Elizabeth Hinton on Policing, Warfare, and Incarceration

Elizabeth Hinton on Policing, Warfare, and Incarceration


ELIZABETH HINTON: So
I wanted to give you a sense of some of my
core research questions and my primary contributions
to both US history and African-American studies
past, present, and future. And in the broadest
sense, I see myself as a historian of
American inequality, specializing in the prism
of policing, crime control policy, and incarceration. My ultimate research goal is
to provide greater context to the rise of urban violence
in the late 20th century or to historicize the fact that
since 1980, well over a quarter million black men have been
murdered in this country. That’s more than
four times the number of American soldiers who lost
their lives in the Vietnam War. So lacking proper
context, dominant views treat urban violence as a
pathological outcome rather than a historical manifestation
or as a malignant aspect of black culture
rather than a result of socioeconomic
developments which obscures wider political
contexts and outcomes and structural programs. So why is it that in the
very same communities where police and surveillance
and incarceration loom large, young
people of color are actually more likely to die? And so that is the central
question of my work. And my book, From the War on
Poverty to the War on Crime– The Making of Mass
Incarceration in America, traced the process
of criminalization in the segregated,
low-income communities targeted by policymakers at the
highest levels of government. And it provides the
first historical account of federal crime
control policies, which amounted to the
widespread supervision and systematic
removal of generations of young men of color
from their communities to live inside prisons. So moving forward, I’m trying
to understand the conditions that gave rise to the distinct
type of urban violence, or what I prefer to call
“social harm,” that emerged in isolated and
marginalized communities in 20th-century America. The policy decisions
that I trace in my book that over time created
violent social conditions marked the first essential
step, as I see it, towards this
history of violence. What I didn’t have space to
do in that political history is to closely examine the
external collective violence against police and
state forces that rose alongside the official
launch of the War on Crime. Understanding this collective
external violence, I think, is the second step. And then the more difficult
and ambitious final step is to understand what caused
this external violence to turn internal, taking the
form of gang warfare and, most tragically,
things like the rise of drive-by shootings, which
of course are characterized by the use of relatively
massive firepower aimed at stationary targets with
little concern for accuracy and which are the most
extreme form of violence that emerged at this precise
historical conjuncture. And if you notice,
the cover of my book is actually depicting a drive-by
shooting at the hands of police during the 1967 Newark uprising. So what if we
sought to understand drive-bys and other
forms of social harm as mechanisms through which
organizations enforce contracts in the underground
economy, for instance? Or what if we considered
these major informal economies in an even larger
framework as part of the history of
racial capitalism? So I want to ground some
of these tougher questions in the policies and programs
that I discussed in the book that I think can
help us understand urban violence historically. In presenting the War on Crime
as the federal government’s emergent response to demographic
changes at mid-century, the gains of the
civil rights movement, and the persistent threat
of urban rebellion, my book makes two
significant interventions. The first and more obvious
one exposes the way that racism severely compromised
liberal social programs and, in doing so, emphasizes
the bipartisan nature of punitive policies. So rather than
beginning my story in the Nixon administration or
the draconian legislation that swept the nation during the War
on Drugs in the ’80s and ’90s, I locate the origins of
the modern carceral state at the height of progressive
social change in the 1960s, less than a year after the
launch of the war on poverty and the enactment of
the Civil Rights Act. In March 1965, Lyndon Johnson
sent the Law Enforcement Assistance Act to
Congress, seeking to establish a new role
for the federal government in local police operations,
courts, and prison systems for the first time
in American history. A week later, he
sent to Congress the Voting Rights
Act, which completed the federal government’s
civil rights package and is considered the
major legislative victory of that year. But Johnson hoped
that 1965 would also be remembered not only for the
momentous victory of the Voting Rights Act, but also
as, in his words, the year when this country began
a thorough, intelligent, and effective war against crime. And this really began a new era
in American law enforcement, one that would soon shift the
country’s progressive policy trajectory. So following the passage of the
Law Enforcement Assistance Act and amid escalating urban unrest
in nearly every major city during the summers of
Johnson’s presidency– Watts, for instance, erupted
just five months after Johnson had called the War on Crime. I really consider this the
first battle of the crime war. As Robert mentioned,
my work traces the ways in which federal
policymakers began to retreat from and eventually
undercut many of the Great Society programs that
are often heralded as the administration’s
greatest achievements. So from this period
onward, lawmakers shared a set of assumptions
about black Americans, poverty, and crime
that in time became a causal and consensus-building
force in domestic policy. This consensus distorted the
aims of the war on poverty and also shaped the rationale,
legislation, and programs of the War on Crime. Together, liberals and
conservatives consistently supported the surveillance
of urban space, the militarization of police
forces, harsh sentencing provisions, and the expansion
of the prison system. In fact, crime control
is the domestic policy in the late 20th century
where conservative and liberal interests most
thoroughly intertwine. And we continue to see that
today with the recent enactment of the First Step Act. Though other people
have made this point– Naomi Murakawa,
Marie Gottschalk, and Heather Thompson
come to mind. But I also asked readers
to really come to terms with how policymakers’
own racism limited the possibilities of the war
on poverty and, by extension, postwar liberalism in new
ways to essentially rethink the war on poverty. And this line of argument
I’m happy to elaborate on further in conversation
since I really want to try to focus my remarks
on the issue of violence. So the book’s
second intervention is a bit more complicated. But its implications are
more directly relevant to the questions that I
presented at the outset. So I also argue that long
before disparate rates of violent crime emerged in
low-income black and brown neighborhoods, and long
before the launch of the War on Drugs, federal policymakers
and the social scientists they consulted decided that
a generation of black youth posed a collective threat
to American society and labeled them
criminal or precriminal. So although the rise
of mass incarceration is often presented as a response
to crime waves and violence, my history shows that
policymakers developed and sustained a set of
law enforcement strategies that preemptively targeted
low-income youth of color with highly visible
police patrol and constant criminal
justice supervision. Following the unanimous
passage of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act,
federal policymakers began to treat
anti-poverty policies less as moral imperatives in
their own right and more as a means to suppress future
rioting and crime. So the Johnson administration
quickly combined the existing education, health,
housing, and welfare programs aimed at eliminating crime’s
root causes with the police training, research programs,
and criminal justice and penal reforms intended to
contain criminal activity. So in effect, the Johnson
administration fashioned a new liberal synthesis that brought
crime control strategies into the fold of social
welfare programs, allowing law enforcement
officials to use methods of surveillance that overlapped
with social programs– so for instance,
anti-delinquency measures framed as equal
opportunity initiatives– to effectively diffuse
crime control strategies into the everyday
lives of Americans in segregated and
impoverished neighborhoods, such as teen centers. So this entanglement of
Great Society programs satisfied federal
policymakers’ desire to expose poor Americans
to dominant values while also suppressing the
groups of, in their words, anti-social and
alienated black youth that officials
blamed for incidents of collective violence in
the second half of the 1960s. Though since
federal policymakers linked common markers of poverty
with perspective criminality, they considered nearly
all youth living in low-income neighborhoods
as potentially delinquent. And this becomes a
legislative category, a classification that grants
law enforcement officials and criminal
justice institutions greater authority in the
lives of young Americans whose families received
public assistance, who went to segregated urban
public schools, who lived in public housing, or who
participated in social service programs. The label marked
people as ostensibly on the brink of criminality. It had little to do with whether
or not these youth had actually broken the law. Essentially, the preemptive
programs the federal government developed and supported
at all levels indicted black and brown youth based
on the immediate conditions of their lives instead
of their actual crimes. So the results of this
early intervention was a statistical
portrait of crime that overrepresented
black youths since greater numbers
of black residents came into contact with
police more frequently and had longer criminal records
than their white counterparts. The grim crime figures confirmed
federal policymakers’ and law enforcement officials’ notions
about urban youth and fueled the continued escalation
of punitive force based on potentiality and prediction
to contain the problem. So in effect, the cycle of
pathological assumptions about Americans’
poverty and crime, targeted patrol and
surveillance, and the resulting skewed statistical
portrait of American crime repeated itself, fueling the
escalation and the development of crime war programs and the
racial profiling within them. So how did black youth
initially respond to the punitive impulses
and preemptive crime control policies of Johnson’s
urban social program when children and
teenagers suddenly found themselves coming
into contact with police at schools, dances, parks,
and social welfare offices? So I’m taking up these questions
in one of my current projects, which shifts in scale from the
national to the local level to examine the most widely
adopted form of protest young people engaged in
low-income black communities during the early crime
war era, where the 2,310 incidents described by
journalists as disturbances, uprisings, rebellions,
melees, eruptions, or riots that occurred in 960
segregated black communities from Alexandria to
Gary to Sacramento between 1968 and 1972. Now, following the assassination
of Martin Luther King in early April
1968, residents had erupted in 125 cities for
the remainder of the month. And then that June, Johnson
signed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe
Streets Act into law, which was really the
capstone of the Great Society and the last major piece
of domestic legislation that he passed. So this legislation expanded
upon the Law Enforcement Assistance Act and
invested $400 million worth of seed money
in the War on Crime. And that amounts
to about $3 billion in today’s dollars, so a massive
new investment in police. As in Watts, Newark, Detroit,
and other major cities during the earlier wave
of large-scale unrest, the collective violence that
persisted after the Safe Streets Act always started
with contact between residents and the front-line
representatives of the state, the police,
and then quickly moved to other institutions. So it seemed the decision to
divest from social welfare programs while incentivizing– and at times
specifically requiring– state and local authorities
to increase police presence and surveillance in
targeted urban areas had a significant
tendency to inflame the violent civil
disorder that officials had sought to prevent. So as state and
local governments began to receive their first
federal crime-fighting grants, many black residents in cities
across the United States responded to the new policing of
ordinary, everyday activities, the buildup of
unanswered grievances, and the lack of concrete changes
in their immediate living conditions by throwing punches
and rocks, as in this image, at police officers,
detonating firebombs, smashing the windows of exploitative
and exclusionary institutions, and plundering local stores. For example, in Stockton,
a mid-sized city in California’s
Central Valley, a crowd of black residents living in the
segregated Sierra Vista housing project seized an opportunity
to kidnap two police officers and housing authority officials
in the community’s gymnasium in July 1968. So after they kidnapped these
officers, a crowd promptly surrounded the building,
taunted the officers, and demanded additional
resources for the community. Soon, more than 40 police,
Sheriff’s deputies, and highway patrolman arrived
at the scene for reinforcement. But far from
suppressing the unrest, Sierra Vista residents went
on to destroy public property in the area for two
consecutive nights. It can be a struggle to imagine
the overpoliced, marginalized, and isolated
residents in Stockton and elsewhere as
political actors. And this bias has influenced
the writing of history. Even those of us interested
in forms of resistance to structural racism have been
reluctant to take seriously the political nature
of black uprisings. Yet they were neither
spontaneous nor meaningless eruptions. Just as much as nonviolent
and direct action, rebellion presented a way for
oppressed and disenfranchised to express collective solidarity
in the face of punitive state forces and calcified
democratic institutions. So reviving our knowledge about
these forgotten rebellions also has important
ramifications for how we tell the history
of mass incarceration, though some scholars
have recently argued that black
Americans called for more police on the
streets, at schools, and in housing projects. And these accounts implicitly
or explicitly suggest that black Americans championed
the politics of law and order and are therefore partly to
blame for the punitive turn in domestic policy. I think the history of these
“forgotten rebellions,” as I call them, adds
another dynamic layer and set of actors to the
story of the so-called “black silent majority.” As much as some segments
of the black middle class, political leaders,
and clergy joined the clamor for law
and order, many others who do not appear in
traditional archives, and many of whom were too
young to vote, collectively defined the legitimacy of
new policing and carceral strategies. So in addition, the
failure to attend to the voices of black Americans
across class strata and outside of traditional archives, as
well as outside of the nation’s largest cities– a crucial part of
the story of how these rebellions became obscured
in our memory is bureaucratic. So by the late ’60s,
the Safe Streets Act and the subsequent
militarization of local police effectively quashed any
nascent movement of rebellions by making them matters
of local administration and pacification instead of
national political crises. The legislation
supported police forces in communities that seemed
vulnerable to unrest, with surplus
weapons from Vietnam and training them in systematic
riot control methods. The act essentially
created the infrastructure and the punitive apparatus
to make smaller police departments, particularly those
in deindustrializing cities with a critical mass
of black residents, capable of handling
uprisings on their own before they became
spectacular enough to generate national media
or activist attention. So importantly, no less
than $3 out of every $4 the DOJ dispersed to
prosecute the War on Crime during its first 15 years
went to police operations, for a total outlay equivalent
to some $15 billion today. The states, of course,
at the same time dedicated hundreds of
billions of dollars more to criminal justice
and law enforcement, stimulated by the programs
federal policymakers subsidized and designed. A close examination of a
cross-regional sampling of these thousands of
incidents of unrest demonstrates that had
policymakers and officials took the disorders
as an opportunity to listen to residents’ demands
and reexamine the purpose and function of police, the
negative consequences of crime control strategies and
the escalation of violence might have been
avoided entirely. Taken together, the history
of the forgotten rebellions reveals that patrolling
low-income communities with outside forces and
throwing money at the problem does not effectively
control crime. In fact, it
establishes a dynamic where residents and officers
view each other as the enemy, rendering both sides less safe. The important lesson
from the rebellions that police violence
precipitates community violence escaped most policymakers,
law enforcement officials, and scholars, but
importantly, not all of them. Shortly after the
nation’s first SWAT team premiered at the headquarters
of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles in
the winter of 1969, the city’s police
chief, Ed Davis, issued a warning to
his captain school. And he said, “in
areas where there has been a pattern of
using strong physical force to achieve police objectives,
a concurrent pattern of resistance develops within
the individual or group. The result is
resistance and lack of cooperation on the
part of the law violator and the subsequent necessity
for resorting to force on the part of the police. The use of force is
thus self-perpetuating.” So Davis’s point here
offers a telling commentary or a foreshadowing
of the consequences of the self-perpetuating
tactics officials at all levels of government
developed for the War on Crime and later the wars
on drugs and gangs. And we can take
this even further. Did preemptive policies and
self-perpetuating forces that Davis described
somehow amplify crime? So in the era of frequent
small-scale urban rebellion, a growing consensus of
policymakers, law enforcement officials, and many
of their constituents came to see crime as
an inevitable condition in many low-income
black urban communities. This consensus argued that the
domestic policies of the 1960s had failed to make the poor
into productive citizens and that domestic
urban policy should focus on containing the
problems of crime and violence rather than seeking to
eliminate them entirely. During the 1970s, a new
theory of law enforcement began to emerge
from these ideas. The problem of law
and order was seen as resulting from patrol methods
insufficient to a growing population and, in
particular, a growing population of black youth living
at or below the poverty level. The solution lay in
encouraging officers to walk the streets
of neighborhoods and to involve themselves
in community life. During the Nixon
years, riot squads, tactical units, as well as decoy
and plainclothes operations in targeted urban areas
complemented the ongoing merger of social welfare services
and law enforcement programs, such as the Police Service
Center at a DC housing project in this image, which
replaced a community health clinic that had originally
been established with community action funds in the 1960s. In the context of
deindustrialization and joblessness and shortly
after Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, law enforcement
officials drastically moved beyond these strategies. So the DOJ, the
Department of Justice, under Ford empowered federal
and local police officers to build long-lasting
relationships with criminals and make mass arrests
via sting operations, reaching a new level of
preemption in the process. This time, federal
policymakers began to grant urban
police departments money to purchase stolen goods
and fence the black market merchandise to bait criminals
or would-be criminals. Authorities supported
these projects in the name of attacking
organized crime. But in the main battlegrounds
in the War on Crime, these methods quickly
evolved into an attack on black petty thieves
and came to involve the creation of
crime itself, which is a central feature of the
rise of the carceral state. The Washington, DC, police
department’s sting effort was the most elaborate
and contrived of those supported by this fundings. This project, called
Operation Sting, involved the FBI, the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the DOJ, who together
acquired an unheated warehouse near Langdon Park in
the segregated Northeast side of the district
in the fall of 1975 and purchased $2.4 million in
stolen property with $67,000 in government funds. After only five
months, the initiative succeeded in its
intended purpose to round up hundreds of
crooks, nearly all of them wageless black men. Essentially, Operation Sting
created a demand for crime by providing the unemployed
with a market on which to sell stolen goods. Word quickly spread that
the fencing outfit, known to its customers as PFF
Inc., for Police-FBI Fencing Incognito, was tied
to the mafia and would pay the highest prices in town. The undercover police
officers and agents, posing as mafia
dons, gave themselves Italian names straight out of
the then-recent Godfather film. So from left to right,
we have Mike Franzino. FBI Agent Bob Lill
is in the car. And Washington Police
Sergeant Carl Mathis is standing next to him. Kneeling in front is
Rico [? Ricatone. ?] And next to him with
the checkered pants is Bohanna La Fontaine,
with Angelo [INAUDIBLE] and Tony Bonano
standing in the back. None of these officers were of
Italian descent, by the way. But they interspersed terms
like “ciao” and “arrivederci” from the made-up
language they spoke when they played these roles. So customers furnished
PFF Inc. with typewriters, adding machines,
radios, and television sets and then went back out to
steal more items for the dons. And if no valuable material
goods were to be found, the crooks went after
their neighbors’ mail, bringing stolen housing and
welfare checks and credit cards. As their employer,
PFF Inc. provided a steady and continuous
source of income as long as the thieves
could deliver the plunder. Meanwhile, officers
built criminal profiles of their customers over
the course of the sting. By the end of February
1976, the immense amount of information the
officers collected and their desire to act on a
number of recorded confessions brought the fencing
outfit to its conclusion. The department issued
warrants for suspects caught on hidden cameras
during transactions, a total of about 120 offenders. Most were released or
received light sentences. But all of the suspects
either took a plea bargain or received a conviction. Federal law enforcement
institutions and the DC Police Department found Operation
Sting to be so successful that they planned and
funded another fencing event that summer called
Operation Gotcha Again. This time, police officers
courted the thieves and potential thieves to fence
stolen credit cards, welfare checks, negotiable papers,
and personal household items by operating under the
name H&H Tracking Company. This was a more expansive
effort than Operation Sting. And so Gotcha Again captured 141
suspects in total, many of whom were out on bail. And it also worked
on behalf of PFF Inc. So soon other police
departments in cities wanted to join in fencing
stolen goods with federal funds. And then stings
proliferated thereafter, with the DOJ
allocating $8 million for federal, state, and local
joint sting operations in 1978. The Ford administration promoted
these local fencing operations with a training film made
by the FBI and the DC Police Department and $2 million
in discretionary grants so that police departments from
Maine to Virginia to California could also make
sweeping arrests. In the four years after
the Operation Sting test case in the nation’s
capital, police went on to issue arrest
warrants for a total of roughly 4,000 people on 7,000
separate charges and recovered $114
million in stolen property throughout the United States. Officials were
particularly enthusiastic about the operations because
of the 98% conviction rate for sting-related charges
and the high percentage of guilty pleas many
defendants accepted. If bringing thousands
of black petty thieves into the criminal justice system
was the end goal of the fencing operations, then the
federal government’s growing investment in
the stings made sense even if they failed to have any
measurable impact on the crime problem itself. With federal agents
posing as mobsters and encouraging
low-income residents to steal from one
another, the War on Crime had been fully converted into
a self-perpetuating entity after 10 years. And jumping ahead
here, the use of decoy, fencing, and sting operations
to identify, arrest, and incarcerate
potential criminals would grow even more
essential to the War on Drugs during the Reagan
administration. So here we have
Miami police officers with tables full of compensated
weapons and contraband in 1988. The fact that the
stings of the drug war centered on the cocaine
trade rather than fencing made possible sweeping
arrests in the thousands. So lines between police work and
entrapment continued to blur. For example, instead of
dressing up as mobsters, the sheriff’s office in
Broward and Polk counties simply manufactured and
distributed their own crack supply. In 1988, the Broward
Sheriff’s office seized roughly 2 pounds
of powdered cocaine and used it to produce
$20,000 worth of street value crack on the seventh floor
of the county courthouse. And within two
months, the department made some 2,300 arrests
by dealing its own drug. This is one of the big
findings of my research that I don’t think
gets enough play– that the Broward office is
literally manufacturing crack to sell and arrest people
for buying at the county courthouse. For the officers
who participated in the sting operations and
the crack deals in the streets, these missions provided
an appealing alternative to the mundane and difficult
aspects of police work. In arresting
offenders, police were fulfilling their most basic
duty of enforcing the law and promoting public safety. But the operations also gave
law enforcement something far more tangible. When it appeared that petty
theft and burglary were on the rise, federal and local
law enforcement officials believed decoy- and
entrapment-like measures would help identify a
subset of repeat offenders in black urban neighborhoods
and arrest them en masse. Capturing residents under
legally viable circumstances, however orchestrated, enabled
law enforcement authorities to build strong criminal cases
against the petty thieves and drug users that would
assuredly land them in prison. Since federal policymakers
and law enforcement officials came to see incarceration
as a powerful crime deterrent at this
time, the stings offered police an easy means
to remove a population they saw as latently criminal
from the streets and place them behind bars. From the perspective of
criminal justice authorities at all levels,
then, establishing an informal economy of their
own was a necessary precaution to prevent suspects
and would-be suspects from engaging in further and
perhaps more violent crime. Yet these and other
preemptive strategies that federal government and
local law enforcement officials developed to fight crime
had devastating consequences in the cities where they were
most energetically implemented. As they unfolded on the ground
during the ’70s and ’80s, these policies transformed
the War on Crime from a politically salient,
action-oriented metaphor into an actual
violent conflict that involved the criminalization
of urban space and low-income
residents in general, as well as the use of
military-grade weapons, dangerous patrol tactics, real
gun battles, and real victims. Against the backdrop of law
enforcement authorities’ efforts to fight crime
by manufacturing crime, the collective
violence that have been expressed against
state forces in Stockton and elsewhere during the period
of rebellion turned inward– so from black Americans’
struggle with the institutions and policies that
officials developed to fight the War on Crime to a
collective struggle against one another. So how do we get from the
external collective violence during the 1960s and
first half of the 1970s to the internal collective
violence from the mid-1970s onward? And that is a tough question. So there are two
approaches that I’m taking to go about answering it. The first roots
internal violence in the war on gangs and
mass incarceration itself. And the second grounds
internal violence in the context of an
entire city suffering from extreme rates
of poverty and crime. During the 1970s,
everyday survival in many deindustrializing
urban areas depended on engaging in
informal and illicit economies. So the steady
source of employment that PFF Inc. provided
for hundreds of people in the devastated
Northeast section of DC really underscores this. The same group of youth
between ages 16 and 24 that policymakers and law
enforcement authorities labeled as chronic offenders were
also chronically jobless, at rates as high
as 40% in places like South Central Los Angeles. In the early 1970s,
lacking viable prospects, students began to
congregate into gangs, engaging in petty theft,
reclaiming public space and territory with
graffiti tags. Los Angeles authorities moved
to take a proactive stance against these youth groups
almost immediately after they organized, first in 1972
with the Street Gang Detail of the Los Angeles
Sheriff’s Department, or the LASD, came to segregated
black and brown neighborhoods. Then the LAPD’s TRASH unit, for
Total Resources Against Street Hoodlums, arrived at the
77th Police Station in Watts the following year. And these units initially
focused their suppression strategies on detaining
young residents for minor infractions. So curfew laws,
which were rarely enforced outside of South
Central and East Los Angeles, served as an easy pretense to
stop, interrogate, and arrest black and brown youth
in targeted communities. Under pressure for harassing
young residents, especially in groups, TRASH changed
its name to CRASH, substituting Community
Resources for Total Resources. With few opportunities
for formal employment even within the
service sector, youth identified as gang members. And other residents of
economically isolated black urban neighborhoods
turned not only to fencing stolen
goods, but also gambling, stealing, robbing,
pimping, prostituting, and drug dealing, employment
options of the last resort that became known during
this period as “hustling.” Federal officials and law
enforcement authorities understood the rise
of hustling and gangs not as the
consequence of failing urban schools,
unemployment, poverty, and the frequent
encounters with police that came with those
conditions, but as the result of permissive legal sanctions. [? So ?] listen to
Ford’s attorney, General William Saxbe, on
the CBS Morning News program Face the Nation
seeking to generate public support for the
administration’s law enforcement agenda. He said, we do not
believe that you are doing criminals
any favors by saying, well, he’s misunderstood. He’s poor. He’s black, and send them back
to the community, where he is going to get in trouble again. Saxbe and others’
view of black crime as the pathological result of
welfare dependency, poverty, and racism
rationalized the focus on effects rather
than insoluble causes, leading policymakers
to consistently embrace an increasingly
punitive approach and justifying the investment
in police departments and court systems to solve
social problems. In Los Angeles, CRASH and
the Street Gang Detail thrived alongside
a national push to fight gangs with tactical
surveillance, patrol, and research. And the LASD force
received a number of grants from the Department of
Justice in the 1970s to gather data on the problem
of black youth gangs, which is a topic that virtually
became a cottage industry during this period. Policymakers, law
enforcement officials, and influential
social scientists like Marvin Wolfgang
and James Q. Wilson increasingly attributed
the national crime problem to a small group of
so-called “career criminals.” In line with the general ethos
behind the sting operations, Ford officials believed
that urging police officers and juvenile courts to,
quote, “deal more harshly with repeat offenders
who are gang members and remove them from the
community” would bring an end to the pervasive
atmosphere of violence they believed was
sweeping the nation. Creating even more opportunities
for law enforcement authorities to arrest gang members and
sentencing guidelines that would ensure their long stays
in prison as a deterrent tactic offered them the most obvious
solution to street crime. The Ford administration’s Career
Criminal Program in effect established a separate
justice system in Los Angeles and
other troubled cities for the new concerning
category of chronic offender, with a total discretionary
outlay of $330 million, or about $1.6 billion today. The typical defendant selected
for career criminal prosecution tended to be a single,
unemployed black man under the age of 24. Once the defendant had been
identified for the program, they would be assigned to an
experienced local or state prosecutor, who devoted
all of their energies to ensuring the
case was properly prepared and expedited
from arraignment to the final ruling, working
directly with law enforcement authorities to investigate the
suspect all through the trial process. In Los Angeles, the Street
Gang Detail of the LASD designed the Operation
Hickory program that targeted the Hickory
Street gang in Watts using the National
Career Criminal approach. The impetus behind Ford’s Career
Criminal Program and Operation Hickory was the intent to take
gang members “off the streets,” in the words of
staffer Dick Cheney. But the targeted
enforcement concentrated prosecution and draconian
sentencing practices did not successfully curtail the spread
of gangs or reduce social harm. As knowledge into
gang violence that reinforced existing ideas about
innate black criminality grew and concentrated
enforcement grew, so, too, did gangs themselves. In 1972, when the Street
Gang Detail formed, only 18 known and
active black gangs existed in LA,
Compton, and Inglewood. And by 1978, their numbers
had more than doubled. Instead, Operation Hickory and
the Career Criminal Programs effectively expedited
the trials and sentencing of young people
prelabeled in this manner, bringing them into closer
contact with law enforcement officials and other
accused criminals. Rather than seriously reevaluate
the Career Criminal Approach and the structural shortcomings
of Operation Hickory, the Department of Justice’s
Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention went on to replicate
the program in East LA, Lynwood, and Firestone
stations, all of which reported alarming
rates of gang violence. Using the awarded federal grant
funding and Operation Hickory as the model, the LASD created
Operation Safe Streets, or OSS, in 1979. The program started with 14
investigators and four teams assigned to each station. To address the
growing gang problem in a seemingly practical
and cost-effective way with limited law
enforcement personnel, OSS teams applied a
targeting concept, selecting the most
active group in the area and concentrating all
law enforcement efforts on a small set of members. The deputies sought to build
rapport with suspected gang members by maintaining
constant contact outside of an “adversarial
context,” in their words, applying firm but
fair law enforcement, and developing
relationships based on their personal
knowledge of the field and a humanitarian concern for
individuals and their family circumstances. Unlike the CRASH officers,
who the LAPD sent directly to the streets without
gang enforcement training, the LASD required
each OSS officer to undergo a basic
40-hour gang curriculum with an additional 40 hours
of advancing gang training in order to build their
communication skills. In theory, such
training would lead to improved relations
with the community and assist in recruiting
informants who could provide strong intelligence. As in Operation Hickory,
OSS cast a continuous field of supervision over
targeted gang members by bringing deputies
into collaboration with prosecutors and
probation officers under a single purpose. So known as the Hardcore Unit,
the district attorneys who worked with OSS
devoted themselves to gang-related cases in
a vertical prosecution system, where a single
attorney or a small team handled a case
from its inception through the sentencing process. Within the probation department,
meanwhile, authorities created a specialized gang
unit to work with OSS deputies. And then these
gang-focused officers have reduced caseloads, which
allowed them to supervise probationers that had been
targeted by OSS deeply and intensely. So a combination of these
three vital elements of OSS enforcement–
the policing by the sheriff’s deputies,
the vertical prosecution approach by the
district attorneys, and the intensive
probation supervision– seemed to disrupt
informal economic activity enough for law
enforcement authorities. So within three years of
its inception in 1982, the OSS program
expanded from four teams to seven, including the Los
Angeles Men’s Central Jail. Together, CRASH and OSS placed
tens of thousands of young men under law enforcement
supervision for the remainder of the decade and beyond. And when poorly
educated, unemployed, and racially
marginalized Americans entered overcrowded
and often inhumane penal facilities at historic
rates during the 1980s, the experience of collective
confinement and the methods established by correctional
authorities to maintain control turned many nonviolent
and first-time offenders into hardened criminals,
propelling alarming levels of recidivism that exacerbated
group warfare and violence. The circumstances of
collective confinement enabled groups like the
Mexican Mafia, shown here at San Quentin, Crips,
Bloods, MS-13, Black Guerrilla Family, Nazi Low Riders,
and many other groups to form highly centralized,
violent governing bodies tied to the streets. If a suspect
remained unaffiliated with a gang going
into a penal facility, his survival within jail– and certainly in prison–
depended on joining a gang soon after for personal
protection, if nothing else. For incarcerated shock collars,
or high-ranking members of California’s gangs,
prison essentially functioned as a command
post, where many continued to direct activity on
the outside from behind bars, extorting money, ordering
hits, and participating in informal economies. The criminogenic conditions
spawned by mass incarceration also extended to the guards,
who facilitated violence within carceral institutions
and sustained criminal networks on the streets in the process. It would be impossible for
contraband, weapons, drugs, and, today, technologies
such as cellphones to enter penal institutions
without the full participation and involvement of
penal authorities. In Los Angeles,
some OSS deputies went so far as to replicate
the gang culture– so gang sets of their
own, so to speak– which fed on and
exacerbated violence. So for example, the Vikings,
the most notorious LASD gang, formed in 1980 at
the Lynwood station and openly advocated the
politics of white nationalism. As a rite of passage marking
the honor of street combat and a symbol of membership,
Vikings typically sported either a tattoo
of a helmeted Aryan warrior or the number 998,
which was a dispatch code for officer-involved shootings. Much like the gangs they were
meant to fight and contain, the Vikings adopted
hand signals, throwing up an L sign
with their thumb and index finger for Lynwood. They used slang speech
when interacting with community members. And they marked their turf with
graffiti tags, most often LV25 to denote Lynwood
Viking Station 25. And much like the stop
snitching movement embraced by many residents
in the communities targeted by OSS, with the
honor of joining the Vikings came
the duty to, quote, “keep your mouth shut and
obey the code of silence,” in the words of deputy Mike
Osborne, a former member. Within the six by
seven-block radius they patrolled in Lynwood,
a community experiencing high levels of social
harm, the Vikings terrorized black
and brown residents. They frequently used racial
slurs and obscene language during casual interactions
with the community. They charged their
way into homes, ransacking them, and
roughing up entire families, usually leaving behind
a destructive scene without even making an arrest. At other times, Vikings
invoked their authority to arrest residents of
color on arbitrary charges. And they often resorted
to excessive force, beating suspects during
routine stop and frisks with guns, flashlights,
clubs, boots, brick walls, and electric taser guns. Much of the Vikings’ brutality
occurred behind closed doors– so in the OSS trailer or
at the Lynwood station– where at one point a map
of the District of Africa hung on the wall, surrounded
by racist cartoon depictions of black men and various
inflammatory slogans. In the context of the War on
Drugs and after California’s passage of the Street Terrorism
and Enforcement and Prevention, or STEP, Act of 1988,
which made participation in a gang a criminal
offense, gangs within gang-fighting
units continued to spread in Los Angeles. So one gang of
brown OSS officers called themselves
the Jump Out Boys and essentially promoted
aggressive policing within the jails
and on the streets. So note the slogan here– “no, you can’t call yo’ momma”– and the tattoo, which is an
oversized skull with a wide, toothy grimace and
glowing red eyes wrapped in an OSS bandanna. Like the Vikings,
the Jump Out Boys earned respect
after being involved in a shooting incident. The 3,000 Boys, or
the deputies who worked in the third floor
of the Men’s Central Jail, also developed their
own hand signals and refused to associate
with rival guard cliques, like the 2,000 Boys in the
second floor of the men’s jail. And the Bandidos, who chose
to represent themselves by a skeleton wearing a
sombrero and carrying a pistol, used violence and
intimidation to demand favors of women deputy trainees as part
of the gang initiation rituals. I could go on. Until very recently, the
LASD raised questions about the behavior of
deputies, but remained largely complacent about the
gangs within its own ranks on the grounds that banning
them would be unconstitutional, instead paying out
various class action lawsuits in the early 1990s and
allowing the units to persist. It was not until the early 2010s
that LASD fired or placed on leave 12 members of the Jump
Out Boys and the 3,000 Boys after a supervisor
discovered propaganda that promoted aggressive
policing and portrayed an officer-involved shooting
in a positive light. So this history suggests
a mutually reinforcing relationship between
paramilitary urban gangs and paramilitary penal forces. In contrast to this image– and these are prison
photos from one of my sources, Colton Simpson,
who is currently serving a life term at Lancaster Prison in
California for a misdemeanor. This is his third strike. And hopefully given some new
legislation in California, he will be released soon. But that has not
been secured yet. And these pictures are from when
Colton was in his early 20s. In many senses, the OSS
gangs and the street gangs are mirrored images
of each other, except that the fact that Colton
and his cohort on the inside aren’t smiling and
celebrating in quite the same way as the deputies. In addition to the hand
signs and the tattoos, they are around the same
age, mostly men of color, with the exception of the
white nationalist Vikings. They perform a similar type
of commentary and masculinity. And they engage in a
similar type of violence, except one is sanctioned
by governing forces. The fact that the 3,000
Boys, the Jump Out Boys, and the Vikings emerged
not out of the LAPD, but out of the
Sheriff’s department, underscores the extent to
which modern penal institutions function as organizing
sites for gangs and crimes, as each and every
Sheriff’s deputy begins his or her career
at the county jail and used it as a space to
recruit and discipline members, much like the gangs. So it seems to me that
these groups, both Colton and other Crips in prison
and the 3,000 Boys, profoundly reflect
the options available to low-income Americans
in the late 20th century. For too many people on both
sides of the crime, drug, and gang wars, these options
are either dying prematurely, joining the military,
going to prison, or enlisting as a
cop or prison guard. After all, our
corrections sector employs more Americans than the
top three private employers– GM, Walmart, and
Ford– combined. So this raises questions about
power in the criminal justice system and the contours
of inequality and access in America that I’m
currently approaching, as Robert mentioned, within
a much larger framework. And that is of the
history of the development and underdevelopment
in an entire city. So I think this cycle of
state-sanctioned and community violence that I’ve attempted
to lay out for you today can be seen very clearly
in Stockton, California, where, as you’ll remember, black
residents of the Sierra Vista Housing Project had
revolted back in 1968. Today, the deaths on
the streets of Stockton have outnumbered big
cities like Chicago and the total number
of US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan
during the same period. So over the course of my
last sabbatical in late 2016, I began to assist
Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones in his effort to
reform the department. I gained access to Chief Jones
as part of the National Network for Safe Communities,
which is a program that the Department of
Justice established shortly after the 2014
protests in Ferguson. Widely regarded in the
law enforcement community as one of the most progressive
police chiefs in the country, Jones has really taken
important strides to improve policing and
public safety in the city under the National
Network’s guidance. He is the first
police chief in the US to begin a process of
racial reconciliation, for lack of a better term,
in his department, whereby officers hold listening sessions
with black and brown residents and take action on grievances. Even though police departments
rarely open up their records to historians, I’m fortunate
to be currently working with Chief Jones and other
officials in Stockton to help them produce a
history of racial tension and policing in the city and
to help assist in this larger reconciliation process. I think understanding
policing in Stockton provides a really
meaningful view into the way that crime control
measures operate in smaller cities, where
disproportionate numbers of people of color live at
or below the poverty line and experience high rates of
incarceration and violence. As I began to spend
time in Stockton and get to know Chief Jones
and build relationships with rank-and-file officers and
municipal employees, community activists, and formerly
incarcerated residents, I became fascinated by
the dynamics I observed and compelled to understand
the historical process that gave rise to them. So larger questions
emerged about the ways in which political and economic
development in the last 50 years turned Stockton
into one of the most dangerous and impoverished
cities in America today. The crime control programs
the Clinton administration supported, including the
investment in community policing, made possible
by the 1994 Crime Bill, had particularly strong
impacts in Stockton, enabling local authorities
to create a fighting unit of their own
following, of course, from the initiatives in Los
Angeles and other places. So my next major book
manuscript project will place this internal
collective community violence in full context by providing
a history of Stockton from the Sierra Vista
uprising to the present. As a real microcosm
of America, Stockton provides a powerful
lens to examine political and economic
transformations in the late 20th
century, as well as the dimensions of
contemporary racial inequality. When the Fair
Housing Act in 1968 outlawed racially
restrictive covenants, ending the type of
housing segregation that had maintained
property values in Stockton for most of the 20th
century, white residents in the affluent north side
began a redistricting process that accelerated
in the mid-1970s, when busing programs forced
the integration of Stockton public schools. So the majority white
residents in Lincoln Village promptly created Lincoln
Unified School District and do not pay taxes to
the majority black, brown, and yellow city of
Stockton despite the fact that the city surrounds
the village on all sides. So Stockton schools
suffered from high dropout and illiteracy rates as
a result of the zoning, while Lincoln
students consistently performed at the highest
levels in San Joaquin Valley. So instead of improving
living conditions for thousands of
low-income families or allocating resources
to effectively deal with the problem
of violent crime, municipal authorities, most of
whom live outside of Stockton, continue to subsidize
the construction of sports arenas and
downtown development to attract investment. Of course, this history
of racist socioeconomic development mirrors the
path that many other cities pursued after civil rights. But Stockton’s unique
demographics really give us a unique
window and to transcend the black-white
binaries that shape much of the popular and
scholarly imagination, even in my own work. So Stockton has
the largest number of Filipino residents
outside of the Philippines for most of the 20th century. It was the first to
receive bracero workers from Mexico World War II. And it contained a
Japanese internment camp. Indeed, Stockton’s long
history of labor exploitation and racial oppression
has made it one of the most diverse
cities in America. The demographics of Stockton,
where white residents make up only 22% of the
population today– and most live in
these shaded areas– represent the future
of the United States if current trends continue. In a moment of larger
national transition, my study will reveal how
economic development, policing strategies,
and public programs impact various racial
and ethnic groups in specific and
disparate ways to help us reach a more nuanced
understanding of violence and segregation in America. And I think it will
also place into greater context the social divisions
that the election of 2016 exposed. So although San Joaquin County
went for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016,
40% of its residents supported Donald Trump. And their votes exceeded support
for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in Stockton in 2012. So finally, this book will
move the field of urban history outside of the big city, East
Coast framework that has really come to define most
of the literature. So we know very
little about dynamics in places like Stockton,
Ferguson, and Flint, and other smaller cities with
high rates of extreme poverty. As the ground zero of the
foreclosure crisis in 2012, Stockton became the largest
city to declare bankruptcy before Detroit did
the following year. Violence and crime rose
sharply in both places, further eroding tax bases
and intensifying segregation. Chief Jones might
not be fighting a war on gangs and guns today
had Stockton authorities responded to the requests for
jobs, recreational facilities, and improved schools the Sierra
Vista community asked for– demanded– in a
closed-door meeting with officials shortly
after the 1968 unrest. Thereafter, the majority of
funding for low-income youth in Stockton and elsewhere
focused on juvenile detention, security hardware, and
gang-fighting forces rather than the vocational
and educational opportunities that residents wanted,
social programs that might have brought
a far greater return on the investment
in the long run. The resistance to these type
of socioeconomic solutions for the past 50-some
years informs the question of the purpose of the
National Crime Control Program and the mass
supervision it spawned might have ultimately served. The crime control strategies
federal policymakers developed proved to have the opposite
impact in the cities and neighborhoods that they
had placed under siege. It’s one of the most disturbing
ironies in the history of American domestic policy. What is remarkable is
that their lack of success and the violence and
crime they advanced seem fundamentally
irrelevant to federal, state, and local policymakers
determined to police urban
space and eventually entire populations of young men
of color inside prison walls. State-sanctioned violence
is often seen as a response to crime. But historical
consideration of violence, citing from my first book
on crime control policy and extending to my work
on external and internal collective violence, as well as
my examination of recent place in Stockton, shows that by
acting on potential crime in various programs
that received widespread implementation
in designated urban areas by manufacturing crime
in order to fight crime in decoy in sting operations and
by remaining complicit in gang and illegal activity within
the ranks of law enforcement officials themselves the
preemptive strategies, federal policy makers adopted
for national crime control programs unleashed
self-perpetuating forces that converged in collective
internal warfare and in the mass incarceration
of American citizens. These forces continue
to compromise our democratic values
of equality and liberty and the principle of
liberty and justice for all. I’ll end there. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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