both right-wing think tanks.9 According to Wilson and his colleagues, liberal concessions to civil rights movements and protest cultures of the 1960s and ‘70s were significant contributing factors to the urban chaos broken windows policing purports to address.10 In 1985 Wilson co-wrote a book, Crime and Human Nature, with Richard J. Herrnstein, a co-author of The Bell Curve, which notoriously advanced a theory of racial differences in intelligence. Wilson’s own 1975 book, Thinking About Crime, argued that crime is the product of individual and social “predispositions,” rather than socioeconomic conditions. 11 His theories echoed those of his mentor, Edward Banfield, who theorized about a “culture of poverty,” which Wilson believed required a punitive response,12 and those of The Bell Curve’s other co-author, Charles Murray, whose arguments suggest that crime is the result of individual mental and moral deficiencies.13 Wilson decried single parenthood, claiming “illegitimacy was eroding the nation’s values,”14 and, as Pam Chamberlain wrote in PRA’s Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, argued for “returning to a path where religion is influential and where families remain intact.”15

New York City became the first municipality to aggressively implement broken windows policing theories rooted in these right-wing intellectual traditions in the early 1990s. Under the leadership of former Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and bolstered by right-wing media like the New York Post and right-wing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the city put Kelling and Wilson’s theories into practice with an internal police memorandum, “Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York,” citing both the pair’s Atlantic article and the infamous 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed social dysfunction on Black families, and particularly, Black mothers.16

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The broken windows theory, brilliantly summarized in a recent video created by Molly Crabapple,17 goes something like this: if signs of disorder—like broken windows—and minor offenses—like loitering, panhandling, and graffiti—are left unchecked, then it’s only a matter of time before a community descends into chaos and violence. According to Kelling and Wilson, the only way to prevent this from happening is through aggressive enforcement and prosecution of minor offenses. At its core, broken windows relies on fear-mongering, stoked by familiar right-wing themes about the need for increased “security” and a compulsion to root out certain groups of people as embodied threats to a particular way of life .

But even Kelling and Wilson acknowledged back in 1982 that it is “not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur” if signs of disorder are left unchecked. Indeed, the two wrote that their entire premise is admittedly drawn from what they themselves call “folk wisdom” rather than objective data, based on the belief that perceived disorder somehow renders an area more “vulnerable to criminal invasion” such that “drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped.”18 It’s a theory, they implicitly admitted, based more on people’s fears and beliefs than on hard evidence.

The theory later evolved to advance the premise that individuals who commit minor offenses—like fare evasion in public transit—will, if not caught and punished, eventually commit more serious offenses: a sort of slippery slope of criminality. The new logic of broken windows, according to Tanya Erzen, a scholar of American conservatism, writing in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, is that “graffiti taggers, turnstile jumpers and kids in a public park are either already criminals, or simply criminals in the making.”19>

Even the theory’s biggest proponent, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton—who spearheaded its implementation in New York City under Mayor Giuliani, actively promoted its spread around the country both as a consultant and as Los Angeles Police Commissioner, and pursued it with renewed vigor in his second tenure in New York City under current Mayor Bill de Blasio—concedes that neither premise has ever been conclusively proven.20 In fact, several studies undermine the theory’s claims.21 In a comprehensive review of the literature and a summary of his own research, Columbia law professor Bernard Harcourt concludes that, “Taken together, the wealth of research provides no support for a simple disorder-crime relationship as hypothesized by Wilson and Kelling in their broken-windows theory…. What I have come to believe is that the broken windows theory is really window dressing, and it masks or hides more profound processes of real estate development and wealth redistribution.”22

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness.

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness. According to George Kelling’s recent defense of the theory in Politico, published a year after Michael Brown’s death, “The goal is to reduce the level of disorder in public spaces so that citizens feel safe, are able to use them, and businesses thrive.”23 Kelling concedes that it is, in essence, an approach based on public perception—that is, on feelings—rather than proof. In the end, fear—of crime, yes, but also, as the original article explains, of “being bothered by disorderly people,” like panhandlers, “addicts” or people living with mental illness—is the moving force behind the theory.24 As Bratton once put it, “Aggressive panhandling, squeegee cleaners, street prostitution, ‘boombox cars,’ public drunkenness, reckless bicyclists, and graffiti have added to the sense that the entire public environment is a threatening place.”25

Although not explicitly stated, given that the communities described in Kelling and Wilson’s original article and others that followed are Black, it is clear that the “disorderly people,” the people driving “boombox cars,” and the graffiti taggers are also imagined as Black. As gentrification of New York City proceeded through the 1990s, “disorderly people” came to mean those displaced into public spaces in the context of neoliberal devolution and cuts to social programs.26 In other words, broken windows policing isn’t about reducing crime, it’s about assuaging white fear of poor people, Black people, and people of color—no matter how irrational or racialized.*

From Black Codes to Broken Windows

Scratching the surface of broken windows policing reveals that, in the end, the paradigm is simply a repackaged and sanitized version of the ways age-old “vagrancy” laws were enforced. These laws were explicitly created to criminalize and control the movements of people deemed undesirable throughout U.S. history: Indigenous peoples, formerly enslaved people of African descent, immigrants, women, and homeless and poor people. In his recent defense of broken windows, Kelling himself directly acknowledged the lineage, stating in reference to his 1982 essay, “Given the subject of our article, the Black Codes—vague loitering and vagrancy laws passed in the South immediately after the Civil War—were of special concern for us. Under these laws police arrested African Americans for minor offenses and, when they could not pay the fines, courts committed them to involuntary labor on farms—in a sense, extending slavery for many into the 20th century.”27 Without offering a means of distinguishing present-day broken windows policing from these practices, Kelling simply submits that he and Wilson were just arguing for “doing a better job at maintaining order.”28

The question though, is whose order? In their 1982 article, Kelling and Wilson acknowledge that there are “no universal standards…to settle arguments over disorder…” and that charges of being a “suspicious person” or of vagrancy have “scarcely any legal meaning.”29 Ultimately, they wrote, “These charges exist…because [society] wants an officer to have the legal tools to remove undesirable persons from a neighborhood when informal efforts to preserve order in the streets have failed.”30

This is to say that, since its inception, broken windows policing has self-consciously been about promoting a particular type of community, maintaining particular structural relations of power, and policing the borders of “desirability.” Delving deeper into its theoretical premise, a desirable community, as described by Wilson and Kelling, is one of “families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on intruders.”31 Broken windows policing is posited as the last bulwark against a “frightening jungle”—a term fraught with racial meaning—in which “unattached adults”—that is, single people—replace traditional families, where teenagers gather in front of the corner store, litter abounds, and panhandlers stalk pedestrians.32 In this framework, conservative values with deep racial overtones ultimately drive how an individual’s presence will be perceived and valued,33 and promote disregard for youth, adults living outside of hetero-patriarchal families, and low-income and homeless people who live in this idealized community.34

Whose Quality of Life?

Building in New York City with the words, "stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense" on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Building in New York City with the words, “stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense” seen on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Key to implementing broken windows policing is the proliferation of “quality of life” regulations, which criminalize an ever-expanding range of activities in public spaces, including standing or walking (recast as “loitering”), sitting, lying down, sleeping, eating, drinking, urinating, making noise, and approaching strangers, as well as a number of vaguer offenses, such as engaging in “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct. This broad range of potential offenses gives police almost unlimited license to stop, ticket, and arrest. According to one researcher, enforcement of such low-level offenses has become the “most common point of contact between the public and the criminal justice system.”35

Of course, what conduct is deemed “disorderly” or “lewd” is more often than not in the eye of the beholder, informed by deeply racialized and gendered perceptions. Where offenses are more specific, they criminalize activities so common they can’t be enforced at all times against all people. When I speak publicly about broken windows policing, I often ask how many members of the audience have ever fallen asleep on a train or ridden a bicycle on a sidewalk at some point in their lives. Dozens of hands shoot up. When I ask how many have ever been ticketed or arrested for it, almost all hands come down—that is, unless I am at a drop-in center for homeless youth or adults, or in a low-income Black neighborhood. There, many hands remain in the air.

As former Yale law professor Charles Reich notes, “Laws that are widely violated…especially lend themselves to selective and arbitrary enforcement.”36 As a result, both vague and specific “quality of life” offenses are selectively enforced in particular neighborhoods and communities, or against particular people, by officers wielding an extraordinary amount of discretion, largely unrestrained by constitutional protections. As legal scholar Dorothy Roberts notes in “Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” over the last several decades, conservative commentators have called for a relaxation of legal doctrines disfavoring vague offenses and reining in police discretion in the name of “law and order” agendas.37

Communities in the Crosshairs

Given all of this, it’s easy to predict who gets targeted by broken windows policing. Despite proponents’ contention that the approach targets specific behaviors, not specific people, the article on which the theory is premised explicitly names particular types of people—youth, homeless people, people perceived to be engaged in prostitution—as embodied signs of disorder.38 According to Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a community organization that has been fighting the effects of broken windows policing on Los Angeles’ homeless population for decades, the inspirations for Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 article were much more explicit about the racial and gender make up of signs of neighborhood disorder: “young Black men, young women in short shorts hanging out on corners, interracial couples, and gay folks.”39 The result: dramatically increased frequency and intensity of police interactions with Black and Brown youth, low-income and homeless people, public housing residents, people who are—or who are perceived to be—engaged in street-based prostitution, street vendors (many of whom are immigrants), and anyone else who is hyper-visible in public spaces, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender nonconforming people.

The results are striking. Broken windows policing has contributed to widespread criminalization of Black youth in New York City under a range of offenses, including disorderly conduct, unreasonable noise, turnstile jumping, performing on the subway, riding a bike on the sidewalk, and being in a city park after dark. Between 2001 and 2013, 81 percent of the 7.3 million people charged in the city with a violation were Black or Brown. 40  In 2015 the greatest number of arrests—29,198—were for not paying the $2.75 fare on city subways; 92 percent of those arrests were of people of color.41 In Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood heavily populated by white families, police issue an average of eight tickets a year for riding bicycles on the sidewalk. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, a gentrifying but still predominantly Black community, police issue more than 2,000 a year.42 Eighty-five percent of summonses issued for “open container” violations in Brooklyn are issued to Black and Brown people, even as countless white revelers spill onto the sidewalks of the city on any given evening to smoke a cigarette outside a bar or art gallery while sipping on an alcoholic beverage, or pop open a bottle of bubbly to accompany a symphony in the park, without any consequence whatsoever. One judge presiding over summons court in New York City said he had no memory of having ever adjudicated an open container ticket given to a white person.43

Contrary to Kelling’s recent defense of his broken windows theory, the results of this approach are not an error of application, but rather deeply embedded in the theory itself. In fact, the authors asked themselves in 1982, “how do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable?”44 Their answer was that they were not confident that there was one—except that police must understand the outer limits of their discretion to be that their role is “not to maintain racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood,” only to regulate behavior.45 The statistics above suggest that officers are, in fact, exercising their discretion—just in racially discriminatory ways.


Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The consequences for those targeted are far from minimal. Broken windows policing not only places Black lives at risk of lethal and excessive force, as well as sexual harassment, assault, and extortion in exchange for avoiding a ticket or arrest, it also subjects Black people to the daily indignity of being stopped and questioned in their own communities, being ordered to put their hands on the wall and spread their legs to be frisked in front of their neighbors, and sometimes spending 24 hours wending their way through police vans, precincts, and central booking pens between arrest and arraignment. Even if they simply receive a summons, they are still required to spend at least one day in court defending themselves against minor charges, to pay exorbitant fines and criminal court fees, and to comply with community service and other mandates imposed on people convicted of offenses as minor as spitting or littering.

Black people of all genders and sexualities come within the crosshairs of broken windows policing. In fact, one of the less frequently discussed realities is that it facilitates racialized policing of gender and sexuality.46 According to Tanya Erzen, broken windows policing “enables officers to act upon racial and gender biases they may have when they enter the police department—under the guise of enforcement of ‘unified guidelines.’”47 All too often, officers read actual or perceived gender disjuncture as inherently out of order, resulting in stops, harassments, and arrests of transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer people of color—along with anyone perceived to deviate from racialized “rules” of gender or sexuality—for “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct offenses.48 Stereotypes framing gender nonconforming people as inherently violent and deviant also lead gender nonconforming young women to be profiled and targeted in the context of “gang policing.”49

Broken windows policing is also a driving force behind aggressive policing of street-based prostitution, which has been documented to have racially disparate impacts. These are rooted both in profiling of Black women and women of color—trans and not trans—as being engaged in prostitution based on age-old stereotypes, and also in the makeup of sex work which, like every other industry, concentrates Black women and transgender people in its most visible and risky sectors (such as street-based prostitution, which more Black women are pushed into, versus legal strip clubs, which frequently discriminate against women of color).50 Gay and gender nonconforming men, for their part, are profiled and discriminatorily targeted for enforcement of lewd conduct laws in public bathrooms and public parks. The broad discretion allowed in enforcement is fueled by perceptions of Black and Brown men—and particularly those who are gender nonconforming or perceived to be queer—as hypersexual uncontrolled manifestations of sexual deviance, with predictably racially disparate impacts.51

Black Lives over Broken Windows

Even as the broken windows theory trades in fear of Black people, it claims the mantle of protecting Black communities seeking more safety, and thereby, protecting Black lives.52 Heather MacDonald of the right-wing Manhattan Institute twists the logic of Black Lives Matter to argue that broken windows policing “has saved thousands of black lives, brought lawful commerce and jobs to once drug-infested neighborhoods and allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.”53

Right-wing commentators claiming to be concerned with the welfare of Black communities are not alone. Progressives like David Thacher of the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy in Michigan, writing in a blog for The Marshall Project, have critiqued Campaign Zero’s call for an end to broken windows policing, pointing to Black communities’ right to safety and safe public spaces.54 Thacher, like Kelling, acknowledges the pitfalls of enforcing vague offenses like “disorderly conduct,” as well as more specific ones like bans on skateboarding or public drinking, which are not enforced in white suburbs as they are in Black communities. He acknowledges that, “As long as modern police forces have been around, they have used disorderly conduct statutes and many other public order rules to investigate suspicious and unpopular people in circumstances when doing so overtly would be forbidden,” noting that “the Ferguson Police Department’s intensive use of a city code provision regulating a pedestrian’s ‘manner of walking in the roadway’ to run warrant checks and question suspicious people is only one of many examples.”55 Although he argues for a kinder, gentler form of broken windows in the interests of Black community safety, Thacher’s arguments in fact support the notion that it is bound to produce the same results.56 Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some community leaders, legislators, and policymakers from continuing to promote and invest in this flawed approach in the name of safety for Black and Brown communities.

The Black Youth Project 100's 2014 report "Agenda to Keep us Safe." Source: http://byp100.org

The Black Youth Project 100’s 2014 report “Agenda to Keep us Safe.” Source: http://byp100.org

Increasingly though, Black communities across the country are speaking for themselves, loudly and clearly, demanding safety from all forms of violence—including the violence of profiling, discriminatory enforcement, and police violence intrinsic to broken windows policing. They are resisting the false choices presented by broken windows proponents, demanding both authentic safety and an end to police violence, harassment, and surveillance, along with respect for rights and dignity. As the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement of New York City stated in the wake of Eric Garner’s killing, the “’broken windows’ philosophy of policing, which purports that focusing resources on the most minor violations will somehow prevent larger ones, has consistently resulted in our rights being violated.”57 They emphatically state that safety cannot come at the price of daily harassment, violation, and the taking of Black lives.

Black voices and communities are articulating their own visions of safety through Black Youth Project 100’s Agenda to Keep us Safe 58 and Agenda to Build Black Futures, Campaign Zero, and demands articulated by Black Lives Matter59 and Ferguson Action.60 What ties many of these agendas together is the notion that the best strategy to promote safety in Black communities is to divest from policing and punishment and instead invest in and support Black communities, leaving no one behind.  Together, they issue a clarion call to combat and dismantle systems of structural discrimination that foster violence while limiting opportunities and life chances of Black people—including “broken windows” policing.

About the Author

Andrea Ritchie is a Black lesbian police misconduct attorney and organizer who has engaged in extensive research, writing, litigation, organizing and advocacy around policing of women and LGBT people of color over the past two decades. She is a 2014 Senior Soros Justice Fellow, author of Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color, in The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, and co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women; A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV, and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. She is currently at work on Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women of Color, forthcoming from Beacon Press in early 2017, and is a contributor to Who Do You Serve? Who Do You Protect?, published by Haymarket Press in June 2016


*Editor’s note: PRA’s convention is to capitalize both Black and White, to emphasize that both are constructed categories. At the request of the author, this article departs from that convention.
1 Campaign Zero, www.joincampaignzero.org (last visited January 18, 2016).

2 Tierney Sneed, “From Ferguson to Staten Island, Questions about Broken Windows Policing,” U.S. News & World Report, August 14, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/08/14/michael-brown-eric-garner-deaths-add-scrutiny-to-broken-windows-policing.

3 “About #ThisStopsToday,” This Stops Today, http://www.thisstopstoday.org/aboutus/ (last visited April 5, 2016).

4 Emily Thomas, “Pregnant Woman Allegedly Put in Chokehold by NYPD Officer,” Huffington Post, July 28, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/pregnant-woman-chokehold-nypd-rosan-miller_n_5628306.html.

5 Jim Hoffer, “Investigation: Woman Claims Brutality Against NYPD Officer,” Eyewitness News, ABC 7 NY (New York, NY: WABC – TV, August 1, 2014). Available at: http://abc7ny.com/news/investigation-woman-claims-police-brutality-against-nypd-officer/229978/ (last visited January 18, 2016).

6 Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011).

7 Jessica Testa, “The 13 Black Women Who Accused a Cop of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words,” BuzzFeed, December 10, 2015, https://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-women-in-their-ow.

8 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” The Atlantic, March 1982, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/.

9 Sam Roberts, “Author of ‘Broken Windows’ Policing Defends His Theory,” New York Times, August 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/nyregion/author-of-broken-windows-policing-defends-his-theory.html; Matt Schudel, “James Q. Wilson, scholar identified with ‘broken-windows’ theory of crime prevention, dies at 80,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/james-q-wilson-scholar-identified-with-broken-windows-theory-of-crime-prevention-dies-at-80/2012/03/02/gIQA2eHynR_story.html.

10 Alex Vitale, “The Neoconservative Roots of the Broken Windows Theory,” Gotham Gazette, August 1, 2014, http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5199-neoconservative-roots-broken-windows-policing-theory-nypd-bratton-vitale.

11 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

12 Alex Vitale, supra note 10.

13 Jacob Ertel, “Broken Windows, Workfare, and the Battle for Public Space in Giuliani’s New York,” Cyrano’s Journal, January 8, 2015, http://www.cjournal.info/2015/01/08/broken-windows-workfare-and-the-battle-for-public-space-in-giulianis-new-york-2/.

14 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

15 Pam Chamberlain, “James Q. Wilson: A Dominant Figure Among Conservative Crime Theorists,” in Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, ed. Palak Shah, (Political Research Associates, 2005), 62. Available at: https://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/12/Defending-Justice.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

16 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York, July 6, 1994. Available at: http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/Bratton-blueprint-1994–Reclaiming-the-public-spaces-of-NY.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

17 Molly Crabapple, “How Broken Windows Policing Harms People of Color,” YouTube video, posted by Fusion, February 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXI1QJRqPD8, (last visited January 17, 2016).

18 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

19 Tanya Erzen, “Turnstile Jumpers and Broken Windows: Policing Disorder in New York City,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

20 Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows.

21 Randall Shelden, “Assessing ‘Broken Windows’: A Brief Critique,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, April 2004, http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/broken.pdf; Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows; K. Babe Howell, “Broken Lives from Broken Windows: The Hidden Costs of Aggressive Order-Maintenance Policing,” N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, vol. 33 (2009): 271, 274; William Harms, “Study Conducted in Chicago Neighborhoods Calls ‘Broken Windows’ Theory into Question,” University of Chicago Chronicle, vol. 19, no. 7 (January 6, 2000).

22 Bernard E. Harcourt, “Punitive Preventive Justice: A Critique” (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 386 / Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 599, 2012). Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/law_and_economics/401/ (last visited January 15, 2016).

23 George Kelling, “Don’t Blame My Broken Windows Theory for Poor Policing,” Politico Magazine, August 11, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/broken-windows-theory-poor-policing-ferguson-kelling-121268.

24 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

25 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, supra note 16.

26 Jacob Ertel, supra note 13.

27 George Kelling, supra note 22.

28 Ibid.

29 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Dayo F. Gore, Tamara Jones, Joo-Hyun Kang, “Organizing at the Intersections: A Roundtable Discussion of Police Brutality Through the Lens of Race, Class, and Sexual Identities,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

34 Erzen, supra note 19.

35 K. Babe Howell, supra note 20.

36 Charles Reich, qtd. in: Phillip Beatty, Amanda Petteruti, and Jason Ziedenberg, The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties (Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2007), 14.

37 Dorothy E. Roberts, “Foreword: Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 89, no. 3 (1999), 775, 777-78.

38 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, supra note 8.

39 Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network, presentation at preconference convening held in conjunction with U.C.L.A. Critical Race Studies Symposium, Los Angeles, CA, October 17, 2015.

40 Sarah Ryley, Laura Bult, Dareh Gregorian, “Daily News analysis finds racial disparities in summonses for minor violations in ‘broken windows’ policing,” New York Daily News, August 4, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/summons-broken-windows-racial-disparity-garner-article-1.1890567.

41 Jeremy Berke, “REPORT: The NYPD Makes The Most Arrests for a $2.75 Crime,” Business Insider, May 10, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/nypd-farebeating-arrests-2016-5.

42 Christopher Mathias, “This is What Broken Windows Policing Looks Like,” Huffington Post, October 9, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/broken-windows-policing-new-york_us_5617f428e4b0082030a2573f.

43 Ibid.

44 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

45 Ibid.

46 Mogul et al., supra n. 6.

47 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6; Tanya Erzen, supra note 19.

48 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

49 Amnesty International, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against LGBT People in the United States, AMR 51/122/2005 (2005).

50 See e.g., Shana Judge and Mariah Wood, “Racial Disparities in Enforcement of Prostitution Laws,” APPAM, November 6, 2014, https://appam.confex.com/appam/2014/webprogram/Paper11163.html; Noah Berlatsky, “Black Women Profiled as Prostitutes in NYC,” Reason, October 1, 2014, http://reason.com/archives/2014/10/01/nypd-profiles-sex-workers-too.

51 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

52 Ibid.

53 Heather Mac Donald, “The New Nationwide Crime Wave,” Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-nationwide-crime-wave-1432938425.

54 David Thacher, “Don’t End Broken Windows Policing, Fix It,” The Marshall Project, September 9, 2015, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/09/09/don-t-end-broken-windows-policing-fix-it.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, “Statement on the Murder of Eric Garner by the NYPD,” July 19, 2014, http://mxgm.org/malcolm-x-grassroots-statement-on-the-murder-of-eric-garner-by-the-nypd/.

58 Terrance Laney and Janaé Bonsu, Agenda to Keep us Safe, Black Youth Project 100, September 2014,  http://byp100.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BYP100-Agenda-to-Keep-Us-Safe-AKTUS.pdf; Black Youth Project 100, “BYP100 Announces Release of the Agenda to Build Black Futures,” January 15, 2016,  http://byp100.org/bbf/.

59 Black Lives Matter, Guiding Principles, http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

60 Ferguson Action, Our Vision for a New America, http://fergusonaction.com/demands/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.
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Suspicious Activity Reporting Invites Racial Profiling, Erodes Civil Liberties, and Undermines Security

Platform for Prejudice Cover

By Thomas R. Cincotta:

“The intelligence lapses that failed to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted an overhaul of U.S. domestic and foreign intelligence systems, including the creation of an expansive new domestic security infrastructure. A key part of this new infrastructure is the Suspicious Activity Reporting initiative, a framework that guides, orchestrates, and connects the federal government’s nationwide “Information Sharing Environment.” In this initiative, we see the seeds for a possible repeat of past intelligence abuses, particularly with the weakening of civil liberties safeguards and mobilization of police as intelligence officers.

The Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR Initiative) is a useful focus for understanding how the new domestic security infrastructure works because it feeds and links together components of the system, reaching into the populace and forming an intelligence pipeline between the “fusion centers” charged with managing the program and various other agencies. We have found that these new fusion centers – ostensibly designed to counter terrorism – seem to devote most resources and attention to solving common crimes rather than protecting national security. If it is the case that Fusion Centers perform a primarily policing function, rather than counter-terrorism, the public should weigh whether their excessive secrecy and surveillance powers are justified on that basis.

In an attempt to peer inside these secretive agencies and contribute to public knowledge about the extensive domestic security infrastructure, Political Research Associates launched an investigation into how the SAR Initiative works. Our questions included SAR’s role in the larger domestic security apparatus, the rules under which it functions, and how its practices affect those individuals and communities most singled out for suspicion of terrorism. This report includes data from our investigations in Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami, as well as a comprehensive analysis of federal and local policies and reports. Based on our Los Angeles investigation, the report contains a thorough case study of the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

The report is broken up into four sections, which contextualize and explain the SAR Initiative, as well as elucidate the potential hazards of the program:

In Section 1 of this report, we describe the shape and identify key components of the domestic security infrastructure. Although many levels of government are involved in Suspicious Activity Reporting (such as the National Security Agency, Coast Guard, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and private sector advisory councils), this report focuses on fusion centers and state and local police departments.

In Section 2, we explain the origins of the national Suspicious Activities Reporting (SAR) Initiative and analyze faulty assumptions upon which it is based. We call attention to an aggressive new form of policing called “Intelligence-Led Policing” whose pre-emptive approach violates core American values.

In Section 3, we explore how the SAR Initiative becomes a platform for several types of prejudice. We document the pattern of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling evident in this approach to intelligence gathering. We also explore political biases that manifest themselves in Suspicious Activities Reporting criteria and intelligence analysis. Further, we examine how the SAR Initiative lowers the threshold for government data collection in ways that fuel both profiling and political policing, and violate long-standing civil liberties protections. Lastly, in Section 4, we use a case study of the fusion center based in Norwalk, California, the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, to identify how domestic intelligence collection and sharing jeopardizes civil liberties. Los Angeles’ Fusion Center spearheaded the national SAR Initiative, uses extremely broad criteria for so-called “suspicious” activity, and vigorously encourages the public to report suspicious activities through its controversial iWatch program.

However, as with any investigation of intelligence agencies, the excessive secrecy of the system posed many challenges. Several agencies and departments failed to make their policies available online and to respond to our formal requests for interviews or documents.

I and my colleagues at Political Research Associates believe the United States faces two real and serious threats from terrorists: the first from terrorist acts themselves, which have the demonstrated capacity to cause mass casualties, severe economic damage, and social dislocation; and the second from the possibility that disproportionate and inappropriate responses will do more damage to the fabric of society than that inflicted directly by terrorists themselves. This report strongly suggests that gathering data on lawful activity through Suspicious Activity Reporting amounts to this second kind of harm: the self-inflicted wound. Simply put, the SAR program does more damage to our communities than it does to address real and continuing threats of terrorism.”

Read the full report “Platform for Prejudice” here.

When Secure Communities Meet Border Security

Looking at Michigan’s Fusion Centers

Detroiters March Without Fear August, 2011 (Photo by Peace Education Center/Flickr)

Detroiters March Without Fear August, 2011 (Photo by Peace Education Center/Flickr)

In the Winter 2009/Spring 2010 edition of The Public Eye, we reported on the rise of Intelligence Fusion Centers, created to coordinate the national security intelligence efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, CIA, FBI and the Department of Defense. The initiative was designed to allow officials to collect and share “seemingly unrelated” data about incidents that might – or might not — be precursors of terrorist activity, and if needed, coordinate responses to such attacks.Public Eye’s Thomas Cincotta raised questions about the centers’ potential for racial and ethnic profiling, violations of free speech, and noted their lack of transparency and intrusive power. Amid escalating reports of racial profiling by immigration and border control officials in the Detroit area, and reports of the redirection of Homeland Security funding for local police operations, we asked journalist Eartha Melzer to report on how Michigan’s fusion centers are operating in proximity to the United States’ northern border and one of the largest, oldest and most diverse Arab-American communities in the country.

This past August, a broad coalition of community groups held a “March Without Fear” in Southwest Detroit. Their rally in Clark Park drew 2,000 attendees: unions, including locals of the United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers and Service Employees International Union; civil liberties groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality; immigrant rights groups and faith-based organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrants Rights. Congressmen John Conyers and Hansen Clarke gave speeches, along with UAW President Bob King and NAACP President Reverend Dr. Wendell Anthony.

The protesters were shining a light on a rise of complaints of racial profiling by the Border Patrol acting in Detroit’s neighborhoods and by the Office of Field Operations charged with immigration at the Detroit/Windsor border.

At the same time, they were drawing a connection between what they saw as the uptick in harassment of local Arabs and Latinos and the “information gathering” practices of the state’s secretive fusion centers. Calling for a redirection of funding from ineffective, abusive enforcement programs into job-creation, education, and blight elimination,1 the protestors demanded community oversight of federal funds.

The previous spring, the U.S. government had opened such a fusion center in Harrison Township near Lake St. Clair. The $30 million Coast Guard and Border Patrol Operational Integration Center (OIC) is located at Michigan’s Selfridge Air National Guard Base at the Canadian border. The Selfridge OIC has a binational staff: officers from the U.S. and Canadian Border Patrol, members of the U.S. Office of Field Operations and Office of Air and Marine, U.S. Coast Guard and Michigan State Police, and officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police.

When it opened in May, the facility promised to provide, “a centralized location for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) …to gather, analyze and disseminate operational and strategic data in the Great Lakes region of the Northern border for use by frontline agents and officers.”2 The concerns of Homeland Security were centered on recognition that Detroit is the busiest trade crossing on the U.S.-Canadian border. Detroit is also home to the region’s water infrastructure and a major oil refinery.

At the time, the Dept. of Homeland Security asserted that the limited amount of law enforcement at the Canadian border, coupled with active trade and traffic, makes the terrorist threat on the northern border greater than that faced on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Barriers to information sharing between customs enforcement and border control personnel, a later report would note, could be a weak link in northern border security.

In 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan D. Bersin referred to the OIC as a “demonstration project.”3 He described the complex technology and techniques being deployed for information sharing. The OIC brings together information feeds, including radar and camera feeds, blue force tracking, database query from databases not previously available to CBP, remote sensor inputs, RVSS [Remote Video Surveillance Systems] and MSS [Mobile Surveillance System] feeds, and video from various POEs [Points of Entry] and tunnels. Additional information feeds such as local traffic cameras and MSS will be added in the near future. “This level of personnel and technology integration may serve a model forcollaboration and technology deployments in other areas of the northern border.”4

The Selfridge IOC site houses the control room for an elaborate, eleven-camera system that can transmit live video from locations across the Detroit metropolitan area. According to Sentrillion Corp, which installed the system, the video system provides long range (18 Km) video surveillance day and night in all weather environments, and also has an optional on-the-ground radar function. The new video surveillance system can observe activities four miles in from the border, including most of the city of Detroit. Most residents of the region are unaware that those watching the video feed also will have access to state/local databases and traffic cameras. The nearby St. Clair Shores Police Dept. reports that the OIC is helping to monitor the movements of the boats in the city marina and allows the department to use OIC databases to track movement of people and boats, including low lying “submarine” boats that are difficult to detect.

The Road to the Border

How did Michigan and the city of Detroit, a state and city in desperate financial straits, come to make such a large investment in such an intelligence gathering infrastructure?

In 2006, a group calling itself the Southeast Michigan Urban Area Security Initiative was formed to receive homeland security funding which had been earmarked for the area through the federal Urban Area Security Initiative. The group included representatives from the City of Detroit and the Counties of Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne.

Then-Governor Jennifer Granholm established The Michigan Intelligence Operations Center (MIOC) by executive order on December 20, 2007. MIOC’s mission was to “collect, evaluate, collate, and analyze information and intelligence and then, as appropriate, disseminate this information and intelligence to the proper public safety agencies so that any threat of terrorism or criminal activity will be successfully identified and addressed.”5,6 The MIOC was built in East Lansing and has been awarded $8.5 million in federal grants since 2006.7

Much of this funding has gone into the creation of complex database systems that can store data, including biometric information, and generate local and regional maps. Asked about how the existence of such a database system could help protect public safety, Dale Peet, former Commander of the MIOC, shared an anecdote

There was a threat, it was out of Flint or Genesee county high school, in which a student had posted on a blog or a web page on the Friday that on a Monday he was going to enter the school and kill a lot of people. The fusion center obtained that information, […] tracked the residence where it was [uploaded], and local authorities obtained a search warrant.

MIOC has a privacy policy that specifies that records be kept that show what information has been accessed, by whom and for what purpose. However, it is unclear how well it is following that policy or who is monitoring its performance. Daniel Levy, chief legal officer for the Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights, is a member of the MIOC advisory board, which typically meets every other month. He said that the center itself is responsible for ensuring that the privacy policy is followed.

That said, it remains unclear what information is being gathered by Michigan’s fusion centers, and who has access to that information. Terrence L. Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association and a retired county sheriff said that MIOC was like “Google for police” and expressed his belief that anyone who enters data in the system can also run searches. Jungel said that the MIOC database is a “tremendous tool” that can help law enforcement officers see patterns. “Investigating is good,” he said. “We investigate to clear and exonerate as much as anything.” Beat cops, he said, should know the data and surveillance tools available to them through MIOC.

High resolution surveillance at the Operational Integration Center (OIC) on Selfridge Air National Guard Base (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/Flickr)

High resolution surveillance at the Operational Integration
Center (OIC) on Selfridge Air National Guard Base (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/Flickr)

There are also questions about the required level of clearance for users. In a Feb. 2011 article for Homeland Security Today magazine, titled “Building a Better, More Effective Fusion Center” Dale Peet said that one of his greatest accomplishments as commander of MIOC was creating a system for interns to do data entry into the system, thereby sparing officers for more important jobs.

The MIOC in East Lansing shares information with the Selfridge OIC. Kapp was eager to emphasize that intelligence fusion could improve public safety services in an era of diminishing resources. There is little doubt that Michigan’s two fusion centers have been subject to “mission creep” – allocating monies originally earmarked for “terrorism prevention” to a broader public safety agenda. A recent CBS news analysis found that the ongoing recession has forced Michigan to cut more police officers than any other state.8 Recent FBI statistics indicate that the state now has four of the nation’s ten most dangerous cities.

Is Fusion Center Data Being Used By ICE and for Racial Profiling?

Dale Peet, the former MIOC Commander, dismissed the idea that the MIOC database could be used to unfairly target people based on race, national origin, or visa status. As of October 2010, when he retired, he said, MIOC did not collect border patrol information. He asserted that neither Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nor Canadian Border Patrol (CBP) had access to the system. However, this assertion was contradicted by his successor, Gene Kapp. Canadian border patrol does have access to MIOC information, he said, and always did.  Kapp went on to explain that ICE can make a request of MIOC, but “visa status is not information that we retain or get involved in.”

The retired sheriff and Michigan Sheriff’s Association director Terrence Jungel dismissed the idea that, for instance, crossing to Canada while wearing a headscarf would be enough to trigger suspicion. “Profiling has a bad rap,” he said. “We bend over backward to avoid profiling. We go where the facts lead.”

Immigrants and their advocates in the Detroit community disagree with these types of official statements. Lena Masri, staff attorney for the Michigan chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that she is receiving an average of four reports each week from people who say they were abused at the border. Muslims, she said, have been stopped and detained at the border for several years, but recently the types of mistreatment being alleged have become much more severe.  She says,

People are being handcuffed. Their cars are being surrounded by armed agents. The men are taken inside and detained in a cell for several hours, up to 12 hours at a time. There are questions that pertain to religion, where they pray, whether they have received terrorism training.

CAIR MI has filed complaints about the treatment with the Dept. of Homeland Security and the Dept. of Justice.

Immigrant rights advocates report increasing use of joint task forces and ICE enforcement actions that involve Detroit police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s department, and they say that authorities intentionally mislead people about which agency they represent. Hispanic Bar Association president Lawrence Garcia said that Southwest Detroit’s large minority population makes it a hunting ground for immigration enforcement activities and racial profiling. “Whenever ICE needs to show some resolve,” he said, “rounding up people in Southwest Detroit is just too convenient of a way to do that.”

One event that especially outraged locals was a situation in which ICE agents conducted an enforcement action at a local elementary school called Hope of Detroit Academy in March, 2011. According to Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform Michigan director Ryan Bates, Jose Maldonado Plasencia had just dropped off his child at the school when ICE agents detained him without having obtained prior authorization for performing enforcement at a school. Later that morning, agents in SUVs and sedans with tinted windows followed two other families from their homes to the school. After the families took refuge in the school, they surrounded the building. When Bates intervened and asked whether the agents had a warrant, the agents acknowledged that they did not and, left in a convoy. Weeks after the incident, school attendance remained low because parents were afraid to bring their children to school. Five months later, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility released a report on the investigation into these incidents that found that officers did not engage in any abuse or professional misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) said his office is reviewing ICE’s investigation of the Hope of Detroit incident. “Allegations of warrantless searches, racial profiling, and unlawful detentions must be taken seriously,” he said. “I have some concerns about the thoroughness of ICE’s review.”



Michigan Intelligence Operations Center (MIOC) Partners

Michigan Operational Integration Center’s (MOIC) Response to Environmental Threat


1 Statement from organizer Bart Kumor, Aug. 19, 2011.

2 April 24, 2001 CBP announcement, http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/news_releases/archives/april_2011/


3 05/17/2011 Testimony of Alan D. Bersin, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Regarding Northern Border Security http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/congressional_test/bersin_testifies.xml.

4 Ibid.

5 Mission statement provided by Michigan State Police.

6 http://www.michigan.gov/mioc.

7 Interview with MIOC Commander Gene Kapp, Sept. 12, 2001.


Ban All Racial Profiling Without Exception

On Monday this week, the New York Times announced that its investigation of NYPD “stop and frisk” practices from 2006 through 2010 found police stopped 52,000 people in a small eight-block predominantly black neighborhood called Brownsville. That’s one stop per year for every one of the neighborhood’s 14,000 residents. Police claim that almost half of those stops were prompted by “furtive action” of the resident. Action by Congress to ban profiling based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion is long overdue, but Congress has been diverted by politicized and uninformed calls to use race-based profiling as a counterterrorism tool.

Prior to 9/11, a consensus was emerging in the country that racial profiling was a common, destructive practice requiring federal action. Congress is today poised to reconsider the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), first introduced in 2001, which would prohibit all law enforcement officers from engaging in racial profiling. The proposed ERPA provides legal options to individuals injured by racial profiling and includes grants to state and local agencies to enable them to meet the bill’s requirements. Arizona’s passage of SB1070 highlights the need for comprehensive federal legislation banning racial profiling, especially since copycat legislation is cropping up in at least eighteen more states. Arizona’s new anti-immigration law will intensify and spread racial profiling because it essentially criminalizes “walking while brown” by requiring law enforcement to act on reasonable suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally and arrest them if they fail to produce papers. Despite candidate Obama’s promise to ban profiling, and support for ERPA byAttorney General Eric Holder, the bill has yet to be introduced in this Congressional term. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill on June 17, 2010, but there remains strong pressure to carve out an exemption to allow profiling for national security reasons. Political Research Associates calls on Congress to pass ERPA and opposes any effort to water down the legislation with a national security exemption.

A national security exemption would create an enormous loophole in a nationwide ban on racial profiling. Under this loophole, current pretexts for racial profiling such as gang or drug enforcement could be justified under a new national security rationale. In Arizona, border security could easily be twisted to justify detentions and searches based on nothing more than ethnicity and nationality. Since 2003, FBI guidelines that generally prohibit racial profiling by federal law enforcement do allow the practice for purposes of “national security” and “border security.” As a result, racial profiling has become more pronounced since September 11, 2001, particularly among Muslim, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities. The U.S. government has also mobilized local cops to gather and report “suspicious activities” in a manner that frequently targets people solely on the basis of nationality and religion.

An exemption for national security is entirely inconsistent with equal protection guarantees in the Constitution. In declaring that racial profiling is wrong and immoral, except where national security is at stake, the government currently asserts that there is something unique about the “War on Terror” that makes ethnicity and race legitimate factors when the same tactics have been found to be ineffective and discriminatory in other criminal investigations. That approach ignores the fact that there has not been a single documented incident where racial profiling by law enforcement resulted in the capture or detention of any suspect related to terrorism. The FBI caught no terrorists when it sought out 8,000 Middle Easterners and Muslims to interview in the months following 9/11. Instead, the interviews may have had a chilling effect on relations between the Arab community and law enforcement. Stereotyping in any context is too blunt, almost always overbroad, and a poor substitute for investigations based on particularized suspicion. Congress should listen to the U.S. intelligence officials who have emphasized that focusing on racial characteristics of individuals wastes resources and diverts attention away from criminal behavior by people who do not fit the profile.

Instead of spending millions of dollars to fill our jails with hard-working people, states like Arizona should be creating living-wage jobs and supporting those who keep the economy afloat. More importantly, the federal government should act quickly to shut down any law that criminalizes groups of people based on their race or nationality. The Department of Justice lawsuit against SB1070 is a good start, but Washington should also set the example by banning all racial profiling in the FBI guidelines and pass the ERPA.

Suspicious Activity Reporting Expands to LAX and Amtrak: A Recipe for Racial Profiling

In an expansion of the national Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR), law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials recently tied both Amtrak and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) into the initiative. Unfortunately, although SAR is meant to help intelligence analysts “connect the dots,” it has a major flaw: it encourages police to gather and share information about completely legal activities in which thousands of people engage every day. Many of these activities are so common that racial, religious, and ethnic factors often determine whether the activities are perceived as “suspicious.” [1]

On July 1, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the See Something, Say Something campaign, originally launched after 9/11 by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and funded in part by $13 million from DHS’s Transit Security Grant Program. The campaign generated “tips” about Middle Eastern men “speaking in a foreign language” on their cellphones and about a person photographing trains at New York’s Penn Station. The photographer was participating in an Amtrak contest. Now the campaign is going national. Napolitano described the new Amtrak version as a “simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime, and other threats.” [2] (Could this program possibly be less specific about terrorist behavior than “See Something, Say Something”??)

On July 3, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced that it would expand its controversial and unproven iWatch program to LAX. The program encourages people to report activities that “do not seem right” and individuals who “do not seem to belong” to the authorities, vague standards that invite untrained citizens to act on the racial prejudices that often underlie their anxieties about terrorism, potentially distracting security professionals from real threats.

In its announcement, the LAPD boasted that iWatch is the “21st century version of neighborhood watch.” An educational component explains the kinds of activities in which terrorists engage and encourages people to report these. iWatch supporters point to this educational component to defend themselves against allegations of racial profiling, but the initiative is still too new to show whether it leads to useful tips. Despite this and other potential glitches, iWatch is already being marketed to and “adopted by law enforcement agencies nationwide.” [3]

Not one terrorism plot has ever been uncovered by a citizen-watch program. Shoe-bomber Richard Reid, Christmas day bomber Umar Farouk Abduulmutallab, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and even the 9/11 hijackers did nothing to arouse the suspicions of ordinary people before they boarded their aircraft. On June 6, 2010, two accused terrorists from New Jersey boarded a plane at JFK Airport that was flying to Egypt, yet nothing they did at the airport provoked anyone to “see something, say something.” [4] In some cases, even Homeland Security professionals trained to recognize the threats saw nothing unusual or did not do their jobs. Passengers acted appropriately and instinctively to subdue Reid and Abduulmutallab when they attempted to set off their bombs – but they didn’t need iWatch or similar programs to tell them to act with common sense.

TSA officials treat Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not, differently from the rest of the air traveling public. These travelers are routinely asked lengthy and inappropriate questions about their faith and personal politics when they enter the country, such as, “What is your religion? What mosque do you attend? How often do you pray? What charities do you contribute to? and What do you think of the war in Iraq?” [5] They are often targeted for discriminatory searches of laptops and other personal property. One Muslim father explained to the audience at an interfaith colloquium at New York University that his 21-year-old son, who is American-born and raised, is subjected to extra security every time he boards a plane. His son now feels disenfranchised in his own country.

Religious profiling at airports has intensified since the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The number of people on the federal no-fly list, the majority of whom are Muslims and have no criminal records, has increased. People on the no-fly list can neither travel domestically nor return into the United States from abroad—so Americans who were traveling when the list was updated cannot re-enter to their country. The ACLU is currently litigating several such cases.

Suspicious-activity reporting at airports and transportation hubs has delivered nothing useful. In January 2002, police officers stopped an Arab American passenger en route to Washington, D.C., because the airplane’s pilot requested that he be “checked out” because he had “an Arabic name.” On October 28, 2001, three Arab American women were prevented from boarding their flight because airline personnel heard them quietly praying before the flight and became concerned upon hearing one of the women say the word “Allah.” [6] JetBlue and the Transportation Security Administration were forced to pay $240,000 to Raed Jarrar after they refused to permit him to board his flight while wearing a t-shirt that read, “We Will Not Be Silent” in Arabic and English. In January 2009, members of a large Muslim family on AirTran Flight 9 were removed from the plane because two of them had been casually speaking about the “safest place to sit on an airplane.” Even after the FBI cleared the group, AirTran refused to rebook them. [7]

Pushing iWatch in an environment where law abiding Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim members of the public are already subject to heightened scrutiny is irresponsible and harmful. It will stir up fear and anxiety among the traveling public, while also promoting the belief that government is doing something – even if it is theater – to keep them safer.

1. See Political Research Associates, Platform for Prejudice (March 2010) [web link]. See also, ACLU, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting” (June 29, 2010) http://www.aclu.org/spy-files/more-about-suspicious-activity-reporting
2. http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1278023105905.shtm
3. See LAPD Blog, iWATCH Launches at Los Angeles International Airport Program Encourages Airport Visitors and Communities to Help Fight Terrorism (accessed 29 June 2010).
4. “Feds tracked N.J. terror suspects for years,” USA Today, June 8, 2010.
5. Muslim Advocates, “Unreasonable Intrusions,” April 2009.
6. Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, “Wrong Then, Wrong Now: Racial Profiling Before & After September 11, 2001.”
7. ACLU and Rights Working Group, “Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in the United States,” June 30, 2009.

Recipe for Profiling: Boston Transit Police Study the “Legal Wing of Jihad in America”

Why are Boston Transit Police Studying Islam?

While reading the February/March 2010 issue of the industry magazine Counter Terrorist (a publication of Security Solutions International), I came across a troubling advertisement.

On May 10-12, 2010, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is sponsoring a three-day seminar in Florida that takes participants through the “formative phases of the Islamic religion” and the branches and ideologies of Islam to help them “really understand how extremism is organized in Radical Islam.”

The MBTA is promoting a discriminatory seminar, led by SSISecurity Solutions International, which raises concerns about whether such training is counter-productive, promotes racial and religious profiling, and makes local residents less safe. Why is the cash-strapped MBTA using limited funds to study the political or religious motives of potential terrorists? Is this the best way to keep T riders safe? How will this training affect religious and ethnic/racial bias among intelligence officials and the police?

The course content, according to the advertisement, includes “Arab naming conventions,” “Women in Islam and Female Suicide Bombers,” and “The Legal wing of Jihad in America.” Of what concern is the LEGAL wing of [alleged] jihad in America to theBoston’s transit police since it is, by that definition, legal?

This course promotes thinly-disguised Islamophobia that harkensback to McCarthyistic witch hunts for communist front organizations. It has nothing to do with effective law enforcement. Indoctrinating metro Boston law enforcement with these inflammatory views is a recipe for racial, ethnic, religious, and political profiling. Unquestionably, courses of this nature will lead law enforcement attendees to subject individuals to increased scrutiny (and possibly illegal searches) based on their appearance and beliefs, rather than conduct. Law enforcement resources are better spent protecting infrastructure and observing criminal conduct, not studying (or tracking) peoples’ religious belief systems and political motivations.

Security Solutions International is a Miami-based company founded in 2004 [1] that bills itself as a frontline defense against the threat of “radical Islam” and prime provider of “homeland security training” to a range of clients, including local police forces, corporations, and federal agencies. [2] Employing alarmist rhetoric about Islamic groups’ purported existential threat to the United States in the “war on terror,” SSI’s website encourages “first Responders and interested members of the concerned public to help Security Solutions International fight the war on terror. Radical Islam has an agenda and wants to destroy our country. As part of our mission, we are dedicated to keeping you informed about the enemy and developments in this global conflict.”[3]

According to the bio of SSI’s CEO, Solomon Bradman, he formerly managed “Diplomat Trading, a multi-million dollar exporter of Electronic Equipment specializing in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College in Aviation. His management and administrative training and experience began while running the fixed base operation at Marathon Airport back in 1984 where he eventually ended up manager, chief pilot, and head flight instructor until moving to Denver to pursue a pilot position with Rocky Mountain Airways. … Over the last three years his responsibilities as CEO of SSI have required his experience and full attention to Administration, Marketing, Sales, Product Development and Public Relations, including being a spokesperson for SSI and appearing on news casts on NBC, CBS, and ABC commenting on SSI programs and security issues. He also provides articles on Aviation-related security issues to top publications such as Business Aviation, Helicopter Monthly and others.” [4]

SSI lists two products that are presumably provided to people who sign up to be SSI “Patriot Partners”: the Counter Terroristnewsletter, an SSI publication that claims to keep readers “up-to-date with developments, technologies, successes and … failures in the global struggle against Islamofascism”; and “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West,” a controversial film described as “hate propaganda” by some critics and distributed by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit organization closely linked to both the U.S. and Israeli right-wing. [5]

Among the activities SSI advertises on its website are a training course for law enforcement agencies that is entitled “The IslamicJihadist Threat” and a Department of Homeland Security-funded training program in Israel for U.S. clients. According to SSI’s website, this course is a two-day program “designed to give First Responders a deep understanding of the terror mindset and an explanation of the reasons for the Global Jihad as well as practical tips for Law Enforcement in detecting, preventing and responding to acts of terror.” Course topics include “Where does the hatred come from?- Arab naming conventions – Jihad – The Five Pillars of Islam – Ramadan – Domestic Terror groups – International Terror groups – Understanding the culture of Jihad.”[6]

The course has been harshly criticized. In 2008, for example, theWashington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that SSI’s training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission promoted stereotypes that could lead to prejudicial profiling of Muslims. A CAIRrepresentative told the Seattle Times, “Most police officers don’t have a basic grounding in Islam, so before you teach them about Islam, how can you teach them about radical Islam? It just makes you nervous because when a law-enforcement person pulls someone over, when they see a Muslim person or someone who appears Muslim to them—all this information they just learned kicks in.”[7]

In August 2009, Political Research Associates attended a two-hour presentation by Long Beach, California, Police Detective EbrahimAshabi, SSI’s purported expert on Islamic culture. Det. Ashabi says he is trying to help law enforcement “gain a better understanding of how terrorists think and why they are terrorists.” He offered an explanation of the political and social origins of Islam, the Spread of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, Ottoman Empire, The Crusades, the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah, and the long-term goals of terrorism. Such lessons are counter-productive; by suggesting that violent terrorism finds its roots in the Islamic religion, SSI is legitimizing claims by terrorist organizations that their acts are justified by faith, when in fact they are distorting Islam for their own political aims.

Det. Ashabi provided a window into the mindset of some counter terrorism specialists who believe that there are no good Muslims, only bad ones. Ashabi contends that the Muslim Brotherhood aims “to destroy Western civilization from within, through subversive means, legal, political and non-terrorist means, and by changing laws and U.S. constitution. He cited several examples of Islamic “infiltration,” such as the July 29, 2009 arrest of 7 men in North Carolina charged with terrorist conspiracy to wage an Islamic holy war overseas; the Holy Land Foundation case (wherein individuals were accused of giving aid to a group with ties to Hamas that was not on the U.S. government’s list of forbidden charities); and the shooting of police deputy in Fresno by a Kashmir group.

However, with those criminal cases, Ashabi lumps in “on-going threats of lawsuits against police and other law enforcement agencies that offer counter terrorism and race awareness training programs (alleging racial, religious profiling) as means of intimidating police departments to stop training programs.” He cited the July 2009 case (above) of the Seattle Police Department taking criticism from CAIR over its race awareness program. PRA’s investigator, Mary Fischer, observed, “It’s Ashabi’s belief that CAIR is a serious threat to U.S. safety and that the organization continues to permeate all facets of our society in effort to undermine it. One strategy it seeks to use–nominate Muslim sympathizers to political office and law enforcement ranks to then gain access to computer databases.”

So, the MBTA is sponsoring a seminar which views as suspect Muslim-Americans’ participation in the democratic political process. We need to tell MBTA officials that the public does not approve of this religious prejudice. This is not the first time that MBTA has partnered with SSI. In August 2009, PRA requested records related to a similar course held in Massachusetts last year, but the MBTA failed to supply the requested materials. No law enforcement agency should not be lending its name or funds to SSI, whose aim is to stir up suspicion of all Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian persons, or to get rich trying.

* UPDATE: In response to community concerns, the MBTA canceled its sponsorship of the seminar run by Security Solutions International on March 31, 2010.


1. Market Wire, “Miami Becomes the Homeland Security Capital of the USA during the UASI National Conference April 10th-April 13th,” April 5, 2007.
2. See Security Solutions International website.
3. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
4. SSI, “Corporate Officers,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
5. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
6. SSI, “The Islamic Jihadist Threat,” (accessed October 1, 2009)
7. Janet I. Tu, “Does Course on Islam Give law Enforcers Wrong Idea?” Seattle Times, May 26, 2008.

Information for this posting also comes from Right Web, a project of Political Research Associates, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/bradman_solomon


Misplaced Priorities in U.S. Counter-terror Strategy

The recent attempted bombing of NWA Flight 253 in Detroit underscores the fact that the main terrorist threat to U.S. persons is from foreign terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. Every official review of U.S. intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attack concluded that bureaucratic cultures at the CIA and FBI impeded effective information sharing and analysis. Here again, U.S. intelligence agencies failed to share information regarding live tips and leads that should have triggered not only a secondary screening at Amsterdam’s airport, but more importantly, a full assessment of the threat posed by the 23-year old Umar Farouk Abduulmutallab.

The development of a vast network of urban and state intelligence fusion centers is one illustration of how the U.S. intelligence enterprise has lost its way since 9/11. Domestic “extremism” (however loosely defined) has supplanted focused and sustained investigation of foreign threats as the highest counterterrorism priority. Data-mining, biometric identification, fusion centers, and beat cops as “force multipliers,” now take center stage in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Instead, the focus should be on improving foreign intelligence capacities and enhancing the coordination and performance of the Terrorism Screening Center, Transportation Security Agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is they relate to identifying suspected or known terrorists.

You can’t do it all. Choices have to be made. But senior U.S. officials – particularly from the Department of Homeland Security and its 22 member agencies – have taken their eyes off the ball (foreign terrorism), in favor of peering into Americans’ everyday activities. They have dispersed limited resources across the entire nation to protect vast numbers of potential (but unlikely) targets, instead of focusing on the most likely target of foreign attack: airliners. As one senior TSA official tells PRA, the lack of focus “is disgraceful, criminal, and very, very sad. But there is simply no will at the top to change the systems’ problems.”

These bureaucratic decisions steer antiterrorism grant funding to thousands of police agencies to buttress local budgets and domestic surveillance capacities, while neglecting the hard work of foreign intelligence analysis and investigations. While it has been important to improve emergency interoperability and response capacity at the local level, the push to develop local and state-based intelligence capacities does more harm to civil liberties and political freedom than it does to keep us safe.

At home, we need a sensible law enforcement approach to terrorism, rather than a pre-emptive intelligence model that undermines community trust, privacy, and political freedom. The intelligence paradigm, in the hands of domestic authorities, inevitably treads upon constitutional rights. Witness, for example, the recent spying by a military employee of anti-war activists in Washington state. A lawsuit filed on January 10, 2010 by National Lawyers Guild attorney Larry Hildes on behalf of members of Port Military Resistance, asserts that a force protection employee infiltrated the peace organization, tried to disrupt activities, and used his position as listserv administrator to channel private information to multiple policing agencies. The Fort Lewis episode illustrates how national security can be manipulated to justify interfering with free speech. We must insist that counterterrorism resources are directed at Al Qaeda, not dissenters and American communities.