Back in 1982, James Q Wilson and George L. Kelling wrote Broken Windows, an article in The Atlantic Monthly. It was addressed at reducing crime:
“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”
The theory is a safe society depends upon order at all levels, trivial anti-social behaviour escalates to major anti-social behaviour. While mayor of New York in the late-1990s, Rudi Giuliani presided over a major reduction in city crime. Relatively minor offences such as graffiti, jumping the turnstiles on the subway, and aggressive car window cleaning at traffic lights would not be tolerated. It sent out a message that criminality at any level was not acceptable.
Perhaps we need a “Broken Windows” strategy in Ireland.
Riding the DART into the city on Sunday afternoon, the walls for much of the journey are covered in graffiti, even areas that had been cleaned over the summer. No, these are not alienated young people. These are young people living in some of Europe’s most expensive districts who are engaged in straightforward anti-social behaviour. No, we do not need to ask why they do it. People have the power to make choices. If I make the choice to go to Blackrock station and spray the walls with an aerosol; it’s not because of my social conditioning or Freudian problems, it’s because I chose to do so, and am anti-social.
If we addressed the problem of anti-social behaviour at the trivial level, it might send a message to some of our politicians that the law will be maintained and that cash in suitcases is more than just something to joke about in the pub.
There’s a line in Saint Luke’s Gospel, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Maybe it sums up what Broken Windows is saying.