National Security’s Broken Windows


This Article examines the federal government’s community engagement efforts with American Muslim communities as part of a larger infrastructure for policing radicalization and countering violent extremism (CVE). While the federal government presents community engagement as a softer alternative to policing, community engagement is integrated into a larger policing apparatus, making the reality far more coercive. Community engagement efforts are staged within the greater context of radicalization discourse, counterradicalization and CVE programs. Radicalization theory posits that increased religiosity and politicization in Muslims provokes an increased threat of terrorism. Government counterradicalization programs aim, therefore, to monitor and influence the political and religious cultures of Muslim communities so as to prevent radicalization, bringing tremendous scrutiny to bear on these communities.

The federal government situates its national security community engagement efforts within the history of community policing in the ordinary criminal context. Community engagement and community policing are celebrated as forms of policing that emphasize communication and collaboration with marginalized communities and serve ideals of inclusion and democratic participation. In both contexts, however, efforts at police-community communication and collaboration are warped by law enforcement’s commitments to preventive theories of crime control, narrowing the space for the inclusion of and democratic contestation by the subject communities. Broken windows theory and radicalization theory invest local social and cultural norms an outsized role in the origination of criminal activity, creating a rationale for the policing of everyday life. In linking noncriminal activity to the potential for crime, both theories reinforce a punitive lens through which police interact with communities, further marginalizing communities on the grounds of their difference. In putting community engagement in conversation with community policing, this Article’s central insight is as straightforward as it might be surprising: Community engagement in the national security context shares some of the problems of community policing in the ordinary criminal context.

Community engagement efforts increase the presence of law enforcement in already overpoliced communities, and exacerbate intracommunity inequalities. Rather than enhance participation, community engagement may simply provide opportunities for select members of Muslim communities to approve preexisting law enforcement commitments—and create an additional source of pressure on Muslim communities to perform their Americanness—without meaningful openings for Muslim communities to communicate, collaborate, and contest the relationship, its modalities, and its outputs.

About the Author

Amna Akbar is an Assistant Professor of Law at Michael E. Moritz College of Law, the Ohio State University.

By uclalaw