The Broken Windows Theory is broken


Poor houseless, disabled mamaz, daddys, elders and youth release findings on the racist, classist Broken Windows Theory

by Tiny, Poor News Network

“Welcome to the 2015 WeSearch Policy Group 2015 report. Today we, the houseless, criminalized, displaced elders and youth will present our well documented findings on the abuse, violence and criminality of the ‘Broken Windows Theory’ and European settler colonizers who steal and hoard indigenous resources and land and then create laws to incarcerate us,” said WeSearch Policy Group Data Investigator Dee Allen to passerbys outside the Marriot Marquis Hotel in San Francisco, the location of the 61st Annual Conference and Trade Show of the International Downtown Association (IDA).

POOR WeSearchers present their “Broken Windows” report outside the Marriott Marquis Hotel as “Broken Windows” Theory creator Richard Kelling was speaking to the Downtown Association’s Conference inside. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network
POOR WeSearchers present their “Broken Windows” report outside the Marriott Marquis Hotel as “Broken Windows” Theory creator Richard Kelling was speaking to the Downtown Association’s Conference inside. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network

A 2015 WeSearch report – a poor people-led, not academic ethnographed research project of POOR Magazine – was released outside the Marriot Marquis Hotel because the IDA is the epicenter of all private, anti-homeless policing and this year was hosting a workshop by none other than Richard Kelling, the co-author of the anti-poor people theory, Broken Windows, implemented by mayors of cities across the U.S. and the world, as we export private policing and hater laws across the world as a “new” business model.

The broken windows model of policing was first described in 1982 in an article by Wilson and Kelling. Using code words like “disorder” and the metaphor of “broken windows,” the model focuses on the importance of “fixing,” aka policing, getting rid of, cleaning out broken windows as a way of “preventing” more “serious crime.”

The poor, disabled and houseless scholars from POOR Magazine who have experienced the violence of this private policing through the “ambassador” programs in San Francisco and Berkeley, launched the WeSearch Policy Group (WPG) in 2013, because, as our tag-line reads, “the ruling class only honors acronyms” to use the same paper trails, numbers, “data,” laws and confusing tactics that the gentry uses against us poor people all the time to evict, test, arrest and incarcerate us.

“In my Afrikan neighborhood since 2012, over 2,500 children and youth under 18 have been abused, profiled and threatened by policies inspired by Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory. In addition, as a poor Afrikan mama, I have been abused, profiled and harassed by private police for walking, living and shopping while Black stemming from those same racist theories,” said QueenandiXSheba, WPG data investigator.

“Broken Windows is broken,” chanted a crowd who marched around the corner to join us. The fake corporate-quiet of the Marriot Marquis, colored a burgundy marble-esque, meant to lull the housed, jobbed and oblivious into a relaxed feeling of “cleanliness” a corporate settler-colonial wallpaper over the world, was beautifully disturbed by over 50 private policing resistors from across this stolen land.

We resist these racist, classist laws and we are not broken windows,” said Bilal Ali, powerful revolutionary organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. In addition to the COH, we were joined by Los Angeles Community Action Network and Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), all of whom, like POOR, have been conducting powerful research on the ways these laws force thousands of poor people into jails and increased poverty, often resulting in our death at the hands of the state.

Tyray Taylor, 13, a student at Deecolonize Academy, describes the oppression of children generated by “Broken Windows” style private policing. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network
Tyray Taylor, 13, a student at Deecolonize Academy, describes the oppression of children generated by “Broken Windows” style private policing. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network

“As a young Black male child, if I stand together in my neighborhood with other youth of color, I am automatically at risk of criminalization and arrest due to laws inspired by the Broken Windows Theory,” said 13-year-old Tyray Taylor from Deecolonize Academy, a revolutionary school on the land at Homefulness. Three of his fellow students, ranging in age from 12-14, also added their WeSearch Findings on the ongoing abuse to their communities caused by Broken Windows Theories.

“As the child of a houseless mama, my family and I were harassed multiple times by private police for being houseless. This did nothing to solve our homelessness – but instead made our life more difficult,” said my son, Tiburcio, 12 years old, a student at Deecolonize Academy.

From New York to Berkeley, politricksters work with corporations to create new codes like the Business Improvement Districts and Downtown Business Associations to hire private police whose sole purpose is to arrest, harass and move out poor people. But lest you think this is new, these same laws have been written throughout history to harass poor people. These are the same theories that were used in the anti-Black Sundown Towns, anti-Disabled Ugly Laws and now underscore laws like Sit-Lie and Stop and Frisk.

“I am Philip Standing Bear, an indigenous single teen father. I am releasing WeSearch Findings today on the criminalization of poor youth and families. Since 2012, over 350 families like mine were separated because they were sleeping in their cars. In my family’s case, this crimialization never got us housing, but rather caused us to become more traumatized. As a Lakota Sioux person, my family and myself have already suffered generations of ancestral trauma from the abuse of settler colonial land and resource theft.”

Sadly , often times even activists and revolutionaries don’t care about the struggles and resistance of houseless people and don’t realize our incarceration as well as our liberation is all linked, as witnessed on Sept. 21 with the “I Did Die in SF County Jail” action led by Idriss Stelley Foundation, Krip Hop Nation and POOR Magazine.

“Hello, everyone. I am Bruce Allison, with a PhD in Shelter Studies from Shelter University. As a houseless, disabled elder since 2013, I have been profiled, harassed, incarcerated and arrested over 230 times.”

It takes courage to advocate against the criminalization of houseless people. Even activists and revolutionaries need to see the links between the incarceration and liberation of the houseless with that of other oppressed people. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network
Theo, with Right 2 Survive/Right 2 Dream and Portland WRAP takes the mic. It takes courage to advocate against the criminalization of houseless people. Even activists and revolutionaries need to see the links between the incarceration and liberation of the houseless and that of other oppressed people. – Photo: Suze Leon, Poor News Network

One of many “controlled” studies conducted by the WPG in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, our WeSearch Policy Group discovered that due to the racist and classist nature of the Broken Windows Theory, the law only applied to people who looked “homeless.” You could be of any race, but if you appeared to be poor – i.e., wearing old clothes or living with a disability – the police would harass and arrest you. Another powerful study just released by the Coalition on Homelessness, called “Punishing the Poorest,” also corroborated these findings.

The WPG conducted the same controlled study in San Francisco with the Downtown Association-crafted Sit-Lie Law. Over a period of six months, if you appeared disabled or poor, you were cited and arrested. If you were a Black man, you were twice as likely to get cited and arrested. If you were disabled and an elder, this also increased your chances of arrest and citation.

From day laborers standing on corners to houseless people sitting on the street, our struggles might seem different but they are frighteningly similar.

“Hello, everyone. This is Muted Silence, a migrant, indigenous poverty scholar with a doctorate in Border Jumping. I have the following WeSearch findings to present: In my intentionally blighted, poor Black and Brown neighborhood since 2012, over 6,700 Black and Brown youth and adults have been abused and profiled by the Broken Windows Theory.

“Mr. Kelling, would you please come out and join us and stop making theory about us without us,” I screamed one last time into the lobby of the hotel as I did many times throughout the day. “Mr. Kelling, would you please come out …”

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at Visit POOR at


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