“Middle Men,” is the story of communities of color and the middlemen who stand between them and the policy makers. This documentary signifies contributing elements that played a role in the unarmed deaths of five New York victims since 1994. A voice is given to the family members of these victims, former officers, agencies and educators who share their opinion about the various failings on the part of New York law enforcement and on a deeper level, failings rooted in the concept of a two tier criminal justice system where people are treated differently because of their race, wealth, or ethnicity.
Former officers explain a policing system mired in so much bureaucracy that over time, they found it difficult to exhibit any type of discretion in the communities they served. As ‘Compstat’, the number driven model became more prevalent, issues of targeting also grew in unison with police officer shootings. To understand this association, we researched the evolution of policing from post slavery to the current use of ‘Compstat’, and found whether it was because of the war on drugs or broken windows offenses, how the criminal justice system treated people of color seemed rooted in old white supremacist values of keeping ‘the people’ in line, cheap labor, and continued colonization despite whether an individual officer was actually racist. The problematic values deeply weighed in systematic policies and laws police officials are bound by and exhibited by officers of all races, nationality and genders. Policing is revealed as a mentality, a culture of ‘self’ with too much power over the public.
This excess in power has real implications and is riddled with civil rights abuses across all cultures in the United States. In the cases of the families interviewed, their nightmare did not end there. Yet through their efforts their children live on. They fight not only for the justice of their children but for future generations to come.
Credited with reducing subway crime in New York City by twenty-seven percent in the mid-90s, CompStat was originally used as a transit tool, and later to track crime statistics once it was introduced by Willam Bratton in 1994 (CompStat is defined as a combination of management, philosophy, and organizational management tools used by police departments).
One year later, then Mayor Rudolpoh Giuliani introduced his quality of life broken windows policy to the New York City Police Department. Giuliani and Bratton then used CompStat in conjunction with the broken windows policy to promote the notion that the best way to stop bigger crimes from occurring was to target smaller quality of life crimes. While some argue that the broken windows policy was intended to keep neighborhoods clean and crime rates low, others contend that its sole purpose was to create a viable way for police officers to target black and brown folks under the guise of pursuing minor crimes like jay-walking and loose cigarette sales, in order to meet quotas set by CompStat.
Before long CompStat was being used by a number of precincts across the country and the concept of community policing was a thing of the past. This type of policing led to frequent encounters between police officers and community members in urban areas. As a result, discontent with law enforcement in these neighborhoods amplified, thereby increasing instances of police brutality, and arguably causing the civilian death of Eric Garner for the sale of loose cigarettes in Staten Island in 2014.
In Middle Men we explore the ways that CompStat continues to position police officers as “middle men,” simply meeting quotas while unknowingly contributing to a long history of racism and classism that continues to destroy families and communities across the country.
Written by: David Nazario