In his newest book, Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City
(NYU Press, 2018), Clarence Taylor
, dean of the history of the civil rights movement in New York, looks at black resistance to police brutality in the city, and institutional efforts to hold the NYPD accountable, since the late 1930s and '40s.
“Many people think that police brutality is a recent phenomenon,” says Taylor, professor emeritus at Baruch College and The Graduate Center of City University of New York. But, in fact, it has a long, sordid history, going back even further than the years covered in this new book. And long before the era of cellphones, black newspapers did their own investigations when men, women, and children were beaten or killed by the police. (Louis Lomax, the first African-American journalist to appear regularly on television news, commented in the early 1960s that, if not for police brutality, the black press would have "considerable blank space.")
Taylor also looks at the history of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, first proposed after the Harlem riots of 1935 and 1943. La Guardia and the mayors who followed refused to challenge the NYPD’s power, which is why it took nearly fifty years to establish an independent public agency to investigate allegations of abuse.