I happened on the picture below, which was posted by Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas after a person whom he disparaged as a “dirtbag” was arrested for urinating in public somewhere in the city.
While most commentators appear to have approved of Mayor Thomas’ stance, I couldn’t help but wonder what world the Mayor and his supporters have been living in for the past several decades.
Targeting low-level, quality of life crimes, like urinating in public, is one of the hallmarks of the so-called broken windows theory of policing.
The premise which underlies both the mayor’s advocacy of this policy and the broader policy itself is that it’s the deviant behavior of poor people that are largely responsible for the crisis of our city and I would take the contrary view. If we need to search out dirtbags amongst us, we need to search out the dirtbags in the highest places. Because I’m going to tell you that crime and grime exist in Mount Vernon and have long existed in Mount Vernon, not only because of problems at the bottom, but also because of problems at the top. The mayor is known, let me say straightforwardly, the mayor is consorting with a man, Joe Spiezio, who has personally been found guilty by tribunals in the state of Louisiana for unethical and dishonest business practices… It’s people like Joe Spiezio who was described in the court rulings as a vulture capitalist, who have deminished the quality of life in the United States…
Indeed, Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas comments on his Twitter feed about the arrest echo statements made by the arch-conservative thinker James Q. Wilson and other architects of this backward policing policy:
“[W]e have set a new standard for cleanliness in Mount Vernon,” the mayor tweeted. “If we don’t go after the low-level offenses, the culture won’t change…The MTA did this when they fought graffiti on subway cars in the 1980’s… we have the same task now to stop crime and grime all the time by making examples of dirtbags one at a time.”
Many of the people cheering on this policy are either unaware of–or unconcerned about–the catalytic role that the embrace of this zero-tolerance policy by America’s big-city mayors played in the dramatic increase in the number of young Black men who are locked up in America’s prisons.
Mayor Thomas cannot be opposed to mass incarceration of Black men–as he likes to tell everyone–while at the same time applauding the draconian policing policy which drove it.
The recipient of a Ph.D. in sociology from The Graduate Center of CUNY, for the past two decades he has served as a professor of sociology at several public and private colleges in the New York City area, instructing students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in the philosophies, theories and research techniques that underpin the social sciences.
His scholarship focuses on two principal areas of research: the intersection between race, education and social inequality, and the socio-historical dynamics by which integrationism became the dominat political philosophy of the 20th Century Black Freedom Movement.
Raised in the city of Mount Vernon, where he's affectionately known as "Brooklyn Bob," after a brief stint spent dealing drugs on the streets of the city's Southside, Baskerville began his career as an activist and organizers while he was a student at Bronx Community College (BCC). After helping to lead the CUNY student strike of 1991 at BCC, he went to serve in a number of activist formation, the most notable of which was the Black Radical Congress.
More recently, Baskerville has been part of a loose coalition of activists and organizers who have undertaken several projects for civic empowerment in the city, including the 1,000 Man March, several Women's Empowerment Expo.