Johns Hopkins University Press

Broken glass everywhere

—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"

Published to great fanfare and controversy in a 1982 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling's "Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety" sent shockwaves through social scientific and law enforcement circles, rippling out to recast conversations on safety and crime across the United States and beyond.1 Three decades later, the rise of the Movement for Black Lives and a renewed campaign against police violence has forced broken windows policing into this country's critical crosshairs, eliciting a host of grassroots and scholarly condemnations of the decades-old paradigm of policing. These urgent lines of inquiry have exposed how broken windows policing has worked to extend the reach of the criminal legal system deeper into the daily lives of communities of color, "locat[ing] disorder within individuals" and "off-loading liability onto the bodies of the blamed."2 These critiques have demonstrated how, by criminalizing "small signs of 'disorder'" and projecting that disorder onto certain bodies, broken windows policing is both consistent with centuries-old patterns of policing and responsible for "vastly broaden[ing] the capacities of police both nationally and globally."3 Yet these critiques tend to leave untouched the historical and intellectual contingencies that propelled the theory into police precincts across the nation.4 In proceeding from the questions—How did the broken windows theory come to make sense? And in what spaces did it ground itself?—this essay attempts to push the critical conversation toward understanding and defanging the epistemological claims embedded in the writings of Wilson and Kelling. Wilson and Kelling's signal intervention revolved around their understanding of how signs of disorder, such as subway graffiti or public drunkenness, ostensibly push "law-abiding" residents toward vandalism and crime by reducing "community controls" against incivility. These signs of disorder further undermine community life by provoking "community fear" and suggesting [End Page 103] the possibility of more injurious crime. In short, fear of crime—aroused by relatively innocuous manifestations of disorder—becomes, in their writings, a primary cause of neighborhood deterioration. Accordingly, they argue that the function of police should be to cultivate a sense of safety, rather than fighting crime per se. And this perceived safety can only be achieved by eradicating the visual cues of disorder.5

Enter the broken window: "Social scientists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken."6 If Wilson and Kelling's article were to be condensed into one sentence, this could well be it, and they substantiate it by gesturing toward a supposed social scientific consensus around its validity. But in Wilson and Kelling's essay, only one empirical source shoulders the evidentiary burden of this assertion, of proving the connection between one broken window and "all the rest"—of proving, in other words, the connection between visual cues of disorder and neighborhood deterioration.7 This source is an experiment conducted fifteen years earlier in the Bronx and Palo Alto by the social psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo, best known for administering the Stanford prison experiment two years later.8 Wilson and Kelling recount Zimbardo's 1969 study in detail, and a close reading of the tensions between the Zimbardo experiment and Wilson and Kelling's essay casts new light on the genesis of the broken windows theory.

The present essay zeroes in on one chapter in the intellectual genealogy of the broken windows theory of policing, tracking the spaces and sources used by its authors.9 I argue that Wilson and Kelling manipulated and distorted the findings of prior studies to call forth a racialized image of urban decline, one that marshaled broken windows to stoke fears about the future of the US urban landscape. The terrain on which these fears took shape was the 1970s Bronx, which Wilson and Kelling deployed as a possible fate for all US cities. In fashioning their title out of the broken windows of the Bronx, they drew on a set of significations that had, by 1982, already fixed themselves to the borough. To invoke the Bronx on a national stage in the late 1970s and 1980s was, overwhelmingly, to position the borough as window into the nationwide urban crisis. And perhaps no image was cast more routinely to represent the borough's troubles than the broken window (see fig. 1). Wilson and Kelling forged their theory from this racially laden symbolism, harnessing the broken windows of the Bronx as a synecdoche for nonviolent forms of disorder and a metaphor for the "disorderly people" associated with them.10 These representations broadcast a real-time ruination that conjured long-established fears of racial degeneration and newly developing anxieties of national economic and political decline. [End Page 104]

Figure 1. Ray Mortenson, "17 February 1984" (1984). Courtesy L. Parker Stephenson Photographs.
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Figure 1.

Ray Mortenson, "17 February 1984" (1984). Courtesy L. Parker Stephenson Photographs.

By parsing the symbolisms that amassed around the broken windows of the Bronx, I examine not simply what they stood for but how they came to be imbued with so much signifying power. These might seem like straightforward lines of inquiry. After all, few other images can compete with the broken window as a visualization of urban ruin. Yet when considered not simply as a symbol but as a material artifact, the broken windows of the Bronx claim a history that is far from self-evident. From their installation in the early twentieth century to their fracture in the 1970s and 1980s, the windows of the Bronx refracted broader shifts in the structure of racial capitalism. In representing the borough's broken windows, however, pundits and policymakers reduced their material existence to a limited range of meanings of decline. It was only by exploiting these representational circuits that the broken windows theory could so quickly be elevated to the status of social scientific dogma. Yet what got lost in these symbolisms was any indication of how the windows broke and what their fracture meant for the residents of the Bronx.

The present essay aims to put the broken windows theory in its place by examining the social, spatial, and cultural contexts that smoothed the way for its meteoric rise. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate how historicizing matter alongside metaphor can help shake loose the entanglements of race, criminology, [End Page 105] and the iconography of urban crisis. Over and above these methodological ambitions, this essay hopes to ease a symbolic burden that has long weighed down the Bronx.

The Birth of the South Bronx

Between the 1960s and 1980s, the Bronx underwent a series of transformations that will strike a familiar chord for those versed in midcentury US history. Industrial relocation, white and black middle-class flight, in-migration of black and Puerto Rican residents, redlining, blockbusting, destructive urban renewal projects, and the withdrawal of social services took a heavy toll on the borough. By the mid-1970s, as New York City teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and the stream of federal dollars into welfare and antipoverty programs began to dry up, the Bronx absorbed the shocks of austerity. The myriad effects are repeated at the risk of rendering banal the violence of racial capitalism during this period. Health care, education, and employment, already in dire straits, approached crisis levels. And housing abandonment and landlord arson obliterated the built environment, leaving South Bronx neighborhoods in ruins.11

As the mass media homed in on these transformations, and the impact on cities' housing stock, the South Bronx became a go-to destination for reporters and photographers seeking to document decline. Yet what was transpiring there in the 1970s was exceptional only in terms of its scale. In the South Bronx, as elsewhere, arson and abandonment quite literally spread like wildfire, precipitating the destruction of large portions of the borough, particularly in neighborhoods home to poor communities of color. In some neighborhoods, up to 80 percent of the housing stock was destroyed, and the total number of units lost is estimated to be around 108,000.12 A significant number of arsons were performed for profit, which flowed into the bank accounts of absentee landlords in the form of insurance claims. The fires were set by both individual landlords and large-scale arson rings involving insurance adjusters, organized crime, neighborhood youth, and of course landlords. Decades of state and capital disinvestment in poor neighborhoods of color, paired with industrial relocation, destructive urban renewal projects, and large-scale job loss, had created conditions that rendered arson the most profitable course of action not only for landlords but also for wider networks of transnational capital in an era of fiscal crisis. Federally sponsored insurance policies, initiated after the 1960s uprisings to both bail out insurance companies and ostensibly end redlining, injected insurance capital into poor neighborhoods of color that continued to endure redlining by banks and mortgage lenders. With the sudden arrival [End Page 106] of this new financial incentive, one by one the massive apartment complexes of the Bronx went up in flames.13

Although only one among countless sites around the city and country experiencing widespread arson and abandonment, the Bronx, particularly its southern half, became synonymous with urban conflagration and decay. Regularly dubbed "the worst ghetto in the world,"14 the South Bronx landscape, as represented by the mass media, served as a locus around which fears of urban and national decline congealed. The decade-long fire wave made for good copy and shocking graphics, yet the blazes, difficult as they were to capture on black-and-white film, were often represented by what they left behind: scorched apartment buildings and their broken windows.

As a place-name, the "South Bronx" was itself a product of these transformations. Up until the 1960s, these areas were known by their individual neighborhood names, such as Mott Haven, Morrisania, and Hunts Point. The continued in-migration of black and Latinx residents and out-migration of ethnic whites in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with a new label—the South Bronx. The name followed the path of the fires as they spread north, hastening white flight. The geographies captured by the term grew quickly over time, and soon the entire lower third of the borough became known as the South Bronx, a name that endures to this day.15

Although the Bronx fire wave became apparent in the early 1970s, it was largely ignored by the mass media until four events in 1977 transformed it—and the newly named South Bronx—into a compelling news item.16 In March of that year, CBS aired The Fire Next Door, Bill Moyers's nationally televised TV documentary detailing the urgency of combating the Bronx fire wave.17 A few months later, looting and arson occasioned by the July 13 blackout in New York City offered a spectacular dramatization of Moyers's warnings.18 President Jimmy Carter's decision to make an unannounced and much-publicized visit to the borough in early October can only be understood in the context of these developments. When he designated the South Bronx as the centerpiece of his administration's national urban policy, he was capitalizing on the symbolism that had begun to affix itself to the borough.19 A week later, the smoldering South Bronx was seared into the national imagination when nearly 36 million viewers watched as an aerial camera hovering above Yankee Stadium veered away from Game 2 of the Yankees–Dodgers World Series and zoomed in on a large fire in an abandoned building nearby. Though announcer Howard Cosell never proclaimed that "the Bronx is burning," the mythology around that fictitious yet legendary phrase (spawning a New York Times best seller and an ESPN series by the same name) is itself evidence that, by 1977, the South Bronx had been reduced to little more than a fiery symbol of the urban crisis.20 [End Page 107]

The South Bronx that emerged from President Carter's tour and the World Series footage was to remain in the spotlight as "a national symbol of urban decay" for years to come.21 So enduring was the borough's occupation of the front pages of the nation's dailies that the arson wave was wrongly understood to be a uniquely Bronx phenomenon. This South Bronx exceptionalism at once singled out the borough while also positioning it as a spectral geography capable of overtaking the rest of the nation's cities. As early as 1973, the editorial staff of the New York Times warned that the Bronx's "social cancer is spreading; unless checked, it can destroy not just the rest of the Bronx, but the city itself. … The South Bronx is the American urban problem in microcosm."22 Four years later, that same editorial page declared the South Bronx to be "as crucial to an understanding of American urban life as a visit to Auschwitz is crucial to an understanding of Nazism."23

The editorial team at the Times was not alone in discerning a haunting profundity in the ashes of the Bronx. Tourists, many from Germany and Japan, streamed into the borough for guided tours of the ruins.24 Other tour buses, commissioned by "psychologists, sociologists, politicians, economists," and other researchers, facilitated a sort of social scientific pilgrimage to the Bronx.25 It did not take long for movie studios to dive into the wreckage, and an international subgenre—what might be called Bronxploitation—was born. A slew of feature films were produced in the space of a few years, including Fort Apache: The Bronx (1981), Wolfen (1981), and 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), along with the documentaries The Fire Next Door (1977), The Police Tapes (1977), 80 Blocks from Tiffany's (1979), and Wild Style (1983).

As the South Bronx landscape circulated in these and other cultural productions, a relatively stable set of significations fixed themselves to the borough. By the early 1980s, the South Bronx had become less a place than a symbol, a window into the urban crisis. Despite efforts by Bronxites to trouble these representations, the borough's repertoire on the stage of US politics was limited to a few common characters and stories; black and Puerto Rican youth gangs, graffiti, and community development corporations were favorite storylines. But the most prevalent narrative concerned the borough's infrastructural decline. And few images better refracted these fears of decline than the broken window.

Through a Glass Darkly

By the late 1970s, descriptions and images of broken windows were fixtures of the opening paragraphs of articles about the South Bronx, positioning the broken window as a marker of infrastructural, urban, and racial decline. This [End Page 108] often meant interpreting broken-windowed buildings through the metaphorics of the human life cycle.26 In such formulations, these buildings were infirm bodies, in the midst of dying or already dead. Like the elderly, they were losing their eyesight, their windows onto the world. The New York Times wrote of the "blank eyes of the glassless windows of burned-out buildings overlooking the scene."27 In another article, the Times described "abandoned buildings, with smoke stains flaring up from their blind and broken windows."28 One nationally reprinted AP story reported, "Entire blocks are silent in many areas where abandonment, fires and vandalism have destroyed one building after another. Some of them are sealed up; others seem to stare numbly through scorched, empty window holes."29 In the Boston Globe, readers encountered "gaping windows look[ing] down on a scene as desolate as if it were set in a dead crater of the moon instead of amidst the living volcano of the South Bronx."30 And Robert Caro's chapter on the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in The Power Broker repeated these same tropes: "Windows, glassless except for the jagged edges around their frames, stared out on the street like sightless eyes."31

If readers had tired of encountering these familiar portrayals by the end of the 1970s, the presidential debates of 1980 again brought the embodied infrastructure of the Bronx into their living rooms. Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, haranguing his opponent for failing to live up to his 1977 promise to turn the Bronx around, spoke of his own recent tour of the borough: "I stood in the South Bronx on the exact spot that President Carter stood on in 1977. You have to see it to believe it, it looks like a bombed out city. Great gaunt skeletons of buildings, windows smashed out, painted on one of them 'Unkept Promises,' on another, 'Despair.'"32

Newspaper graphics departments abided by a similar metaphoric register. Consider the front-page Boston Globe collage from 1979, shown in figure 2. Here a devastated South Bronx landscape furnishes a background for a bust of the newly named renewal czar Ed Logue, who had been commissioned by New York City to head the borough's redevelopment efforts after President Carter's visit. Logue's mission, according to the article's author, was "to stem the cancerous spread of urban decay devastating the South Bronx, a community that is fast becoming a symbol of national shame."33 To illustrate this undertaking, the Globe's graphic designers set Logue's eyes level with the dilapidated structures in the background, and the play between his eyes and the buildings is what animates the image. Logue's upward gaze evokes hope and vision, which is juxtaposed by the buildings, whose windows, as I have shown, are frequently represented as eyes. In contrast to Logue's glance up into a better future, these infrastructural eyes are weighted down, their fate splayed [End Page 109] below them in a pile of rubble. Some are pitch-black and indecipherable from the rest of the building, while others are eerily bright, suggesting that the camera can see straight through the structure. In either case, the image signals that the apartment houses have utterly failed in their central purpose of providing shelter and safety.

Figure 2. The Boston Globe, January 7, 1979. © Boston Globe Media Partners. All rights reserved. Used under license.
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Figure 2.

The Boston Globe, January 7, 1979. © Boston Globe Media Partners. All rights reserved. Used under license.

Windows removed, the buildings are exposed as housing a hollow blackness that is set against the whiteness of Logue's skin. This signifying move saturated both photographs of and articles about Bronx buildings. Like the "gaping" and "blind" windows described above, such "black" or "blackened" windows were commonly used journalistic descriptors. In the New York Times, one reporter wrote of a series of buildings that "look as if they had been blasted with cannon and burned over with napalm. All but a few windows are fire-blackened and vacant. Junkies haunt the reeking, ruined hallways."34 The Sun described "acres of rubble, walled about by the burnt-out shells of tenements with their black, staring windows have lain here for 10 years, beyond, it seemed, all hope."35 And syndicated Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith, writing on the Bronx, put it this way: "If you have ever walked past an abandoned apartment building, especially at night, you know it's an unnerving experience: The sinister black windows hide unimaginable horrors."36

The "racial-mattering" here, to use Mel Chen's term, is difficult to miss.37 These portrayals are consistent with longer histories of representing black and [End Page 110] brown geographies in ways that evoke racial horror.38 Through the vector of the broken window, infrastructural decay interlaced with social and racial degeneration, and the two lent meaning to each other. These images called to mind infrastructural failure, death, and dying, an affective repertoire that conjured fears of racial and national degeneration. The story they told was one of past intactness and present fragmentation, a plotline premised on the juxtaposition of the burning Bronx of the 1970s with the Bronx of the early twentieth century. This narrative conveyed a palpable nostalgia for the era preceding the migration of black and Latinx residents to the borough. Indeed, in articulating the destruction of the Bronx's windows in funereal terms, commentators lamented the passing of "the Bronx of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s," when it served as a "staging ground for the American Dream" for the millions of ethnic whites who passed through en route to the middle class.39 Here, in a thousand fractured pieces, were a past generation's markers of upward mobility and American progress.

Yet the windows of the Bronx never existed outside the brutalities of racial capitalism. The supposed golden age of the Bronx—the first decades of the twentieth century—was replete with its own contradictions. "The growth of the Bronx during the last decade has been one of the marvels of city development in the United States," reported the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide in 1912.40 As tenements shot up and mass transit crept north, conditions aligned to allow landlords to "squeez[e] the most rent from the least space," easily yielding "10 to 25 percent annually on the initial capital investment."41 It was a landlord's market, shaken only by the presence of communist tenant organizations that regularly coordinated rent strikes to protest rent hikes, evictions, and withdrawal of services. Striking buildings announced themselves by suspending banners from their windows bearing slogans like "Down with profiteering landlords."42

Media representations of broken glass as a definitive break with a once-intact past glossed over these histories and left little room for an account such as Ella Baker and Marvel Jackson Cooke's 1935 exposé "The Bronx Slave Market," about black domestic workers in the Depression-era Bronx. Writing for the Crisis, the NAACP journal, Baker and Cooke surveyed workers at a number of street corners that served as informal temp agencies for domestic work.43 The Depression had brought ruin to the women who crowded these intersections, many of whom lost stable positions when the wealthy white families that had employed them opted for working-class white women who had themselves fallen on hard times. Meanwhile, and "paradoxically," wrote Baker and Cooke, "the crash of 1929 brought to the domestic labor market a new employer class. [End Page 111] The lower middle-class housewife, who, having dreamed of the luxury of a maid, found opportunity staring her in the face in the form of Negro women pressed to the wall by poverty, starvation and discrimination."44 Women labored in their new workplaces for meager wages, and among the most loathsome tasks was window cleaning. Baker and Cooke wrote of domestic workers left with few choices when employers asked them to "hang precariously from window sills, cleaning window after window."45 One of those interviewed, Millie Jones, protested, "I would do anything rather than wash windows."46 Workers' aversion to the task is understandable; the windows they were to wash stood eight, nine, ten stories high, attached to towering apartment buildings built to attract upwardly mobile Manhattanites to the borough. Sleek, solid, and often adorned in Art Deco embellishments, these structures succeeded in luring an emergent middle class of ethnic whites seeking a step up from the densely packed neighborhoods of East Harlem and the Lower East Side.47 One feature that set these buildings apart from the tenements of Manhattan was their higher ratio of glass to brick. It is easy to imagine how the fifteen-odd windows that distinguished their new apartments served as a point of pride.48 But they were difficult to keep clean.

Baker and Cooke's exposé reveals that from their very installation, the windows of the Bronx contained within them the contradictions of racial capitalism that came into sharper view a half century later, during the country's next large-scale economic crisis. Following Ann Laura Stoler, the broken windows of the Bronx can thus be said to have "occup[ied] multiple historical tenses": the exploitative strivings of the past, the degeneration of the then present, and the foreclosed and utopian possibilities of the now future.49 In drawing attention to the multiple temporalities occupied by broken windows, "The Bronx Slave Market" cuts against a romanticized reading of the intact windows of an earlier era and troubles the declension narrative characterizing media coverage.

Dominant representations of broken windows become even more destabilized if we take into account how the windows of the 1970s Bronx actually broke. The majority fractured in one of four ways. In one scenario, fires triggered small ruptures in the pane, some of which caused shards of glass to fall to the ground.50 In another, firefighters, aiming to introduce ventilation into a structural fire to prevent a backdraft, smashed the windows themselves (residents often objected to these methods, calling them unnecessary and gratuitous).51 The third instance would have been their deliberate or accidental breakage, whether by stone, bat, bullet, or some other agent. When deliberate, this was called vandalism, and this scenario generally attracted the brightest spotlight of the four. And finally, there was demolition, which became [End Page 112] increasingly common in the 1980s.52 Although contemporary forensic science would now be able to decipher the agent of a window's fracture, there is no way to speculate some forty years later about prevalence of each type. Suffice it to say that each of these occurred with great frequency, and none of them—especially vandalism—should be made to shoulder the burden of the Bronx's broken windows.

Nevertheless, resident vandalism stood as the leading explanation for the broken windows of the Bronx. In 1982 Roger Starr, formerly the city's housing commissioner, editorialized, "An abandoned New York tenement with broken windows is like a corpse with open eyes." Despite government attempts to "discourage vandals from breaking in," they persist, "starting fires, and terrifying neighbors until they move."53 Lin Harris described to the readers of the Globe and Mail: "All across the South Bronx, city-owned buildings lie vacant, their gutted interiors exposed to the elements through cavities that were windows destroyed by vandalism and neglect."54 In the Washington Post, a local government official, "who blames tenants and other local residents for vandalism," was quoted as saying, "The buildings didn't come with holes in the walls."55 And the New York Times reported, "A new $6-million housing development in the South Bronx has been standing empty and ravaged by vandals for a year and a half, its smashed windows a symbol of … shattered hopes."56 Bronx residents were thus forced to fight a two-front battle against both the deterioration of the borough and its demonization by the mass media. Groups like the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition mobilized countless tenant and block associations to replace broken windows and pressed banks, insurance companies, and major corporations like Exxon to foot the bill for these and other neighborhood improvements.57 Others zeroed in on the politics of representation. The Committee Against Fort Apache (CAFA) came together to protest the depiction of the Bronx in the 1981 Paul Newman police drama Fort Apache, The Bronx. In one editorial, the group asserted that the film "gives the impression that the people of the South Bronx are themselves responsible for the horrid conditions under which they live." Neither "bankers who redline" nor "realtors who engage in arson for profit" are held accountable. Instead, "we are."58 Mobilizations like CAFA make clear that Bronxites were well aware of the stakes of such representations. Linking Fort Apache to the scores of tourists, politicians, and media makers who paraded through the borough with their eyes fixed on the wreckage, the Bronx photographer David Gonzalez notes that the resulting portrayals were inevitably "stripped of context." Stressing the impact of these representations, Gonzalez observes that they "obliterated any notion of real life as surely as any arsonist's fire or wrecking ball reduced apartment buildings to brick piles."59 [End Page 113]

It was possible, of course, to give name to the broken windows of the Bronx without falling into the assemblage of meanings that had coalesced around them. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five opened their 1982 hit record "The Message" with "broken glass everywhere," a line that instantly situated the song's action in the group's home of the Bronx. Broken glass here served as a scene-setting device in one of the first hip-hop recordings to explicitly chronicle the experience of growing up "in the ghetto livin' second-rate." The iconic line launched the song into a thick description of the constraints and pressures of living in the 1980s Bronx, of surviving a world besieged by "bill collectors" and wracked by "double-digit inflation."60 Yet despite the popular success of "The Message," it was a different 1982 release that would come to have a more commanding hold over the dominant understanding of broken windows. This, of course, was Wilson and Kelling's broken windows theory, which severed broken windows from the conditions of their fracture and instead solidified the connection between Bronxites and broken windows.

Diaries of a Vandalized Car

When Wilson and Kelling folded broken windows into their field-defining 1982 article "Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety," they reduced them into a stable and self-evident set of significations that obscured how the windows actually broke and what their fracture meant for Bronxites.61 Wilson and Kelling first invested broken windows—as material objects—with the power of shaping behavior. Alongside this usage, as the title of their article, broken windows offered a synecdoche for a range of other urban disorders. And finally, Wilson and Kelling adopted broken windows as a metaphor for "undesirable persons" and unsanctioned conduct more generally: "The unchecked panhandler, is, in effect, the first broken window."62 To understand why Wilson and Kelling selected the broken window as their title and central metaphor requires locating the spaces and sources that gave their theory meaning.

The critique of the broken windows theory has become a genre in its own right, and scholarly responses tend to cluster around matters of efficacy and discriminatory effect. The legal scholar Bernard Harcourt's Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing is by far the most frequently cited of these interventions. The intellectual genealogy Harcourt offers focuses on Wilson and Kelling's inheritance of the ideas of Edward C. Banfield and other conservative social scientists. While valuable, Harcourt's analysis downplays the role of racial discourse in accounting for the proliferation of the theory [End Page 114] and overlooks the citational tensions between Wilson and Kelling and their primary empirical source, Philip G. Zimbardo.63

In 1969 Zimbardo, a Stanford professor raised in the Bronx, set about determining the relationship between community anonymity and vandalism. He and his research team installed a 1959 Oldsmobile in both the South Bronx and Palo Alto, removing their license plates and raising their hoods to create the appearance of abandonment. The team hid out of sight and surveilled the cars for sixty-four hours to see how long it would take for neighborhood residents to vandalize them. The purpose of the experiment was to ascertain whether and how the Palo Alto car might be subject to vandalism. "I wanted to see what the good citizens of Palo Alto would do in response to the temptation offered by an invitation to vandalism," reflected Zimbardo years later.64

The Bronx car served as a "comparison," with Zimbardo hypothesizing that it would not take long for Bronxites to dismantle it.65 He was correct; it took ten minutes before the informal economies of the Bronx made themselves known, and soon the battery, radiator, and other contents had been taken. Over the next three days, Zimbardo recorded twenty-three incidents of "destructive contact" to the car.66 Although the research team was surprised that the first "vandals" were not youth of color but a white, "well-dressed" family, Zimbardo considered his basic hypothesis confirmed: the lack of community cohesion in the Bronx produced a sense of "anonymity," which in turn generated antisocial behaviors.67

"In startling contrast," the Palo Alto Oldsmobile went unscathed, with one passer-by even lowering the hood "so that the motor would not get wet!"68 After a weeklong, uneventful stakeout, the research team moved the car to the campus of Stanford University, where they decided to "prime" vandalism by using a sledgehammer to break the windows.69 Upon discovering that this act of destruction was "stimulating and pleasurable," Zimbardo and his graduate students "got carried away" (see fig. 3).70 "One student jumped on the roof and began stomping it in, two were pulling the door from its hinges, another hammered away at the hood and motor, while the last one broke all the glass he could find."71 The passersby that the experiment had intended to study had turned into observers of the action, and only joined in after the car was already destroyed. At this point, the crowd "turned the car completely over on its back, whacking at the underside."72

For Zimbardo, what happened in the Bronx and at Stanford suggested that crowd mentality, social inequalities, and community anonymity could prompt "good citizens" to act destructively. What is critical to note here is [End Page 115] that Zimbardo's principal objective was to determine the social causes of vandalism in order to disprove the thesis that it is a "motiveless crime."73 His conclusions were in keeping with liberal criminology's broader response to the uprisings of the 1960s: "Conditions that create social inequality and put some people outside of the conventional reward structure of the society make them indifferent to its sanctions, laws, and implicit norms."74 He elaborated this point in another publication: "Vandalism is a rebellion with a cause."75 Such statements could have been lifted directly out of one of the countless riot reports published in the late 1960s.76 Zimbardo's was ultimately a study of social inequalities and the dangers of community apathy.

Figure 3. Philip Zimbardo, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (1969). Courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press.
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Figure 3.

Philip Zimbardo, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (1969). Courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press.

Zimbardo's "diary of a vandalized car" would find a second life almost fifteen years later in the writings of Wilson and Kelling. For Wilson and Kelling, Zimbardo's study was proof that "one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing." [End Page 116] Their less-than-faithful reading not only conflated the Stanford and Palo Alto experiments but so distorted the order of events that it routed readers away from Zimbardo's conclusions: "The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in."77 Erased from their narration was the essence of the Zimbardo account—the researchers themselves enacted the majority of the destruction. By jettisoning this spectacle of violence from their telling, Wilson and Kelling contorted Zimbardo's experiment to make an argument about the relationship between one broken window and "a thousand broken windows."78 The trouble is, it was not a broken window that lured passersby into vandalism; it was the sight of Stanford faculty and graduate students wreaking havoc on a seemingly abandoned car. Zimbardo's experiment thus misread, his indictment of inequality and apathy faded away. In its place, Wilson and Kelling invented a broken window and invested it with the ability to motivate crime.

Wilson and Kelling's spotty appropriation of the vandalism experiment was not lost on Zimbardo. "Curiously," he reflected in 2007, the vandalism experiment "has become the only bit of empirical evidence used to support the 'Broken Windows Theory' of crime."79 Wilson and Kelling's citation of Zimbardo's research was indeed an unlikely move. For two conservative social scientists advancing a pro-incarceration position and discouraging inquiry into the "root causes" of disorder, Zimbardo must have made for a strange bedfellow.80

This question becomes all the more puzzling when one considers the intellectual trajectory of Wilson in the lead-up to the Atlantic Monthly essay. The first edition of Wilson's Thinking about Crime, published in 1975, attempted—successfully—to steer national conversations around criminal justice away from the search for causation and toward deterrence and incapacitation. At this point in his thinking, though, Wilson was not concerned with "victimless crimes"—the types of disorder that he would later help make famous through the broken windows theory—which he dismissed as relatively benign.81 Instead, he focused on "predatory crime for gain," including murder, robbery, and burglary.82 It would not be until the 1982 Atlantic Monthly article and his revised 1983 edition of Thinking about Crime that the familiar images of disorder began to permeate his writings.83 This was a major intellectual break for Wilson, one that helped make him a household name (though Wilson himself did not acknowledge his about-face). Accounting for his rather sudden interest in low-level "street crime," however, has so far eluded critics of the broken windows theory.84 Harcourt's Illusion of Order not only overlooks this evolution in Wilson's thinking; it regurgitates Wilson and Kelling's fabricated retelling of the Zimbardo experiment. [End Page 117]

Wilson's Atlantic Monthly coauthor Kelling provides much of the explanation for this reappraisal of "street crime." As a resident criminologist at the Police Foundation, Kelling oversaw a series of large-scale studies of policing during the 1970s.85 Most famously, his study of foot-patrol policing in Newark, described at length in the Atlantic Monthly article, argued that boots-on-the-ground policing caused residents to perceive less disorder in their neighborhoods even though it did not affect crime statistics.86 In connecting order-maintenance policing to decreased fear of crime, and framing decreased fear of crime as a worthy objective for law enforcement, Kelling's conclusions were the stuff of broken windows policing.87

The program laid out by Wilson and Kelling in 1982 borrowed heavily from Kelling's work with the Police Foundation, and conceivably, it could have been written without any reference to Zimbardo's study. Although they used Zimbardo to shore up their claims about the link between disorder and crime, Kelling's Police Foundation studies could have provided much of the empirical backing.88 What, then, did Zimbardo deliver? His intellectual capital was surely part of it. As one of the country's preeminent social psychologists at the time of their writing, a Zimbardo citation certainly would have lent credence to their argument. But, considering that Wilson and Kelling had to invent new conclusions (and a new procedure) in order to make meaning of Zimbardo's study, it is likely that something else was at play.

What Zimbardo offered to the broken windows theory of policing was the image of the Bronx and the symbol of the broken window. For 1982 readers, what separated the Bronx from Palo Alto went far beyond the three thousand miles that stood between them. As I have shown, barely any context was needed to evoke the familiar South Bronx images of arson, rubble, depopulation, and violence, and indeed, Wilson and Kelling gave it little: "Because of the nature of community life in the Bronx—its anonymity, the frequency with which cars are abandoned and things are stolen or broken, the past experience of 'no one caring'—vandalism begins much more quickly than it does in staid Palo Alto, where people have come to believe that private possessions are cared for, and that mischievous behavior is costly."89

In the opposition created by Wilson and Kelling, the Bronx and its residents were the "thousand broken windows" to Palo Alto's one. The danger was metastasis—the creation of many Bronxes—by way of small manifestations of disorder. In Wilson and Kelling's narration, one broken window had rendered "staid Palo Alto" lawless, a mirror image of what should have been its inverse, the Bronx. In this, the introduction to the broken windows theory, the Bronx served as a necropolitical referent, a racialized landscape of death [End Page 118] and destruction that threatened to encroach on the rest of the country via the smallest of incivilities. The Bronx thus loomed over the Atlantic Monthly article as a possible future, one that was preventable by embracing a new regime of policing. The broken window embodied and condensed this future, offering a metaphor for "undesirable persons," a synecdoche for a host of other urban disorders, and a material referent with which to bolster Wilson and Kelling's claims. By drawing on a narrow reading of broken windows' materiality and history to authenticate their claims, they traveled down a discursive road that ran parallel to the newspaper representations analyzed above. Even if their arguments tacked in different directions, journalists, photographers, and Wilson and Kelling all ended up constructing symbolisms that deadened the windows' dimensionality as matter.

Such a narrowing allowed Wilson and Kelling to mobilize broken windows to sound alarms over the prospect of national and racial degeneration. Crucially, though, they did so without explicitly signifying black and brown bodies. Wilson and Kelling put forward a policy program that was deeply racialized yet positioned itself as racially neutral, even progressive. Anticipating charges of racism, they asked, "How do we ensure … that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?"90 That their response—sensitivity trainings for law enforcement—fell flat, enabling broken windows policing to play a key role in the hypercriminalization of people of color in the United States, is undeniable. What is important to glean from this recommendation is the work it does in establishing the appearance of race neutrality.91 In packaging the broken windows theory, Wilson and Kelling assured readers that race was immaterial to their project.

Yet this undoubtedly was a "racial project," one endemic to the post–civil rights era, which, as Jodi Melamed, Daniel HoSang, Jared Sexton, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Michael Omi, Howard Winant, and many other critics have argued, rendered taboo explicit references to raced bodies.92 The wave of colorblind ideology that swept the nation in the wake of the civil rights movement transformed the way race is spoken and signified. The "racial mattering" of the broken window, blending matter and racial symbolism, exemplifies such transformations. During the era in which Wilson and Kelling introduced their theory, race could speak loudly through the broken window while mitigating the risks associated with explicit reference to racialized bodies. Unlike depictions of dangerous black and brown bodies, which by the 1980s were liable to draw charges of racism, the synecdoche that linked the broken window to the decaying city was more difficult to denounce. [End Page 119]

More than three decades after Wilson and Kelling harnessed the symbolic force of the broken window to effect a nationwide regime change in law enforcement practices, the effects of this "racial mattering" remain palpable. Responding to the 2014 police slayings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, both of whom were black men targeted by broken windows policing, the poet and theorist Fred Moten told an Oakland audience, "Both in the instance of Michael Brown and in the instance of Eric Garner, these are manifestations of broken windows policing. And what they make clear is that we [black and brown persons] are the broken windows. We constitute this threat to the already existing normative order." Moten's words can be heard as giving breath to a racialized logic that was implicit, but disavowed in Wilson and Kelling's 1982 article. As his talk continued, a divergent meaning of broken windows emerged, one that continued to work on the level of metaphor, yet turned Wilson and Kelling's formulation on its head. In connecting broken windows to the black radical imaginary, Moten discerned a life force at once emancipatory and vulnerable to violence and co-optation: "To fix a broken window is to fix another way of imagining the world, to literally fix it, to destroy it, to regulate it, to exclude it, to incarcerate it. But also, at the same time, to incorporate it, to capitalize upon it, to exploit it, to accumulate it."93

As it happened, "fixing" broken windows—or, more precisely, sealing them—became municipal policy in the Bronx in 1983. Barely a year after the publication of Wilson and Kelling's Atlantic Monthly article, NYC mayor Ed Koch, who, according to his biographer, "thought [their] idea was brilliant," introduced a new program for the South Bronx.94 The Occupied Look program, coordinated by the city's fledgling Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), installed vinyl decals over the broken windows of the Bronx (fig. 4).95 As announced on the front page of the New York Times, "Scores of crumbling, abandoned tenements in the Bronx—part of a swath of blight that has become a national symbol of urban decay—will soon sport vinyl decals over their gaping windows depicting a lived-in look of curtains, shades, shutters and flower-pots."96 Citing enduring budget shortfalls and Reagan-era cuts in federal support for cities, the HPD claimed that the trompe l'oeil decal program was the best it could do for the borough's crumbling housing stock.

The program, though, did not target the entire borough, only the buildings facing the Cross Bronx Expressway, from which thousands of commuters encountered the South Bronx as they bypassed it. Robert Jacobson, director [End Page 120]

Figure 4. Mel Rosenthal, "View from the Cross Bronx Expressway. Potemkin Bronx." Early 1980s. © Mel Rosenthal / Roberta Perrymapp.
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Figure 4.

Mel Rosenthal, "View from the Cross Bronx Expressway. Potemkin Bronx." Early 1980s. © Mel Rosenthal / Roberta Perrymapp.

[End Page 121]

of the borough's City Planning Commission, explained the rationale behind this strategic allocation: "The image that the Bronx projects—and projects to potential investors—is the image you see from that expressway, and our goal is to soften that image so people will be willing to invest. … Business people make decisions based on perception."97 Anthony Gliedman, the HPD commissioner, put it in more elliptical terms: "Perception is reality."98

Predictably, Occupied Look sparked an immediate controversy, with critics condemning the city for trying to "paper over" social problems and applying "window dressing" to the South Bronx.99 Bronx graffiti artists registered their protests with spray-paint, tagging the decaled buildings with "This is a decal" and "This is a fake."100 As proponents shoved these criticisms to the side, one supporter drew on a familiar source to bolster his argument. "There is a serious side to this, as we know who read, ravenously, everything written by James Q. Wilson of Harvard," wrote George F. Will in his syndicated Washington Post column, defending the Koch program. "In the lunar landscape of the South Bronx, decals, as a sign that indifference is not complete, are better, if just barely, than nothing."101 In the same political milieu that supported the ascendancy of broken windows policing, Occupied Look weathered its criticism and remained active for another three years.102 It was not until the late 1980s that the city began earmarking significant funds to reconstruct the borough, at which point many of the broken-windowed buildings were outfitted with new glass panes or demolished.103

Traceable within the logic of the Occupied Look program—as in Wilson and Kelling's article—was a conviction that the materiality of the broken window signified the declension of the borough, and that covering over broken windows was thus necessary to revitalize the Bronx. Here was a program that prioritized the outside "perception" of the South Bronx—as seen through its windows—over the lived experiences of the Bronxites who inhabited its crumbling structures. In the words of longtime resident and activist Hetty Fox, such programs "cater[ed] more to the traveling public than to the residents."104 That the borough-wide housing policy for a number of years was limited to installing sheets of adorned metal over empty window frames poses troubling questions about how a material like glass came to dictate public policy. Part of its symbolic power, I have suggested, derived from reducing the matter of the broken window to a range-bound set of metaphors and synecdoches. If the Occupied Look program, like the broken windows theory, sutured the symbolism of the broken window to its materiality, it did so by removing from view the conditions that precipitated its fracture. By unyoking the one from the other, [End Page 122] I hope to have opened up more space for alternative understandings of broken windows, ones that work outside these racialized narratives of urban decay.

Concluding his 2014 talk in Oakland, Fred Moten articulated the urgency of this project: "It's important to recognize too that the broken window, the alternative unfixed window through which we see the world," can help "to imagine how things might be otherwise … and to see who and what we are right now."105

Bench Ansfield

Bench Ansfield Bench Ans field is a PhD candidate in American studies at Yale University. Their dissertation, "Born in Flames: Arson, Racial Capitalism, and the Reinsuring of the Bronx in the Late Twentieth Century," examines the wave of arson-for-pro t that coursed through the Bronx and many other US cities in the 1970s. They worked as a researcher on the documentary Decade of Fire (2019), and their work has appeared in Antipode as well as the collection, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (2015), edited by Katherine McKittrick.


. I am tremendously grateful to Joanne Meyerowitz and Michael Denning for their incisive feedback on several drafts. For their helpful insights, I also thank Vanessa Agard-Jones, Jean-Christophe Agnew, Dan Berger, Kathryn Dudley, Molly Greene, Daniel Martinez HoSang, Alison Isenberg, Destin Jenkins, Francis Weiss Rabkin, Laura Wexler, and especially Nataliya Braginsky and Pedro Regalado. Thanks also to Lisa Lowe for eleventh-hour publication support. This essay was significantly strengthened by generous and discerning comments from Mari Yoshihara, the AQ editorial board, and the anonymous external reviewers.

1. James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, "Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety," Atlantic Monthly, March 1, 1982,; Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, eds., Policing the Planet: Why The Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (New York: Verso, 2016); Bernard E. Harcourt, Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), chap. 1; 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, ed. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 19–49; Jonathan Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 327–28.

2. Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, "Introduction: Policing the Planet," in Camp and Heatherton, Policing the Planet, 3; Harcourt, Illusion of Order; Jeffrey Fagan and Garth Davies, "Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New York City," Fordham Urban Law Journal 28 (2000): 457–506; Steve Herbert, "Policing the Contemporary City: Fixing Broken Windows or Shoring Up Neo-Liberalism?" Theoretical Criminology 5.4 (2001): 445–66; Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudenbush, "Seeing Disorder: Neighborhood Stigma and the Social Construction of 'Broken Windows,'" Social Psychology Quarterly 67.4 (2004): 319–42; Alex S. Vitale, City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics (New York: NYU Press, 2008); Erzen, "Turnstile Jumpers and Broken Windows." On activist responses in NYC, see, for instance, Communities United for Police Reform,, as well as the work of the Coalition to End Broken Windows: "Calls to End 'Broken Windows' Policing in NYC Get Louder after Garner Decision," Huffington Post, December 11, 2014,

3. Camp and Heatherton, "Introduction," 2–3; Robin D. G. Kelley, "Thug Nation: On State Violence and Disposability," in Camp and Heatherton, Policing the Planet, 15–33; Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

4. One notable exception is the historian Danielle Wiggins's research on black politicians and property holders in 1970s Atlanta, whose advocacy for order maintenance policing—an analog of broken windows policing—preceded the publication of Wilson and Kelling's article. See "'Order as Well as Decency': The Development of Order Maintenance Policing in Black Atlanta," Journal of Urban History (forthcoming). See also Kelley, "Thug Nation"; Harcourt, Illusion of Order; and Christina Hanhardt, "Broken Windows at Blue's: A Queer History of Gentrification and Policing" in Camp and Heatherton, Policing the Planet, 41–62.

5. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows."

6. Wilson and Kelling.

7. Wilson and Kelling. Wilson and Kelling cite one other study in addition to the Zimbardo experiment in establishing these connections, but they use this citation solely to support their argument about the role of police in maintaining order, not the relationship between disorder and crime. In substantiating the link between one broken window and many, Zimbardo's experiment alone is cited. For a published account of the second experiment, see Police Foundation, The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 1981).

8. In his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, Zimbardo created a simulation of a prison, assigning twelve research subjects to play the role of the imprisoned and twelve more to play the role of guards. The relationship between the two groups quickly deteriorated, with the "guards" reportedly performing physical and psychological abuse on the imprisoned. Zimbardo concluded that when people are put in positions of authority or subjugation, their behaviors adapt and become obedient within those roles. See Craig Haney, Curtis Banks, and Philip Zimbardo, "Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison," International Journal of Criminology and Penology 1 (1973): 69–97.

9. My methodology is indebted to Rosalyn Deutsche's essay "The Threshole of Democracy," which situates the broken windows theory alongside the artist Gordon Matta-Clark's building cuts in the 1970s (in Urban Mythologies: The Bronx Represented since the 1960s, ed. Lydia Yee and Betti-Sue Hertz [New York: Bronx Museum of Arts, 1999], 94–101).

10. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows."

11. On transformations in the Bronx, see Evelyn Gonzalez, The Bronx (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), chap. 7; Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 839–94; Jill Jonnes, South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002); Kim Phillips-Fein, Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017); Eric Tang, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015); Constance Rosenblum, Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx (New York: New York University Press, 2009), chaps. 8–9. On racial capitalism, see especially Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), introduction and chap. 3; Walter Johnson and Robin D. G. Kelley, eds., "Race, Capitalism, Justice," special issue, Boston Review 1 (2017); Barbara Ransby, ed., "Austerity, Neoliberalism, and Black Communities," special issue, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 14.3–4 (2012); N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

12. Michael A. Stegman, The Dynamics of Rental Housing in New York City (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Center for Urban Policy Research, 1982), 177; Gonzalez, Bronx, 124.

13. Landlord arson was not the sole cause of the fire wave; poor maintenance, cutbacks to the fire service, and tenant arson were also implicated. Although parsing these various phenomena is beyond the scope of this essay, suffice it to say that landlord arson both helped set the stage for these other factors and was itself exacerbated by them. See Jonnes, South Bronx Rising, 219–440; Gonzalez, Bronx, chap. 7; Daniel Kerr, "Who Burned Cleveland, Ohio? The Forgotten Fires of the 1970s," in Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagrations and the Making of the Modern World, ed. Greg Bankoff, Uwe Lübken, and Jordan Sand (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 332–52; Joe Flood, The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City—and Determined the Future of Cities (New York: Penguin Group, 2010); Bench Ansfield, "Born in Flames: Arson, Racial Capitalism, and the Reinsuring of the Bronx" (PhD diss., Yale University, forthcoming).

14. Quote by the Austrian artist Stefan Eins in the New Yorker. Quoted in Betti-Sue Hertz, "Artistic Interventions in the Bronx," in Yee and Hertz, Urban Mythologies, 18; David Gonzalez, "Faces in the Rubble," New York Times, August 21, 2009.

15. Rose Diaz, "Moral Panics and Community Narratives: The Case of the Bronx" (PhD diss., New School, 2008), 1–2; Gonzalez, Bronx, 109.

16. Diaz, "Moral Panics and Community Narratives," chap. 3.

17. The Fire Next Door, CBS Reports, March 22, 1977,

18. John J. Goldman and Philip Hager, "N.Y. Buildings and Citizens Smoldering," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1977; "In the Bronx, Fires and Tempers Raged on Blackout Night," New York Amsterdam News, July 23, 1977.

19. Lee Dembart, "Carter Takes 'Sobering' Trip to South Bronx," New York Times, October 6, 1977; "Carter Calls on South Bronx," Hartford Courant, October 6, 1977.

20. Flood, Fires, 13–14; Jonathan Mahler, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City (New York: Picador, 2005); "World Series Ratings Chart (1972–Present)," Sports Media Watch, accessed November 27, 2018,

21. Robert D. McFadden, "Derelict Tenements in the Bronx to Get Fake Lived-In Look," New York Times, November 7, 1983.

22. "Urban Cancer," New York Times, January 18, 1973.

23. Editorial, New York Times, October 6, 1977.

24. David Gonzalez, "Of Cameras and Community," in Yee and Hertz, Urban Mythologies, 102.

25. Ricky Flores, quoted in Mel Rosenthal, In the South Bronx of America (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 2000), 100.

26. These tropes can be traced at least as far back as the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century. See Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess, The City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1925).

27. Charles Mohr, "Udall, Campaigning in the South Bronx, Keeps a Watchful Eye on Wisconsin," New York Times, March 20, 1976.

28. Aline Amon Goodrich, "And What Is the Bad News?," New York Times, June 17, 1978.

29. Bernard Cohen, "South Bronx Deteriorates," Austin American Statesman, July 11, 1975.

30. John B. Oakes, "An Act of Urban Faith—or Folly," Boston Globe, November 28, 1978.

31. Caro, Power Broker, 893.

32. "Excerpts from the Carter-Reagan Debate," Boston Globe, October 29, 1980.

33. Anthony Yudis, "Ed Logue Faces His Biggest Challenge," Boston Globe, January 7, 1979.

34. Paul L. Montgomery, "Neat Apartments with Park Envisioned at Site of Bronx Ruin," New York Times, February 5, 1973.

35. Nicholas King, "Charlotte Street: Notes from the South Bronx," Sun, June 15, 1983.

36. Jack Smith, "Vinylly We're Vindicated, as New York Decal-ifornializes Our Image of Self-Nowhereness," Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1983.

37. Mel Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

38. Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). See also McKittrick and Clyde Woods, eds., Black Geographies and the Politics of Place (Cambridge, MA: South End, 2007); Bench Ansfield, "Still Submerged: The Uninhabitability of Urban Redevelopment," in Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, ed. Katherine McKittrick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 124–41.

39. Jonnes, South Bronx Rising, 4. See also Robert Scheer, "Bronx—Landscape of Urban Cancer," Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1978; and Richard Severo, "Bronx a Symbol of America's Woes," New York Times, October 6, 1977.

40. W. R. Messenger, "The Growth of the Bronx in 1911," Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, January 13, 1912.

41. Gonzalez, Bronx, 85.

42. Robert M. Fogelson, The Great Rent Wars: New York, 1917–1929 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 82; Ronald Lawson and Mark Naison, The Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904–1984 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986).

43. Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke, "The Bronx Slave Market," Crisis 43 (1935): 330–31, 340; Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 76–78.

44. Baker and Cooke, "Bronx Slave Market," 330.

45. Baker and Cooke.

46. Baker and Cooke, 331.

47. Gonzalez, Bronx, chaps. 4–6; Rosenblum, Boulevard of Dreams, chaps. 2–3.

48. Baker and Cooke, "Bronx Slave Market," 331; Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

49. Ann Laura Stoler, "The Rot Remains: From Ruins to Ruination," in Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination, ed. Ann Laura Stoler (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 10.

50. Vytenis Babrauskas, "Glass Breakage in Fires," 2009, Fire, Science, and Technology Inc.,–3706URL1GlassBreak.pdf.

51. David Goldberg, Black Firefighters and the FDNY: The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 175–76; Flood, Fires, 4.

52. Fergus M. Bordewich, "Clearance Work Stirs Objections," New York Times, February 10, 1980; Joanne Lipman, "Manhattan Towers Rest on Foundation of Nerve and Timing," Wall Street Journal, February 16, 1984.

53. Roger Starr, "Seals of Approval," New York Times, June 7, 1982.

54. Lin Harris, "Trying to Make Looks Deceive," Globe and Mail, December 8, 1983.

55. Lee Lescaze, "Mott Haven: Special Place in Sad History of Public Housing," Washington Post, March 14, 1980.

56. Joseph P. Fried, "Housing Project a Fiscal Victim," New York Times, November 2, 1975.

57. "Clergy Coalition Presses Exxon for $10 Million Energy Loan," Riverdale Press, February 25, 1982; Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, "Report for the Year 1975," Jill Jonnes Papers, box 7, Leonard Lief Library, New York. For more on the Coalition, see Noel K. Wolfe, "Battling Crack: A Study of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition's Tactics," Journal of Urban History 43.1 (2015): 18–32.

58. "Editorial: 'Fort Apache, The Bronx,'" El Diario, April 11, 1980.

59. Gonzalez, "Of Cameras and Community," 102. In addition to his photojournalism for the New York Times, Gonzalez worked with En Foco, a Latinx photography group that armed fourth graders with cameras and used their pictures to combat the erasure enacted by these portrayals.

60. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "Message"; Jeff Chang, Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (New York: Picador, 2005), 178–79.

61. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows"; "Crime: Diary of a Vandalized Car," Time, February 28, 1969.

62. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows."

63. Harcourt, Illusion of Order.

64. Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2007), 24.

65. Zimbardo, 24.

66. Philip G. Zimbardo, "The Human Choice: Individuation, Reason, and Order versus Deindividuation, Impulse and Chaos," in Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, ed. William J. Arnold and David Levine (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969), 287.

67. "Crime."

68. Zimbardo, "Human Choice," 290.

69. Zimbardo, 290.

70. Zimbardo, 290.

71. Zimbardo, 290.

72. Zimbardo, 292.

73. Philip G. Zimbardo, "Vandalism: An Act in Search of a Cause," Bell Telephone Magazine 51.4 (1972): 15.

74. Philip G. Zimbardo, "A Social-Psychological Analysis of Vandalism: Making Sense of Sense of Senseless Violence" (Springfield, VA: National Technical Information Service, 1970), 11–12.

75. Zimbardo, "Vandalism," 17.

76. Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), chap. 1.

77. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows."

78. Wilson and Kelling.

79. Zimbardo, Lucifer Effect, 25.

80. James Q. Wilson, Thinking about Crime (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), chaps. 3, 8.

81. Wilson, xx. For Wilson's thoughts on steering law enforcement priorities away from prevention and toward incapacitation, see Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, 186–87.

82. Wilson, Thinking about Crime, xx, 6–7.

83. James Q. Wilson, Thinking about Crime (New York: Vintage Books, 1985), chap. 5.

84. Wilson, Thinking about Crime (1977), xx.

85. "George L. Kelling," Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, accessed June 1, 2018,; "About the Police Foundation," Police Foundation, accessed June 1, 2018,

86. Police Foundation, The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 1981), 3–8.

87. Police Foundation, 127.

88. Police Foundation, chap. 8.

89. Wilson and Kelling, "Broken Windows."

90. Wilson and Kelling.

91. This line of argumentation was not new for Wilson—he had been dismissing charges of racism in the criminal legal system since at least the 1970s. See Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, 270–71; Kelley, "Thug Nation"; Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore, "Restating the Obvious," in Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State, ed. Michael Sorkin (New York: Routledge, 2008), 141–62; Sampson and Raudenbush, "Seeing Disorder"; Nikhil Pal Singh, "The Whiteness of Police," American Quarterly 66.4 (2014): 1091–99.

92. "Racial project" is from Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994). See also Melamed, Represent and Destroy; Daniel Martinez HoSang, Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

93. Fred Moten, "Do Black Lives Matter? Robin D. G. Kelley and Fred Moten in Conversation," Bethany Baptist Church, Oakland, California, December 13, 2014,

94. Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City, 327.

95. "New York City Tries to Cover-Up on Vandalism," Hartford Courant, October 10, 1980. For an excellent discussion of Occupied Look, see Peter Thomas L'Official, "Urban Legends: The South Bronx in Representation and Ruin" (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2014), chap. 1.

96. McFadden, "Derelict Tenements."

97. Quoted in McFadden.

98. Quoted in McFadden.

99. John J. Goldman, "City Officials Stung by Criticism of Cosmetic Efforts," Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1983.

100. Marshall Berman, "Views from the Burning Bridge," in Yee and Hertz, Urban Mythologies, 73.

101. George F. Will, "Dressing Up New York: Not as Crazy as It Seems," Hartford Courant, December 4, 1983.

102. David W. Dunlap, "Fake Window Decals Pulled in Favor of Real Occupants," New York Times, July 12, 1989.

103. Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City, chap. 19.

104. Hetty Fox, transcript of an oral history conducted October 1, 2015, Bronx African American History Project,

105. Moten, "Do Black Lives Matter?"

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