The best books on race and policing

Clarence Taylor Author Of Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City
By Clarence Taylor

Who am I?

I am Professor Emeritus of History at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  I grew up in Brooklyn, New York during the turbulent decades of the 1950s and 1960s where there were numerous social protest movements against the War in Vietnam, school segregation, and police brutality.  My books explore the men and women who battled institutional racism.

I wrote...

Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

By Clarence Taylor,

Book cover of Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City

What is my book about?

I maintain that those in power have not taken the initiative to stop police brutality. Instead, the victims of police brutality have embarked on a crusade to stop police domination of black people. Groups that have not received enough attention have led the campaign to end police abuse.

Fight the Power looks at the efforts of the black press, especially the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s the People’s Voice, in the struggle to end police brutality. I argue that at the heart of police brutality is the amount of power police have over citizens, thus, reform measures, such as racial sensitivity training, diversity training, body cameras, and community policing will not work. A sure way of eliminating police brutality is to reduce the power of the police and to find ways to allow citizens to determine how police operate in their communities

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The books I picked & why

The End of Policing

By Alex S. Vitale,

Book cover of The End of Policing

Why did I love this book?

Vitale is not calling for the abolition of police departments. He details the dramatic growth of these departments and notes police in America use their weapons more than any other police force of developed democracies. Blacks are disproportionately the victims of police killings. Policies like racial profiling and a “warrior mentality” on the part of cops are major reasons why police assault on black people is so widespread.

Police must take on a number of tasks in which they are not qualified to do, such as dealing with the mentally ill and homeless population. In addition, Vitale writes about a number of failed policies, including managing sex workers, the war on drugs, and suppressive measures towards gangs.

By Alex S. Vitale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The End of Policing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The problem is not overpolicing, it is policing itself Recent years have seen an explosion of protest and concern about police brutality and repression--especially after months of violent protest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the police killing of Mike Brown. Much of the conversation has focused on calls for enhancing police accountability, increasing police diversity, improving police training, and emphasizing community policing. Unfortunately, none of these is likely to produce results, because they fail to get at the core of the problem. The problem is policing itself--the dramatic expansion of the police role over the last 40 years.

This book…

Book cover of Chokehold: Policing Black Men

Why did I love this book?

Butler argues that the large increase of police assaults and killings of black men is not a breakdown in law enforcement or the activities of a few rogue cops. The system is doing what it has been designed to do. Police hurt black men, according to the author because “that is what they are paid to do.” Butler maintains that the Chokehold “is a way of understanding how American inequality is imposed.” It is a tool of oppression. One outcome of the Chokehold is mass incarceration. The construction of the thug is a means of justifying the Chokehold. Butler traces the “Ape” or “dehumanization” thesis.

The book contains loads of data showing how in city after city black people are disproportionately targeted by police officers. Programs such as Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper ignores women and plays into perpetuating stereotypes of black men as the primary victims of racism.

By Paul Butler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chokehold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the 2018 National Council on Crime & Delinquency's Media for a Just Society Awards

Nominated for the 49th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction)

A 2017 Washington Post Notable Book

A Kirkus Best Book of 2017

"Butler has hit his stride. This is a meditation, a sonnet, a legal brief, a poetry slam and a dissertation that represents the full bloom of his early thesis: The justice system does not work for blacks, particularly black men."
-The Washington Post

"The most readable and provocative account of the consequences of the war on drugs since Michelle Alexander's…

Book cover of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power

Why did I love this book?

Balto explores how the Chicago police, from 1910 to the 1970s “built an intricate, powerful carceral machinery whose most constitutive feature was an extreme racial selectivity.” Black people are over-policed and under-protected. Balto focuses on policing and anti-blackness. Black Chicagoans’ complaints of torture and “aggressive prevention patrol” by the police went on for decades and was essentially ignored by those in power. Balto tells the story of a racially repressive police force. In two decades, from 1945 to 1965 the Chicago police grew more punitive as the department doubled in size. Black communities were targeted by the CPD, in large part, because black was equated with criminality.

By Simon Balto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Occupied Territory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In July 1919, an explosive race riot forever changed Chicago. For years, black southerners had been leaving the South as part of the Great Migration. Their arrival in Chicago drew the ire and scorn of many local whites, including members of the city's political leadership and police department, who generally sympathized with white Chicagoans and viewed black migrants as a problem population. During Chicago's Red Summer riot, patterns of extraordinary brutality, negligence, and discriminatory policing emerged to shocking effect. Those patterns shifted in subsequent decades, but the overall realities of a racially discriminatory police system persisted.

In this history of…

Book cover of Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD

Why did I love this book?

Between 1960 and the 1990s, the budget, size, and power of LAPD dramatically grew in spite of attempts to use regulatory powers of the government to control the police. “Racial targeting was central to the LAPD’s expansion despite twenty years of liberal leadership of the city. The problem in LA, similar to most urban centers, was a reliance on the police to manage social problems that were “rooted in Los Angeles’ history of segregation, inequality, and poverty.” But such an approach “led to disciplinary practices of surveillance, harassment, and arrest that criminalized and excluded black and Latino/a residents.”

Black Los Angeles citizens were seen by the police as threats to public safety and not deemed worthy of the protection of the law. In its battle against crime, social movements, and drug gangs, the Los Angeles Police Department was able to legitimate their authority to use coercive power to control the streets. Thus, police power became constitutive of city politics after WWII. According to the author, the LAPD used its own crime statistics to argue successfully for greater “resources and authority.”

By Max Felker-Kantor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Policing Los Angeles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts erupted in violent protest in August 1965, the uprising drew strength from decades of pent-up frustration with employment discrimination, residential segregation, and poverty. But the more immediate grievance was anger at the racist and abusive practices of the Los Angeles Police Department. Yet in the decades after Watts, the LAPD resisted all but the most limited demands for reform made by activists and residents of color, instead intensifying its power.

In Policing Los Angeles, Max Felker-Kantor narrates the dynamic history of policing, anti-police abuse movements, race, and politics in Los Angeles from the…

Book cover of To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

Why did I love this book?

Biondi does not just examine the little-known history of police brutality against black New Yorkers. It is a history of how black New Yorkers, over decades, challenged abuse at the hands of “New York’s finest.” The black challenge to police brutality has been fierce, especially as New York City’s black communities grew. But the anti-police brutality campaign has also been extremely difficult.

By Martha Biondi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Stand and Fight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of the civil rights movement typically begins with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and culminates with the 1965 voting rights struggle in Selma. But as Martha Biondi shows, a grassroots struggle for racial equality in the urban North began a full ten years before the rise of the movement in the South. This story is an essential first chapter, not only to the southern movement that followed, but to the riots that erupted in northern and western cities just as the civil rights movement was achieving major victories.

Biondi tells the story of African Americans who mobilized…

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