December 1, 2021
Airing in the United States from 1989 through 2020, the Fox (and later Spike TV) television show COPS was an early and prophetically successful prototype for “Reality TV.” The thirty-minute episodes followed a strict format, where camera operators “ride along” with police officers, giving viewers intimate and often jarring experiences as chases occur, fights erupt, and arrests are made. Alongside a growing number of fictional police dramas on television and film, COPS reinforced prevailing narratives that validated fear of certain populations, often populations of color, by other, often White, populations. It situated these narratives primarily in urban spaces, asking its many viewers to consider their surroundings primarily from the perspective of a police officer. And it asserted that the best remedy was increased surveillance and persistent aggression—remedies subsequently reflected in the design of the spaces themselves.
“Unbroken Windows” traces the contours of a particularly potent moment of cultural production in New York City, with the aims of developing awareness of and promoting change in the impacts of policing in the spaces we inhabit. Understood from its inception as incomplete, the archive has been assembled in support of ongoing conversations that are reimagining what justice means—and how it is built—in the United States today. “Unbroken Windows” was produced in dialogue with the YoU’s themes of Care, Repair, and Justice during the summer of 2021 by the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, as a part of its ongoing project, “Green Reconstruction.” If you would like to participate and/or have suggestions for primary sources related to this ever-present, built history, please fill out this form and members from the “Unbroken Windows” team at the Queens Museum will be in touch.