Celebrating Martin Luther King Day

This post was originally published on January 16, 2015. 

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 19, Tenisha Hart Armstrong, Volume VII editor of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., curated a special selection of relevant photographs and a video that draw upon the rich resources of The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

  • In his office at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King meets with Gurdon Brewster, an intern at the church during the summer of 1961. Courtesy of Gurdon Brewster.

The publication in October 2014 of Volume VII: To Save the Soul of America, January 1961–August 1962, edited by Clayborne Carson and Tenisha Hart Armstrong of Stanford, marked the half-way point of this long-term research and publication venture of 14 volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. which is conducted in association with the King Estate, Stanford University, and the University of California Press.

Explore the other volumes in the series:

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of UC Press’s strong list in African American history. Other titles that may be of interest include Black against Empire (which won the 2014 American Book Association award), The Black Revolution on Campus (winner of the Wesley-Logan Prize in African Diaspora History from the American Historical Association), The Next American Revolution (advice for the 21st century from civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs, who turns 100 this year), and Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell.

Please explore our African American History list and our Race and Class list.


Who Is an Object of Dread—Who Is a Subject of Inclusion?

Excerpt from Race and America’s Long War by Nikhil Pal Singh

In his excellent introduction to Race and America’s Long War, Nikhil Pal Singh asks: who is an object of dread and elimination, and who is a subject of rights and inclusion? With the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday coming up and in light of the current administration’s recent disparaging comments about protections for people from Haiti and African nations, we’re sharing an apt excerpt from the book’s epilogue. Examining the relationship between war, politics, police power, and the changing contours of race and racism in the contemporary United States, Nikhil Pal Singh shows how racism and the current pursuit of war is part of a longer history of imperial statecraft at the heart of our present crisis, calling .


Donald Trump, who led a consistent and consciously racist opposition to Obama’s presidency, is now in ascendancy. With Trump, the violent contradictions of the inner and outer wars are laid bare. For unlike Obama, Trump based his appeal on the promise to intensify divisions along lines of race, nation, and religion. His additional vow to abandon climate-change mitigation denies the very problem of the imperiled ecology that humans share. Trump poses an old question: who is entitled to freedom and security—or, more precisely, to the freedom of an unlimited security and the security of an unlimited freedom? One of the hallmarks of liberal-democratic claims to superior civilization has been the commitment to mitigate boundless violence in the name of boundless freedom for everyone. Though the oppositions between Obama and McCain, or Obama and Bush, or Obama or Clinton and Trump, are convenient shorthand for all those characteristic efforts to distinguish good from bad U.S. nationalism (that is, the civic from the racial, the patriotic from the jingoistic, the democratic from the statist), Trump reminds us that one feature is constant: to make (American) history, one still needs the stomach to make victims. . . .

. . . At the end of his life and at the height of opposition to the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr. argued against the idea that the achievement of civil rights had inaugurated an era of normal politics for the racially excluded in the United States, just as he challenged the belief that the pax Americana had delivered a just and legitimate developmental framework for previously colonized peoples. King took the risk of condemning the war: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos,” he declared, “without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.” Through neglect of this legacy—the urgent challenge of just and sustainable development abroad and at home—the Obama presidency, and the hopeful alternatives it recommended to forty years of rightward drift of U.S. social, economic, and foreign policy, came to little. Rather, to use King’s words, for many it added “cynicism to the process of death.” To genuinely break this destructive spiral, a more insurgent and less teleological conception of our better history is required: the moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but power concedes nothing without a demand.

King’s commitment to nonviolence led him to recognize the intertwining of a history of racial self-definition (i.e., white supremacy) and militarization in defining the United States as a political community. Taking this stand did not necessarily make King a communist (as the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover asserted), but it did align him with a black radical intellectual tradition that conceptualized the global production of racialized disparity in terms of African slavery, colonial rule, class apartheid, and imperial statecraft. This approach refused to permit incremental racial integration within the United States to serve as a rationalization for policies that continued to thwart economic justice and just security for the world’s peoples.


Learn more about Race and America’s Long War.


The Economic, Social, and Emotional Toll of Removing Temporary Protected Status for Immigrants

The Trump administration continues to take steps to remove protections from certain immigrants groups. Today, it announced that it will end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for certain nationals of El Salvador, affecting ~200,000 immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years. They will be returning to a country that has one of the highest murder rates in the world as well as a rampant gang problem. Many of the immigrants facing deportation have U.S. born children who now face the possibility of seeing their families torn apart.

Many of these same immigrants play a huge role in farm labor. Farmers are concerned how this, and the loss of other immigration protections, will negatively affect their ability to find laborers to work their crops.

Looking at your own neighborhood and university, which of your neighbors, students, colleagues, friends, and communities are affected by these removal of protections?

Below are books that relate to how immigrants have affected their communities, how immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy, and how immigration and deportation affect children and their families. And consider using the #ImmigrationSyllabus: UC Press Edition to prepare lecture discussions for your courses discussing immigration, labor and work, race relations, families, politics, and much more.

Immigration and Deportation
Labor and Work
Children and Families

 

 


The Gospel of Oprah: Podcast with Kathryn Lofton

A version of this post was originally published in conjunction with the book’s publication date. This post is republished to reflect on Oprah’s speech at the 2018 #GoldenGlobes.

Have you heard the good news? If you’ve been at all exposed to popular culture over the last two decades, chances are you’ve heard it—the message of Oprah’s gospel, that is. For the UC Press Podcast, we interview Kathryn Lofton, author of the Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon. Lofton, a professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale University, finds in Oprah’s empire—Harpo Productions, O Magazine, and her new television network—an uncanny reflection of religion in modern society.

In this podcast, Lofton shares insights about Oprah’s message (the star of your own life is YOU!), her cheerful collaboration with capitalism, and the historical moment that made her incredible acendancy possible. Lofton also ponders whether Oprah is a uniquely American phenomenon, examining women of other nationalities who purport to be their own country’s “Oprah”. Finally, she addresses what will come of the O media empire once Oprah herself is no longer around to spread the message.

Listen to the podcast now


Must-Read Journals for #AHA18

The American Historical Association is convening in Washington, DC for its 132nd annual meeting from January 4-7, 2018. The theme for this year’s conference is “Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective.” UC Press’s history journals are contributing to the conversation by making a selection of content speaking to this theme available for free for a limited time. Please follow the links below and share your comments on social media using #AHA18.


Pacific Historical Review Special Issue:
Alternative Wests: Rethinking Manifest Destiny
Guest Edited by Andrew C. Isenberg

The mid-nineteenth century territorial growth of the United States was complex and contradictory. Not only did Mexico, Britain, and Native Americans contest U.S. territorial objectives; so, too, did many within the United States and in some cases American western settlers themselves. The notion of manifest destiny reflects few of these complexities. Manifest destiny was a partisan idea that emerged in a context of division and uncertainty intended to overawe opponents of expansion. Only in the early twentieth century, as the United States had consolidated its hold on the North American West and was extending its power into the Caribbean and Pacific, did historians begin to describe manifest destiny as something that it never was in the nineteenth century: a consensus. To a significant extent, historians continue to rely on the idea to explain U.S. expansion. This Special Issue argues for returning a sense of context and contingency to the understanding of mid-nineteenth-century U.S. expansion. Read the special issue.

 

Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences offers the following articles on the #AHA18 theme for you to read for free for a limited time:

Instruments of Science or Conquest: Neocolonialism and Modern American Astronomy
Leandra Swanner

Fellow Travelers and Traveling Fellows: The Intercontinental Shaping of Modern Mathematics in Mid-Twentieth Century Latin America
Michael J. Barany

Darwin and the Ethnologists: Liberal Racialism and the Geological Analogy
Suman Seth

Retouching the Past with Living Things: Indigenous Species, Tradition, and Biological Research in Republican China, 1918-1937
Lijing Jiang

Bred for the Race: Thoroughbred Breeding and Racial Science in the United States, 1900-1940
Brian Terrell

Visualizing ‘Race’ in the Eighteenth Century
Snait B. Missis

Master of the Master Gland: Choh Hao Li, the University of California, and Science, Migration, and Race
Benjamin C. Zulueta

 

Boom California invites you to read its series of articles on “Undocumented California.”

Undocumented Californians and the Future of the Golden State
Manuel Pastor

Regarding the Documents: Scanning the Mythology of ‘Documented’ California
Jason S. Sexton

California Dreaming? The Integration of Immigrants into American Society
Kevin R. Johnson

The Américas: A Novel of California Begun
David Kipen

On the Road to Opportunity: Racial Disparities in Obtaining an AB 60 Driver Licenses
Laura E. Enriquez, Daisy Vazquez Vera, and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan

California’s Opportunities for Undocumented Students: Are They Enough?
Tanya Golash-Boza and Zulema Valdez

Undocumented Emotional Intelligence: Learning from the Intellectual Investments of California’s Undergraduates
Ana Elizabeth Rosas

Lines and Fences: Writing and Rewriting the California Fence/Wall
Marcel Brousseau

 

Southern California Quarterly Special Virtual Issue:
Home Strategies: Class, Race, and Empowerment in 20th Century Los Angeles

The Southern California Quarterly, published continuously (under this and earlier titles) since 1884 by the Historical Society of Southern California, has touched repeatedly on the themes of housing development, discrimination, and empowerment. In this virtual issue, we present a sampling of its contributions on these themes. Read the virtual issue.

 

 

California History offers the following articles on the #AHA18 theme for you to read for free for a limited time:

Teaching Race in California History Beyond Domination and Diversity
Daniel Martinez HoSang

Victory Abroad, Disaster at Home: Environment, Race, and World War II Shipyard Production
Alistair W. Fortson

Language Education, Race, and the Remaking of American Citizenship in Los Angeles, 1900–1968
Zevi Gutfreund

But Why Glendale? A History of Armenian Immigration to Southern California
Daniel Fittante

Resisting Camelot: Race and Resistance to the San Fernando Valley Secession Movement
Jean-Paul R. deGuzman

 

The Public Historian Special Virtual Issue:
Monuments, Memory, Politics, and Our Publics

The Public Historian, the official journal of the National Council on Pubic History, shares a special virtual issue featuring dozen essays from the journal’s backlist, ranging across some twenty years, that illustrate the evolving historiography on the issue of monuments, memory, history, and heritage and broaden the discussion beyond the focus of the Civil War, Redemption, and resistance to the expansion of civil rights during the 1960s and 1970s.


Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Reproductive Perspective

By Laura Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


As these years of an acute sense of crisis on the left roll on, I find myself wondering if reproductive politics—at least as encapsulated in my recent book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics—is the right subject for these times. From Cornel West’s takedown of Ta-Nehisi Coates to the soul-searching among my Leftbook crew about the failures of the Bernie Sanders campaign, surely the silence we most urgently need to disrupt is about empire, US and otherwise. As Naomi Klein and Opal Tometi recently wrote in The Intercept (in a piece you must read if you haven’t, reframing the rather silly West vs. Coates fight into something much more urgent and important):

“There is no radicalism — Black or otherwise — that ends at the national boundaries of our countries, especially the wealthiest and most heavily armed nation on earth. From the worldwide reach of the financial sector to the rapidly expanding battlefield of U.S. Special Operations to the fact that carbon pollution respects no borders, the forces we are all up against are global. So, too, are the crises we face, from the rise of white supremacy, ethno-chauvinism, and authoritarian strongmen to the fact that more people are being forced from their homes than at any point since World War II. If our movements are to succeed, we will need both analysis and strategies that reflect these truths about our world.”

Empire is my natural first language (as I wrote in books here and here), so why am I carrying around the first book I have written exclusively about the United States at a time when we so urgently need to talk about empire?

Nevertheless, it strikes me that reproductive politics might actually be a powerful way to talk about US empire, most obviously in how it relies on the work of race, nationalism, and the expansion of free market fundamentalism within the borders of the US—and hence, beyond them. I use reproductive politics in the older, socialist feminist sense in which the domain of the “reproductive” is that which is not “productive” in the capitalist sense. Another layer of meaning comes from Black and other women of color feminists in the US like Loretta Ross who speak of “reproductive justice” as not just the politics of whether or not to have children, but also the means to raise them—housing, jobs, food systems, freedom from police brutality, high-quality schools, and the like.

In the War-on-Poverty sixties, government and political movements alike agreed that it was a shared, collective responsibility to make sure that these things were available to all. That was never a promise that was kept, but the power of mid-century social movements was that they could appeal to a shared sense that government and business, alongside religious institutions and neighbors, owed this to the people of a nation. That optimistic sense of what it meant to belong to a society was taken up even more robustly by decolonization and socialist movements outside the US, with their calls for land reform, price controls for staple goods, collective child care, and state-run health care and social security. In the book, I show how the libertarian wind that blew across the country with Reagan (and Thatcher) relied centrally on a racism that was about moral disapproval of others’ families to persuade a majority of people that they not only would accept a smaller social safety net and reduced real wages for all but the top 1%, but wanted such a thing—from associating government transfer payments with (implicitly Black, explicitly immoral) “welfare mothers” to the waves of immigrant deportations that followed Clinton’s “Nannygate,” to lenders who targeted Black and immigrant women in particular for subprime mortgages, and the launching of the Tea Party movement as a claim that the Obama administration was going to bail out “losers’ mortgages” (it didn’t, but that’s another story). The foreclosure crisis was a kind of welfare reform redux, but it unabashedly took down great swathes of the middle class, not just poor folks.

But of course, as the book shows, the place where the US government learned all these moves was in the Third World, where it used debt as a club to undue the kinds of expansive ways that people had imagined the relationship of its people, as structural adjustment programs that operated principally in the realm of relations of reproductive labor–closing hospitals and schools, ending food subsidies, reducing the number of government jobs, and drastically contracting the role of the state in deeply libertarian ways. These were the “reforms” that drove migrants to the US to do nanny work in the first place. They too were accomplished through racism, through a set of claims about the lazy, spendthrift Third World, and could only be secured by closing borders so that those allegedly indolent workers didn’t cross borders to get new jobs as their home economies contracted brutally. These deeply unpopular economic changes, not surprisingly, brought authoritarian rulers to power.

The second conversation that the book is, I hope, contributing to, is about the work of whiteness and evangelical Christianity in producing a certain kind of highly exportable reactionary formation. Thanks to Margaret Atwood and the television series The Handmaids Tale, we can call it Gilead—an authoritarian regime that centers a white/ethno-chauvinist reproduction in nuclear families at the expense of women’s rights, queers, transgender folk, Although Phyllis Schlafly and the rise of right-wing “family values” women caught our attention in the 1980s, many commentators seem to have forgotten about them, and are mystified by the fact that a majority of US white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Roy Moore in 2017. Meanwhile, these folks have never been closer to power, from Jeff Sessions campaign for “religious freedom” from his perch as attorney general, a campaign to ensure that US law “will never demand that sincere [Christian] beliefs be abandoned,” even or especially if that means denying the right to contraception, birth control, non-heterosexual marriage, or, god forbid, for trans people to use the bathroom. Mike Pence has campaigned for “conversion therapy” for gay folks, an end to abortion rights for women, and has worked to eliminate maternity and prenatal care for poor folks through the failed Republican American Health Care Act and his work to stop Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Betsy DeVos has begun the systematic transfer of education dollars from public schools to private and charter schools. A host of people at the Department of Health and Human Services have mounted campaigns insisting that birth control doesn’t work and most women who say they are raped are lying.

This political formation, which was launched as anti-feminist and anti-gay, has deep alliances with racist ethno-nationalisms and free market fundamentalism. It is also a profoundly transnational project, traveling first with evangelical Christian missionaries in the Reagan and Bush ersa from Africa to Latin America, and subsequently through Catholic circles. Most famously, the person most associated with the Guatemalan genocide, Efrían Ríos Montt, was a pastor in the Church of the Word from Reagan’s California. The Ugandan “kill the gays bill,” the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was engineered by Massachusetts pastor Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries, who has also been active in Latvia and Russia. These kinds of conservative Christian political formations followed the opposite trajectory as structural adjustment programs: from the United States to the region we used to call the third world. But in both instances, reproductive and kinship politics become economics and state policy. In a phrase, they’ve all become reproductive politics.


Laura Briggs is Professor and Chair of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of several books on gender and empire, including Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico and, most recently, Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption. She also serves as an editor for the University of California Press American Crossroads series.

Read her previous UC Press blog posts on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and debates over DACA.


The Tide Was Always High: Tune In to December’s Playlist

Within the history of Los Angeles, the Latin American cadence is hard to ignore: Among the city’s most consistent beats, its most influential set of rhythms and melodies, are those that have arrived after traveling through a century or two of cultural contact and musical creativity in the Americas and across the African Diaspora. . . . Latin American music in Los Angeles is past and future at once.—Josh Kun, in his introduction to The Tide Was Always High

Musical Interventions—the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA concert series curated by Josh Kun—wraps up this weekend, but you can still get your fill of cha cha cha rhythms and mambo melodies with his latest playlist below. And the accompanying book The Tide Was Always High is available to deepen your knowledge of Latin music and its impact on Los Angeles and American culture.

From Hollywood film sets to recording studios, vaudeville theaters to Sunset Strip nightclubs, the book explores the deep connections between Los Angeles and Latin America. Take a peek inside at some of the lush vintage album covers and check out LA Weekly for an excerpt connecting the dots between Latin music, Blondie, Mission: Impossible, and the Million Dollar Theater.

Musical Interventions
Event details at tidewasalwayshigh.com

December 2, 2017: That Bad Donato: The L.A. Brazil Connection—at Royce Hall, UCLA

This special evening revisits the 1970 album by legendary Brazilian pianist, producer and arranger João Donato, A Bad Donato (recorded in L.A.), and other moments of “Brazil-in-L.A”. musical creativity. Inspired by the Fowler Museum at UCLA exhibition Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis, the concert features performances by João Donato backed by Bixiga 70, and Bahia-raised Mateus Aleluia with L.A.-based Brazilian singer Thalma de Freitas. Produced in partnership with Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.

UC Press is thrilled to publish three books in conjunction with PST: LA/LA. Learn more here.

 


Behind the Iconic Protest Posters of the AIDS Activist Movement

By Avram Finkelstein, author of After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” Here, Avram Finkelstein, cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, reveals the process behind some of the most iconic protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic. #WorldAidsDay#DayWithoutArt.


Silence = Death, The Silence = Death Project, 1986 poster, offset lithography, 33 1/2 × 22 in.

In 1981, the man I was building my life around started showing signs of immunosuppression, before AIDS even had its name. By 1984, he was dead, a year before Rock Hudson was outed by the disease and died, and years before Reagan ever uttered the word.

It was a time I felt very alone, so in late 1985 I co-founded a men’s consciousness raising group with five friends. We met every week, loosely assembled around feminist organizing principles. We began each session by talking about our new lives in the age of AIDS, but by the end of every meeting we were talking about the political crisis that was forming.

Because of my upbringing, the political poster had always played a role in my understanding of social change, but to be young in the late 1960s was to be political anyway. By 1968, the East and West Villages in New York were papered with manifestos, meetings announcements, and demonstration flyers. When young people needed to communicate with each other, we used the streets.

So I proposed we do a poster about AIDS.

We worked on the poster for months, and put it to bed in late 1986. I had no idea what might happen, but I knew we couldn’t be the only ones who were enraged. We weren’t. Within weeks of our posting them in early 1987, the activist community it came to represent formed, ACTUP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).

AIDSGATE, The Silence = Death Project, 1987 poster, offset lithography, 34 × 22 in.

AIDSGATE was the second poster by the Silence=Death collective, designed specifically for the third ACT UP demonstration, a June 1, 1987 action in Washington DC. It was the first national civil disobedience addressing AIDS, which we saw as a unique opportunity to formally indict Reagan for his lack of response during the early days of the crisis, and its disproportionate impact on women and communities of color. The text crawl across the bottom of the poster reads: “54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic… AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC… By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War. What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-Whites, Non-males and Non-heterosexuals?… Silence=Death.”

When collective member, Oliver Johnston (1952-1990), was finalizing the mechanical for the printer, he unilaterally decided Reagan didn’t look evil enough, and made his eyes hot pink. I’m convinced it is the sole reason this poster was included in the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art Andy Warhol exhibition, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. 

The Government Has Blood on Its Hands, Gran Fury, 1988, poster, offset lithography, 31 3/4 × 21 3/8 in.

On July 19th, 1988, the New York City Commissioner of Health, Stephen Joseph, suddenly halved the number of estimated AIDS cases in NYC, a move that threatened to drastically reduce funding for AIDS services. The cut was purportedly based on cohort studies in San Francisco’s gay community.

ACT UP NY declared war against him. During a sit-in at Joseph’s office a copy of his itinerary was taken, and it became the basis for a campaign spearheaded by an ACT UP affinity group. Several Gran Fury members were involved in the effort to remove Joseph from office, myself included, leading Gran Fury to design a pair of posters featuring bloody handprint images. One read “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands Stephen Joseph. The Cut In AIDS Numbers Is A Lethal Lie,” and the other targeted then mayor of New York City with the text, “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands, Ed Koch. NYC AIDS Care Doesn’t Exist.”

That same year, ACT UP decided to target the regulatory agency responsible for the testing of potential AIDS therapies in the US, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Given the high and rapid mortality rate, it had become clear that any risks the medications carried could not exceed the risks of non-intervention, and that the clinical trails for the safety and efficacy of these drugs were de facto healthcare for individuals confronting the fatal disease.

Gran Fury, nationalized the bloody hand specifically for the FDA action the statistic “One AIDS Death Every Half Hour.” The FDA action was the turning point for the AIDS activist movement, leading to the streamlining of the drug approval process, the parallel track drug access and compassionate use protocols, and the inclusion of People Living With HIV/AIDS, people of color, and women on research advisory boards.


Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence = Death and Gran Fury collectives. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

His book, After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images , is available now.

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

“This book is essential for understanding the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement. After Silence will be an invaluable resource for artists and activists of all ages.”— Ken Gonzales-Day, Professor of Art, Scripps College


The (Chronic) Crisis of Legitimacy in Policing

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18, and in relation to this year’s ASC theme of Crime, Legitimacy and Reform: Fifty years since the President’s Commission #ASCPhilly

By Nikki Jones, author of The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption (forthcoming June 2018)

Fifty years ago, in the wake of urban uprisings across the country, the vast majority of which were sparked by a negative police encounter, President Lyndon Johnson charged The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to answer three seemingly simple questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done?

The five problem areas identified then are familiar now: 1) police operations and misconduct in ghetto neighborhoods, 2) police practices that failed to protect Black residents, 3) the lack of effective and transparent grievance processes to report officer misconduct, 4) the lack of clear policy guidelines to direct officer behavior, especially use of force, and 5) the lack of community support for law enforcement.

In answering the President’s charge, the report did not shy away from the topic of race and racism. Instead, the report linked the problem of policing to histories of racist violence (from which millions of Black Americans fled during the Great Migration) and racist housing policies in American cities that turned ghetto neighborhoods into tinderboxes for the urban uprisings the Commission was called on to explain and, ultimately, prevent in the future.

In addition to highlighting the role that systemic racism played in the problems between the police and Black Americans at the time, the report also drew attention to a culture of racism among police departments.

All in all, the report (along with similar state and local reports of the time) had a dramatic impact on policing. Today, America’s largest cities are home to the most well-funded, well-trained, and professionalized law enforcement departments in our nation’s history. State and local law enforcement agencies receive historically unmatched support from the federal government and a vast network of researchers and academics that supports the development and implementation of policing innovations in cities across the country.

While today’s law enforcement agencies are stronger than they have ever been, they are also, if we are to believe some leaders in law enforcement, the most fragile when it comes to responding to charges of racism. This supposed fragility is evidenced in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that the increased scrutiny of law enforcement (or, it seems, any scrutiny at all) is bad for officer morale as well as other calls to quiet (or quash) serious discussion of the ways that race and racism influence policing today.

Fifty years ago, incisive critiques of law enforcement led to monumental changes in policing. Fifty years later, it is clear that much work remains, including the need to acknowledge the historical role that policing has played in enforcing the racial order and reproducing racial inequality in the U.S. – not just in the South and not just decades ago.

Today, the potential for such discussions is limited by the fragility framework and color-blind criminological sound bites (e.g., the common refrain that there are more police contacts in Black neighborhoods because that is where the crime is) that demonstrate a resistance to discussing anything but implicit racism in policing.

Where will that leave us fifty years from now?


Nikki Jones is Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence. 


The Institutionalization of Young People: 50 Years Later

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Patrick Lopez-Aguado, author of Stick Together and Come Back Home: Racial Sorting and the Spillover of Carceral Identity (forthcoming January 2018)

When the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice released its report in 1967, much of the group’s assessment was devoted to concerns about the juvenile justice system. In this report, the commission stressed avoiding the institutionalization of juvenile offenders, both through limiting the range of offenses that would require court intervention (especially for non-violent offenders), and by taking full advantage of any possible alternatives to incarceration.Their hopes in recommending these measures were to minimize the stigmas attached to criminalized young people, and to prevent law enforcement intervention from isolating these youth from their communities.

However, this is not what characterizes juvenile justice today. Instead, much of the policing of youth crime is carried out through a system known as a school to prison pipeline precisely because of how effectively it funnels children into criminal justice facilities. Within this institutional infrastructure,the formal labeling of youth, and particularly poor youth of color, as criminals is often mandated by zero tolerance policies that require schools to report disruptive or troublesome students to local juvenile probation agencies as criminal offenders. Once inside the juvenile justice system, youth are then frequently marked with gang labels that then subject them to ongoing surveillance, punishment, and exclusion from the public sphere.

But this institutionalization is not limited to the management of the juvenile justice system either, as some of its effects may be experienced even before young people are ever placed in a criminal justice facility. The concentration of imprisonment rates condenses many of its collateral consequences into high-incarceration communities, the consequences of prisonization among them. Here, the persistent gang labels used to categorize residents inside justice system institutions (Norteña/os and Sureña/os for example) also regularly appear in the neighborhood, and are similarly ascribed to young residents. The identities and conflicts that stem from these categories then represent an extended socialization of institutional life that now informs the criminalization of poor communities of color.

In the 50 years since the president’s commission, the criminal justice system has wandered far from its stated ideals of minimizing the institutionalization of young people. But it’s never too late to begin moving this system in the right direction. Dismantling the school to prison pipeline stands out as an obvious need, but we also need to interrogate how this status quo has shaped our understanding of youth crime, particularly the need to seek out and control “gang” youth. To this end, the Trump administration’s fixation on “gang members” as folk devils characterizing Latina/o criminality is certainly not encouraging. But we must remember that criminalization is a process that unfolds locally, within the social contexts that we do have the power, and obligation, to change.

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See Patrick at the #ASCPhilly conference during a session on Policing Blackness with his paper on  Constructing Masculine Identity and Performance in the Carceral Social Order on Thursday, November 16, 2:00 to 3:20pm, Marriott, Room 302, 3rd Floor.

And hear more about the book during Patrick’s interview this past July with KZSC Santa Cruz.


Patrick Lopez-Aguado is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Santa Clara University.