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

The Books I Picked & Why

The End of Policing

By Alex S. Vitale

The End of Policing

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Chokehold: Policing Black Men

By Paul Butler

Chokehold: Policing Black Men

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power

By Simon Balto

Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Max Felker-Kantor

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

Why 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.”


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Martha Biondi

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists