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Molly Crabapple and the ‘duty of artists to fight against injustice’

Crabapple Broken Windows
Crabapple's art Broken Windows

By Christina Bartson

Molly Crabapple sees Broken Windows policing as “an excuse to lock black and brown people up in jail for petty and non-violent things.”

Crabapple is one of 30 artists who capture the impact of Broken Windows policing through their artwork on display at the Museum of Broken Windows. The museum is a pop-up experience in Manhattan’s West Village open now through September 30th.

The museum highlights the sometimes lethal consequences of the theory of Broken Windows policing, which posits that minor infractions should be aggressively policed, thereby reducing the number of more serious crimes. Broken Windows has led to discrimination against and harassment of communities of color throughout New York.

You can learn more about the ongoing carnage brought by Broken Windows in the NYCLU’s new report: Shattered: The Continuing, Damaging, and Disparate Legacy of Broken Windows Policing in New York City.

Crabapple is the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun, (with Marwan Hisham). Her work has been published in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. Her art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the United States Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society. Prints of her work are on display at the Museum of Broken Windows.

Our interview with Crabapple is condensed and edited for clarity.

What made you want to contribute a piece to the Museum of Broken Windows?

I’m a third generation New Yorker and I grew up seeing how Rudy Giuliani’s Broken Windows policing tore apart the city— how it was an excuse to shoot Black men, but also how it stripped the city streets of every sort of vitality. It went after street vendors, it went after artists, it went after subway dancers. It was something that went hand-in-hand with taking New York from this diverse vibrant city and then trying to hammer it into this ultra-controlled, ultra-gentrified neoliberal box. And also it was an excuse to lock Black and Brown people up in jail for petty and non-violent things.

The pieces that I contributed to the Museum of Broken windows are prints of original art I created for a short illustrated film that I did in 2016. I did a series of animations with two of my best friends Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt about various aspects of policing and the prison industrial complex. I did various animations about locking up sex workers, about Broken Windows policing, about immigrant detention, solitary confinement and Ferguson. I was really honored to do these because they take these issues that are grim and complicated and they use art and animation and storytelling to break them down in a way that’s easy for people to understand.

Why do you think art is an impactful form of activism?

In this moment, where there is so much wrong in the world and where so much of that wrong is so visible— to the point where it feels like every single day we’re being bombarded by the horrors of this administration— I think that we need ways to convey problems and to imagine solutions that are different, that are aesthetic, and that pass people’s fatigue and burnout and hopelessness.

You’ve produced artwork around moments like Occupy Wall Street and also for Matt Taibbi’s book The Divide, do you see Broken Windows policing as a part of that other side of the divide?

Oh absolutely, I mean Broken Windows policing is specifically designed to target poor people and people of color. No one is going around Wall Street and stopping and frisking everyone for committing financial crimes, even though that has broken far more laws and far more windows than any teenager ever could. Broken Windows is basically a method to keep poor and black and brown communities scared, and in many ways to gentrify them, and to lock people up and make money off of them. It’s not something that will ever be used against the rich and the powerful, so it’s exactly where the divide is.

What do you think is the role of artists and art in today’s political moment?

The duty we have as artists is the duty every other human has in this world, and that is to fight against injustice and make the world better. And we can do that on our canvases or we can do that in the streets.


Museum of Broken Windows | Upcoming Events

Wednesday, September 26, 7pm: Ending the School To Prison Pipeline. Donna Lieberman (NYCLU), Ramon Garcia (NYPD school safety division), Jasmine Gripper (Alliance for Quality Education), and Janelle Matias (The Brotherhood/Sister Sol) discuss ongoing efforts to end the involvement of police in school discipline matters. 

Thursday, September 27, 7pm: Smart Justice. A panel of experts including Nicole Triplett (NYCLU), Rashad Robinson (Color Of Change), and Darren Mack (Just Leadership USA) discuss how Broken Windows police tactics drive the mass incarceration crisis in New York, and how we can achieve smarter justice.

Saturday, September 29, 7pm: Screening: Crime + Punishment. A screening of the new Hulu documentary Crime + Punishment, about the NYPD 12, a group of officers of color who challenged the NYPD’s quota system.

Learn more about the Museum of Broken Windows. 

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