This inspired strategy helped save New York City, and its adoption across the country helped save the nation from the most pressing domestic problem it faced from the 196os to the 1990s. But we’re now into our third decade of the crime drop, and the simple fact of the matter is that broken-windows logic doesn’t work in the same way it did in the 1990s. The criminal class that made New York City a disastrous place to live has been rendered ineffectual. Crime is down and has remained low because the crooks are in jail and have stayed in jail. The low-hanging fruit was picked, and so too was the fruit that hung higher.

Thus, in a reversal of the past, it’s more likely the case that a shambling 43 year-old selling loosies on a commercial strip is not someone who poses much of a danger, and need not be subdued aggressively as the officers in question sought to subdue Garner. You can’t do nothing about someone like Garner—allowing him to work the street as he was in front of functioning businesses is a classic example of a window that may be on the verge of breaking. But there’s nothing and then there’s too much…

The real question that is going to be asked, now, is just how aggressive law enforcement can and should be in an era of low crime, which is what we’re in now. If you defang cops, you are inviting a return to trouble. As I wrote last week, “if we send police officers the message that it is safer for their careers and reputations to stand down, stand down they will. We are the ones who will have to reckon with the results.” At the same time, no civilized society can view the tape showing Garner’s desperate pleading and not ask some very difficult questions of itself.