On 13 May, New York Police Department commissioner Bill Bratton delivered the keynote address at Israel’s first ever National Conference on Personal Security in Jersusalem.
Accompanied by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John Miller (formerly a CBS senior news correspondent), Bratton also met with Yohanan Danino, the Inspector General of the Israeli police, and Yoram Cohen, director of Israel’s notorious Shin Bet secret police.
In his 30-minute speech, which can be viewed in the above video, Bratton offered a uniquely revisionist history of American policing and proposed a dystopian vision for a future in which Israel is held up as a model for law enforcement worldwide.
“World’s strongest democracies”
“We are fortunate in the United States and Israel to live in the world’s two strongest democracies,” declared Bratton, kicking off his speech with the mythology and pandering we’ve come to expect from US officials visiting Israel.
Bratton went on to offer an odd interpretation of how a democracy functions.
“In a democracy,” he said, “the first obligation of government is public safety.”
This may come as a surprise to those who were under the impression that the government’s most essential role in a democracy is to ensure the civil and human rights of the people it represents. While public safety is certainly important, Bratton has throughout his career advocated for and spearheaded policing practices that strip minority communities, particularly poor African Americans and Latinos, of their civil rights, all under the cover of promoting public safety.
Perhaps Bratton’s disdain for civil rights explains the deceptive historical analysis provided in his speech, in which he blamed the civil rights and anti-war movements forrising crime and disorder in the 1970s.
“My country in the 1970s was just coming out of the turbulence of the 1960s in our society, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, a society that was wrestling with what we thought to be too much government control,” explained Bratton.
He then attributed growing crime rates in the 1980s to “drug culture” and society’s inability to control poor people and minorities:
As my country moved into the 1980s there were several additional societal trends that began to have a significant negative impact on our ability to keep our streets safe. The growth of a drug market and a drug culture, particularly the more problematic drugs of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine. The increasing number of young people coming out of a society that was no longer educating them, no longer controlling them, a dissolution of many of the families in our society, particularly among the poor and in the minority communities.
Bratton went on to read off New York City’s horrifying crime statistics in 1990, when violent crime was at its peak.
Describing the early 1990s, Bratton conflated graffiti with rampant murder, saying, “conditions in the city had deteriorated so badly that subway cars were covered in graffiti.”
He then credited policies introduced by him and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the massive reduction in violent crime that followed.
During Bratton’s first term as NYPD commissioner in 1994, he implemented what he referred to in his speech as “community policing” or “quality of life” policing, otherwise known as “broken windows.” Bratton is credited with popularizing the “broken windows theory,” a zero-tolerance approach to policing that focuses on stamping out minor nonviolent infractions before they evolve into violent crimes.
Bratton proceeded to paint a before-and-after picture of New York City:
It is a city that in the 1980s and 1990s was a very frightening experience to walk the streets — the aggressive beggars, the prostitutes, the gangs, the filth, the graffiti. It is a city today that is vibrant, it is alive, it is safe. On the subway system, the graffiti is gone, the beggars are gone, the vandalism is gone.
This is the essence of broken windows, the idea that graffiti and litter, if left unpunished, will balloon into rape and murder, and therefore must be treated like violent crimes. (Two decades later, Bratton’s obsessive hatred for graffiti has only grown stronger.)
There is no empirical proof that “broken windows” policing was responsible for New York City’s historic decline in crime in the 1990s. In fact, similar crime reductions were taking place in cities across the country where “broken windows” was not being employed.
In reality, Bratton’s policies had more to do with removing poor people of color from prime gentrification real estate in an effort to create a more aesthetically appealing landscape for the mostly upper class whites the city wanted to attract.
Under Bratton’s first term as New York City’s top cop in 1994, the NYPD went after young people of color with a vengeance for everything from truancy and playing loud music to jumping subway turnstiles and loitering.
As the murder rate fell dramatically between 1994 and 1996, misdemeanor arrests skyrocketed 73 percent, and as Christian Parenti meticulously documents in the bookLockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis, the main targets were the African American and Latino communities, whose police brutality complaints increased by 50 percent.
Bratton would go on to carry out “quality of life sweeps” during his reign as police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, resulting in the mass displacement of homeless and mentally ill residents, who Bratton’s foot soldiers harassed with tickets forjaywalking and sleeping on the sidewalk. Unable to pay the fines, those targeted were often locked up, increasing the overall jail population. On top of that, he oversaw a twofold increase in stop and frisks by the LAPD.
Since being appointed head of the NYPD for the second time in two decades by the supposedly progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bratton has doubled down on broken windows with his mission to rid the subway of homeless people.
Learning from each other
From New York City to Los Angeles, Bratton’s form of suppression policing — packaged as crime prevention — has aggressively facilitated gentrification, which is just a more insidious version of ethnic cleansing.
A similar (though more openly racist) dynamic has played out in Israel, where security and terrorism prevention are invoked to justify the subjugation and removal of Palestinians.
For example, Israel insists to the world that the apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank is a vital security measure designed to keep suicide bombers out. But even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admits that the purpose of the “separation fence” is to avert “demographic spillover” of Palestinians from the West Bank.
The apartheid wall, the home demolitions, the checkpoints, the more than fifty laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel — all of these have little to do with Israel’s security and everything to do with maintaining Israel’s demographically engineered Jewish majority to consolidate Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land.
“The police commissioner of New York City coming to meet with the police commissioner of the Israeli National Police, why?” asked Bratton. “So we can learn from each other.”
After praising the Israeli police for their efforts at employing “quality of life” policing, Bratton moved on to the issue of terrorism.
“[The United States] did not have the terrorism experience that you have had since your birth,” said Bratton, noting that Israel’s was a “birth of necessity.” The irony of course is that Israel was built over the ashes of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages that were deliberately destroyed through terrorism.
Bratton added, “We can continue to defeat [terrorism] by the way you have been doing it in your country so successfully.”
While it’s unclear which of Israel’s abusive counterterrorism policies Bratton plans to adopt, he did leave some clues.
As the New York Times recently reported, there exists an NYPD squad called the Citywide Debriefing Team, which scours city jails for Muslims to coerce into spying ontheir communities. During his visit to Israel, Bratton defended the NYPD’s recruitment of jailed Muslims as informants, calling the program “an essential element of policing.”
A future dystopia
Next, Bratton offered words of praise for predictive policing, calling it “the new revolution in American policing, indeed world policing.”
“Can we prevent all crime? No. But we need to use that as our goal,” he said.
Predictive policing uses computer algorithms to generate hotspots where crimes are likely to occur and lists of people who are likely to commit them. It is a form of pre-crime that should raise alarm bells. Given the racism permeating all levels of the American criminal justice system, predictive policing will more likely produce a system of computer-generated racial profiling than crime prevention.
Bratton ended his speech by portraying his and Israel’s dystopian policing practices as necessary “in ensuring that democracy survives for our children and our children’s children.”
“We are strengthened in democracies when we collaborate together, when we form partnerships,” said Bratton. “I thank the Israeli government for the opportunity to strengthen the partnership that was already strong between my city and my country and your city and your country, for the vital mission we are all engaged in and that is the preservation of our democracies.”
Before leaving the podium, Bratton was presented with a gift, an album of photos taken during his trip. Some of those pictures were posted on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Public Security: