Broken Windows and Turnstiles


Some of Banksy’s work in Manhattan. His work often has a satirical, political, social message. Banksy’s true identity is still unknown. Photo courtesy of Banksy’s Instagram @banksyny.

“If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired,” they observed, “all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.”  said James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an influential article in The Atlantic. According to Wilson and Kelling, tracking down petty crimes like jaywalking, jumping over the turnstiles, making a drunken threat to a police officer, and others, will prevent the society from developing citizens who will someday commit a more serious crime; believing that the same people commmiting the small crimes would be commiting murder, rape, grand larceny, and others, in the future.

I was, unfortunately, one of the people who were given a “ticket” for swiping my Metrocard in a subway station and letting my younger sister in with me. I was 18-years-old at that time. As I approached the train cart, one foot already inside the train, 3 police officers stopped me and my sister. One of the police men asked me what I did back in the turnstile, obviously knowing already what I did, and I didn’t lie. It wasn’t a long conversation. The men gave me and my sister a ticket each, saying that this is just a warning and we better not do it again. I asked if I need to pay a fine but they kept telling me that it is just a warning. Two months later, I found out that it is not.

My sister and I were fined $150 each. In the court appeal, I was trying to tell the judge that the police officers told me that I don’t need to pay for anything, and that the tickets were only a warning, but I wasn’t granted an appeal since I did not have the officers’ names. Originally, the fine was $50 each but since my sister and I didn’t pay it after an apparent due date, the fine was tripled.

I was 18-years old. My sister was $14-years-old. She literally had to beg me to allow her to come with me to visit my aunts because she doesn’t have $2.50 to pay for the train ride. Why did we have to pay an amount that a minimum wage full-time worker would have to work on for most of the week to earn? To be honest, I didn’t learn anything from the experience but distrust in the policing system since I would have never done this if I had other options. Instead of averting the problem, the broken windows policy is causing more problems to its victims – especially for the lower income individuals.

It didn’t make sense to me then. It doesn’t make sense to me now.

For Further Reading:

The Problem with “Broken Windows” Policing

Criminal Injustice, , , , ,


  1. Distrust between the police and the community is one of the reasons why the system is so flawed. Rather than respect being mutual by both parties, certain races are targeted and harassed causing them to lack trust in authority figures who are supposed to keep them safe. This relationship must be repaired in order for the criminal justice system to relate better to the community so that true justice can be served. Small “crimes” like your encounter at the turnstile, should not be equated to a life of long term crime or even the slim chance that even worse crimes will be committed.

  2. This broken windows ideal is just a way for the city to make quick money, its fast, common and it gives money. Meanwhile other more heavy crimes take time and investigation and if anything also take more money. Obviously the city needs money and so does the police department, therefore arresting people for petty crimes which result in profit. It is sad that these “petty crimes” are given more importance than ones that actually matter

  3. I think this story is very relevant today. I often let my close friend pass through the turnstile with me, knowing that if we were to get caught we would most likely be granted a ticket. The thing that bothers me the most is how difficult they make it. Its not as if everyone gets payed enough to own a home in midtown and can buy monthly metro cards. If you ad it up, you would spend $1,584 a year on metro cards alone. And that is if you can afford to spend the $132 each month. With all the money the MTA makes, you would expect them to advance the system, or at least clean the place up. Every time i enter the train there is trash throughout the car. Hopefully they will re evaulate the way they spend their money.

  4. when I was 18 the same thing happened to me, but without a warning and I got a ticket. But what you said is true about the fine they gave you and your sister having to the price of someone who makes minimum wage of a full time worker would pay if they got that fine. The system is broken. I think its pretty messed up how we are taught at a young age to seek an officers help if there is an emergency, but today police is someone to be feared. And to what Mishel said in the comments, I agree with her, they do that for fast money for the city. and they will do so but giving out tickets and fine for petty crimes.

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