The Problem of How to Interpret Black Uprisings

I remember when I started working on my dissertation — on the 1960s African American uprisings — I really had only one question in mind: What is the correct way to think of these events? It was, admittedly, an odd starting point. But looking back at my early writing, for the prospectus in particular, I can see that I was obsessed with answering this question — or at least negotiating a solution that satisfied both my committee and me. It was a very practical concern as well — how, on the page, to refer to events that I would have to describe in great detail over and over again. Continue reading

Riot v. Rebellion–Should We Still Care?

Once again, it appears, Americans are divided over whether the Baltimore uprising was a riot or rebellion. Were these criminal agitators or protesters in a just cause?

I sympathize with the argument that the events of late April were a political expression of grievances–an uprising. But I remain uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric of the “rebellion” crowd. When poor urban black residents fight the police en masse, torch and loot local stores (some of which are predatory), and defiantly posture in the streets, we should take their claims on the state seriously. We should consider their actions with a large dose of empathy. But I think it a mistake to downplay the violence and its costs, as I see some on the left doing. Aside from the obvious ethical issues, ignoring the violence misses the point of a riot–which is to strike back at perceived aggressors, to right a wrong. Continue reading

Footnotes to “The Origins of Stop-And-Frisk”

Jacobin recently published my essay on dragnet policing and the sixties rebellions. You can find it here. It was a really positive and instructive experience working with Nicole Aschoff on the edits. Nicole’s advice about structure, word choice, and clarity was spot-on. The piece is far better–and I’m far happier with it–as a result. I also must thank Shawn Gude for his last-minute revisions.

I’ve decided to post the footnotes to the piece on the blog, in case anyone wanted to follow up on the specific claims I make. I know that when I read a popular piece by a scholar I’m always curious about the sources. So here they are! (Sorry for the imperfect formatting; also I kept secondary source citations deliberately minimal.)

Feel free to post comments about the essay here. I’ll appreciate the feedback. Continue reading