Emily Brooks

Jan 13, 2024

Gotham’s War within a War

Policing and the Birth of Law-and-Order Liberalism in World War II–Era New York City

University of North Carolina Press 2023

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, members of the NYPD had worked to enforce partisan political power rather than focus on crime. That changed when La Guardia took office in 1934 and shifted the city's priorities toward liberal reform. La Guardia's approach to low-level policing anticipated later trends in law enforcement, including "broken windows" theory and "stop and frisk" policy. Police officers worked to preserve urban order by controlling vice, including juvenile delinquency, prostitution, gambling, and the "disorderly" establishments that officials believed housed these activities.

This mode of policing was central to La Guardia's influential vision of urban governance, but it was met with resistance from the Black New Yorkers, youth, and working-class women it primarily targeted. The mobilization for World War II introduced new opportunities for the NYPD to intensify policing and criminalize these groups with federal support. In the 1930s these communities were framed as perils to urban order; during the militarized war years, they became a supposed threat to national security itself. 

In Gotham’s War Within a War: Policing and the Birth of Law-and-Order Liberalism in World War II-Era New York City (UNC Press, 2023), Emily M. Brooks recasts the evolution of urban policing by revealing that the rise of law-and-order liberalism was inseparable from the surveillance, militarism, and nationalism of war.

Jeffrey Lamson is a PhD student in world history at Northeastern University. His research focuses on the history of police technology, its relationship to the history of police reform, and its place at the intersection of U.S. domestic policing and global counterinsurgency.

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Jeffrey Lamson

Jeffrey Lamson is a PhD student in world history at Northeastern University. His research focuses on the history of police technology, its relationship to the history of police reform, and its place at the intersection of U.S. domestic policing and global counterinsurgency.

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