The recent death of homeless veteran Jerome Murdough in a Rikers Island cell should be more than a temporary debate in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it New York media cycle that often desensitizes us to tragedies. I know it hit close to home for myself — Mr. Murdough sought refuge the night of his arrest in an East Harlem public housing staircase three blocks from my home and across the street from my where my kids go to school. When sleeping in a staircase, I thought, lands you in a Rikers cell, something is wrong.
Murdough's death laid bare some of our collective disregard for the
poor as well as an aggressive police department with an obsession for
law and order rivaled only by military dictatorships and science fiction
characters (i.e., RoboCop, Judge Dredd). Is it enough to have
roundtable discussions lamenting the case of Mr. Murdough as one of
someone slipping through the cracks? What happened to him is the not-so
unpredictable outcome of a society heavily invested in enforcement by
way of zero-tolerance policing and criminal justice system. It's an
approach that is neither humane nor sustainable. But as some debate what
stop-gap reforms or long term legislation might be crafted, let's not
lose sight of how Murdough arrived at the cell he would die in: the NYPD
and the low-level crime-focused Broken Windows theory that guides it.