Liberals and the Police in the 1960s

[I presented this paper at the 2018 US Intellectual History Conference in Chicago.]

The “Bearded Professor” and the Police: How the Social Scientists of the Kerner Commission Helped Bolster Police Authority and Power after the Urban Rebellions of the 1960s

In November 1967 the Kerner Commission invited big-city police chiefs to D.C. to discuss the past, present, and future of policing. At this meeting, Los Angeles Police Chief Thomas Reddin shared his worry that the Commission had the worldview of “a bearded professor.” For Reddin and conservative defenders of police, the “bearded professor” was a stand-in for left-wing and elite.

In contrast, Reddin praised his arch-conservative predecessor, William Parker, for “keeping some people attuned to the fact that the reality of the street is different from the reality of the drawing room where you have an intellectual discussion.” Intellectualism in this context was a smear. Yet, in this same meeting, Reddin called 1967 the “year of the cop” in recognition of the greater resources and power given police by Congress, state legislatures, and municipalities responding to urban unrest. Even Reddin could see that liberals supported and, in some cases, led this change.[1]

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