Resource Roundup: Historical Perspectives on Race, Police, and Crime

Mike Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice.  The deaths of young black men–and the lack of indictments for the policemen who killed them–have ignited outrage and urgent conversations on the structural racism of the criminal justice system and the fraught state of race relations in the United States.  The following list links to articles that utilize historical perspective while participating in contemporary discussions of racism and police violence.

This brief list only contains only one article by academic historian.  Why aren’t more historians contributing to the national discussion on race, police brutality, and the criminal justice system?  Please post additional links in the comments of any articles that employ a critical historical perspective in addressing these current events.


9 thoughts on “Resource Roundup: Historical Perspectives on Race, Police, and Crime

    1. That is precisely the sort of historical perspective I’ve been looking for, but I cannot seem to gain access to the publication, even with Loyola Library credentials. Unfortunately, I think that speaks to the ways in which academic conversation is isolated from public, online discourse.

      1. Michelle

        Why don’t you write to the OAH and Kevin Mumford about it? If they knew your interest, maybe they would realize that it would bring good attention to the American Historian to realize the piece? I agree with you to an extent. I don’t think academic conversations are completely isolated from the public. A lot of professors do the work of pushing into the public sphere.

  1. Michelle – I wholeheartedly agree that the isolation is not complete. I suppose I am just impatient and eager for more public engagement on the part of historians, especially when it comes to pressing contemporary issues with important historical roots. I will definitely consider contacting the American Historian – thank you for the suggestion.

  2. Anthony D.

    Nice post Rachel. Here are a couple more recent articles on this topic from historians.

    Caleb McDaniel (The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery) on the history of policing black communities:

    Peniel Joseph (Waiting ‘Till the Midnight Hour) on an emerging generational divide in the Movement:

  3. Thanks so much, Anthony and Devin. Here are few more follow-up items:

    I’ve been alerted that the Muhammad article at The Nation provided incorrect information for the Standford professors study. It should be Rebecca Hetey, not Haley. Here is link (pay/subscription/institutional access wall):…/2014/08/05/0956797614540307.full

    Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw on Eric Garner, Broken Windows and police impunity:

  4. The police officers and the prosecutors have worked hand in glove to fill America’s prisons with young black men. They are not adversaries. They are almost always on the same side. This fact makes it impossible for a local prosecutor to conduct a fair and impartial investigation when the accused is a police officer. The local prosecutor has an inherent conflict of interest when he or she is called upon to prosecute a police officer.

    The history of African Americans is a history rich with political struggle. Whether we study the early slave rebellions, the Civil War, #reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction, the Garvey Movement, the 1960s Civil Rights and Black Power movements, or the rise of Black elected officials up to, and including, the election of Barak Obama, African Americans have engaged in deliberate political action to advance their quality of life within the United States. – See more at:

  5. Thanks for these articles Rachel and the fellow commentors. I just skimmed through the article in the Atlantic by Coates. There is a video at the end about a man who works in North Lawndale at the Better Boys Foundation. This was a great video. I’ll read the whole article when I get an afternoon free. Thanks again!

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