The lengthy short history of the Philadelphia Police Department that I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia is now up on their site. I finished the essay back in May 2016, so I’m happy that it is now finally published. Continue reading
It is a commonplace these days to cite James Baldwin’s line on the police. You know the one. A white police officer in Harlem is an “occupying soldier,” he wrote in “Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” an Esquire essay from July 1960. More famously, in The Nation, in July 1966, Baldwin wrote: “Harlem is policed like occupied territory.”
After a rough week, I wanted to reflect on what it’s like, emotionally, to work on this particular dissertation. I read and write about too much violence and death. It gets to me. Continue reading
In this post I want to sketch some preliminary thoughts about the invention of proactive policing in the 1960s, whose core ideas laid the groundwork for what scholars and police, by the 1980s, would call Broken Windows policing.
I think we invest too much in police. I don’t mean in terms of dollars and cents but in that we expect police to provide “justice” when that is not what they are designed to do.
I’m beginning to look into the concept of legal cynicism. I’m somewhat amazed that I haven’t encountered this idea before now. (You can see a recent popular application of it here.) My dissertation argues, in part, that get-tough police practices in the 1950s provoked a rise in individual and collective resistance to arrest and stop-and-frisk in poor urban black neighborhoods.
There is no nationwide Ferguson Effect, experts say, only a local one, restricted to some large and medium cities and a few neighborhoods in those cities. On certain blocks, people are dying at a greater rate than they were in 2014 — and not just anyone, but disproportionately young black men.
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)?
Lately I’ve been writing about the Rochester rebellion of July 1964. For riots from this era the best primary sources come from the news media. They are not always reliable–sometimes they are plainly inaccurate–so you have to check them against reports and testimony from local organizations and prominent leaders, etc. Even these sources skew toward somewhat elite opinion. Although journalists have a good ear for quotable material from people in the street, they typically reported what fit the narrative. In the 1960s one dominant narrative about the riots was that they were civil rights demonstrations run amok. The most common quote from rioters therefore tended to be a variation on “We Want Freedom.” Another narrative was that the riots were anti-white, i.e. racist. So another popular quote was: “Get Whitey.” Continue reading
Continuing the trend, this post is another excerpt from the dissertation. It comes at the end of an overly long introduction to an overly long chapter on police reform, patrol practices, and street riots from 1961 to 1964 (up to but not including the mid-July Harlem uprising). It’s a draft so the usual caveats apply. In fact, the ink is barely dry. I wrote the final few paragraphs this morning. I’m posting it because a) I always appreciate feedback and b) the material is relevant for the police reform movement today. Let me know what you think. (Yes, I know it’s probably too long as a chapter intro.)