Rhetorical Analysis of Broken Windows

George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson in their article “Broken Windows”, which was published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982, analyze the period of urbanization with regard to the increased discrimination, racism and criminality. Kelling and Wilson, both professors at renowned colleges, have the education and experience that enable them to discuss crime issues with credibility. This article, in particular, addresses the need for safety and social organization in several communities of New Jersey. The authors claim that many cities of New Jersey lack the quality of community life and that the state officials are trying to improve the situation through the “Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Program”. This program was aimed at reducing the crime rates in the neighborhood by increasing the number of foot patrol police officers. The target audience includes police officers, who perform similar duties to the ones mentioned in the article or have similar experience, and urban dwellers, who expect protection from crime and disorderly behavior. Police officers, after reading this article, can be motivated to strive for collaboration with the citizens in order to deter crime and misconduct. Urbanites, in their turn, can change their attitudes towards the law enforcement officers, become more involved in cooperation with police, and suppress the signals of potentially violent behavior.

The argument is well-structured and logical, drawing the attention of a broader audience and allowing multiple and varied perspectives on the issues of public order and safety. Kelling and Wilson use the analogy of a theory derived from urban disparities, “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken” (Kelling &Wilson, 2). As social psychologists claim in different studies, this is an inevitable chain reaction. Although this particular article focuses on what was happening in New Jersey, it has a much broader implications. This approach allows more cities across the United States to identify with the situation described, but it is not meant to be applied globally. The article “Broken Windows” is a long-form narrative. It is non-fiction, and it provides the reader with a lot of evidence that makes them feel intimately familiar with the situation, an over-toning theme throughout the article, which is analyzed in terms of rhetorical argument and its elements.

One of the key elements of rhetorical argument is the claim, made by Kelling and Wilson throughout the article. The authors underscore that crime rates and disorder are inevitably associated: “at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence” (K & W, ...). They support the idea that people, who live in well-tended neighborhoods, hardly allow the intruders to disturb the peace and harmony of their lives. Kelling and Wilson state between the lines that it is up to people in the first place to extract the roots of unruly behavior through mutual agreement and cooperation with each other and police. If crime rates increase, that implies that people have become lax about their own moral principles and tolerable to other people’s imperfections, and they feel that they have no right to intrude into the lives of others or impose their views and beliefs. Disreputable behavior is the source of criminality and should be condemned not only by separate individuals, but by the whole society. The authors emphasize that people, who tend to pay no regard to such “harmless” drunkards, prostitutes, vagrants, beggars, homeless and other less fortunate elements of society, when, according to the theory of the broken window, they are the root of all evil, or rather, their behavior creates the favorable atmosphere for the growth of criminality, racism, and discrimination.

As for the rhetorical strategies, Kelling and Wilson obviously prefer posing questions and challenging other arguments. Throughout the article, they ask different questions in order to engage in a dialogue with their audience. For instance, they ask how a police chief can effectively use his meager forces, or how can we prevent citizens from becoming victims of crimes – “How do we ensure that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?” (K & W, 34). Another conversation could be opened about who should lay the foundation for police activity, “Should police activity on the street be shaped by the standards of the neighborhood rather than by the rules of the state?” (K & W, 30). In this particular question, the authors are inclined to choose the first way. As Kelly emphasizes, relying on his first-hand experience, neighborhood rules can define police activity, if they are understood and accepted by everybody. Sometimes, these rules can collide with the legal principles, but, if the rules guarantee public order, the police officers, as well as ordinary citizens, are likely observe them. In fact, this is a conflicting issue for police officers, who should choose the way, as they feel, think or believe is the right one. In other words, it is a matter of personal choice. The support of the neighborhood dwellers is also an important factor to take into consideration when deciding which way to choose. On the whole, the questions the authors ask, are not easy but they do a very thorough job at answering all of them without imposing their biased points of view on the audience. Kelling and Wilson takes gratification from challenging the arguments of skeptics, who claim that foot patrol has no effect on the crime rates. The authors suggest that the issue of order has little to do with violent crimes and that motorized-patrol officers can deal with disorderly behavior as effectively as foot-patrol officers.

The structure of the article is at times confusing, raising some doubts about the effectiveness of Kelling & Wilson’s argument. However, the paragraphs allow the reader to flow through the article. The authors aim at persuading the city dwellers to entrust their safety and public order with the police officers, encouraging cooperation and discouraging disreputable behavior. Kelling & Wilson remind the reader that the main goal of police forces is “to maintain order in precarious situations” (K & W, 51).

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