Glenn Loury vs James Q Wilson

Andrew Sullivan —  May 22 2012 @ 5:28pm

They were once key allies and colleagues. But Loury has had second thoughts:

Unlike most tabloid scribblers, Wilson’s writings had a massive effect. The broken windows argument—by cracking down on minor offenses, the police can prevent the perception of disorder that leads to more serious crimes—has influenced urban law enforcement strategists throughout the nation. Even so, as scholarly critics across the ideological spectrum have noted, there is little evidence beyond the anecdotal to show that such “quality of life” policing actually leads to lower crime rates. When I consider the impact of his ideas, I can’t help but think about the millions of folks being hassled even as we speak by coercive state agents who are acting on some Wilsonian theory recommending stop-and-frisk policing.

Neither can I overlook the reinforcement of subliminal racial stigmata associated with the institutions of confinement, surveillance, and patrol that Americans have embraced over the past two generations under the watchful and approving gaze of Professor Wilson.

I don’t think Jim Wilson had a racist bone in his body. Neither do I doubt his sincerity when he expressed regret, as he often did, that blacks are overrepresented among those being punished for having committed crimes. But intent is one thing; results are another.