Policing Black Chicago From Red Summer to Black Power
University of North Carolina Press 2019
Recent scholarship locates the origins of mass incarceration in national anticrime policy from 1960 to 1990, and has drastically reframed the “punitive turn” in American politics as bipartisan. But how then, do we reckon with the fact that most police policy and funding is determined locally? In his new book, Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago From Red Summer to Black Power (UNC Press, 2019), Simon Balto argues that local police department policies and procedures left black Chicagoans “overpoliced and underprotected” far before mass incarceration began. Machinations in municipal politics is therefore essential to understanding how and why Chicago has been a flashpoint in national conversations about police.
Building a picture of the carceral state from the bottom up, Balto shows that it was not Lyndon Johnson’s War on Crime, or Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs that turned the Chicago Police into an abusive and racist institution, but rather city and police officials’ response to the Great Migrations. Police violence is therefore cast not as the product of legislation, but of mendacious discourses of black criminality that police have acted upon for over a century.
Patrick Reilly is a PhD student in History at Vanderbilt University. He studies US policing and surveillance in domestic and transnational contexts.