Reflections on the State in the Field of Urban Policing and Mass Incarceration

This is the first in a series on left scholarship on mass incarceration, urban policing, and crime politics. I kick things off. Next I’ll post a piece by Jason Lee, a Master’s student at Harvard Divinity School and a former organizer with the Chicago Teacher’s Union.

This past weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Social Science History Association, where I was lucky to share the stage with Stuart Schrader, Marisol LeBron, Max Felker-Kantor, and Elizabeth Hinton. Despite our bizarre setting (a regular hotel room on the 14th floor of the Hyatt, one side a normal luxury suite and the other a traditional, if miniature, conference space, with stiff-backed chairs, a dais, and AV equipment), we got down to the core issues (as I see them) that will engage the field of urban policing and mass incarceration in the years to come. Thanks to an excellent question from audience-member and political scientist Michael Javen Fortner, we turned, at the end, to a prickly, ugly, but necessary concern: Is it ever legitimate for the state to use force? If not, how does that change our conception of the state (traditionally defined, via Max Weber, as possessing a monopoly on the legitimate use of force)?

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