Police Violence & Racial Justice

One year after the death of George Floyd, we feature six titles on race and police violence.

book covers of Police Violence; Street Justice; and Cops, Cameras, and Crisis

Corey, David M. Evaluations of police suitability and fitness for duty, by David M. Corey and Mark Zelig. Oxford, 2020. 296p bibl index ISBN 9780190873158, $55.00; ISBN ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2021

Evaluations of Police Suitability and Fitness for Duty, by licensed psychologists Corey and Zelig, joins an incredibly useful collection of volumes in the Oxford series “Best Practices in Forensic Mental Health Assessment.” In terms of mental health assessment, “best practices” are often in the eye of the beholder. That is why it is so important that best practices as outlined in this series, and in the current volume in particular, should be well informed and pragmatic. Of course, suitability and fitness for duty have been important assessments for as long as officers have been hired, trained, and deployed. But only recently have concerted efforts been made to standardize such assessments, to link those assessments to the field of mental health, and to consider them during hiring, training, and after critical incidents. Many useful concepts and procedures are discussed in this volume, including functional competencies and how to describe and evaluate them, as well as common pitfalls of data interpretation. The material on explicit and implicit bias is crucial to consider in terms of both the assessor and the one being assessed. This all-around practical guide will not only facilitate the conduct of such assessments but also explain to agencies why they are needed. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty, professionals, and general readers. —R. E. Osborne, Texas State University

Johnson, Marilynn. Street justice: a history of police violence in New York City. Beacon Press, 2003. 365p ISBN 0807050229, $30.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2004

Historian Johnson (Boston College) explores how the nation’s largest police force meted out justice, with a nightstick or blackjack, in the city’s streets. In 1997, New York City’s residents were appalled by police who beat and sodomized Abner Louima with a broomstick. However, Johnson demonstrates that such cases are not new. Tracing the history of police violence from 1845, Johnson places police brutality in a historical context. In the 1870s, Alexander Williams, the city’s most “notorious tough cop,” was nicknamed “Clubber” for his liberal and excessive use of a nightstick. Johnson demonstrates that the police have long believed that an aggressive police force ensures public safety, and only public scandals and reform-minded citizens have checked police misconduct. This thoroughly researched and well-argued analysis of police violence serves as an excellent companion to James Richardson’s The New York Police (CH, Sep’70). Since it serves as a stark reminder of how on occasion the police have abused their power and authority, this work should be required reading for residents of New York City and all urban historians. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. —T. D. Beal, SUNY College at Oneonta

Jones, Nikki. The chosen ones: black men and the politics of redemption. California, 2018. 226p bibl index (Gender and justice, 6) ISBN 9780520288348, $85.00; ISBN 9780520288355 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9780520963313 ebook, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2018

Although many aspects of the black experience have been documented, normally focusing on issues such as racism, discrimination, mass incarceration, executions, police shootings, police surveillance, or the school-to-prison pipeline, much less attention has been paid to the ways inner-city violence and police violence intertwine. In the face of continued efforts to reduce inner-city violence, socially, politically, and ideologically constructed devastation continues to target young black men. In an urgent need to further analyze the social organization of efforts to reduce inner-city violence, Jones (UC Berkeley) provides a powerful reexamination of the social organization of such efforts and masterfully documents the historical, institutional, political, ideological, and economic forces driving the continued battles of manipulation, exclusion, and oppression that erupt into violence. A classic ethnographic account, the author takes readers into the field with sociological lenses, exposing how institutional and interpersonal battles reinforce the social organization and objectives of crime-fighting efforts, which in turn shape the trajectories of black men. The book is vital in the areas of sociology, African American studies, minority studies, and criminal justice. The Chosen Ones is a must-read for all people vested in better understanding police and inner-city violence, transformation, and redemption. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. G. Urbina, Sul Ross State University/Rio Grande College

Police violence: understanding and controlling police abuse of force, ed. by William A. Geller and Hans Toch. Yale, 1996. 379p ISBN 0300064292, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 1997

In this important collection Geller, associate director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and Toch (SUNY Albany) put excessive force under the microscope. Police use and abuse of force is a pivotal issue in police-community relations. Contributors to this volume bring a rich diversity of talents and perspectives to their assigned topics, which range from the public’s view of the police abuse of force to an international slant on the issue. A police union leader examines use of force from the rank-and-file’s standpoint, and Geller and Toch have written an insightful concluding chapter. Unfortunately, use of excessive force remains a critical concern of police departments worldwide. Most chapters are clearly written and to the point. Summing Up: Anyone trying to understand, prevent, and remediate police violence should read this volume. Chapter endnotes as well as comprehensive bibliography. All levels. —P. Horne, Mercer County Community College

Ralph, Laurence. The torture letters: reckoning with police violence. Chicago, 2020. 242p bibl index ISBN 9780226490533, $75.00; ISBN 9780226650098 pbk, $19.00; ISBN 9780226729800 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2020

Ralph (Princeton Univ.), an anthropologist, explores the history and meaning of the torture inflicted on African American suspects by the Chicago police. Utilizing a series of open letters addressed to politicians, victims, and other Chicagoans, he argues that torture is a manifestation of a system of policing that normalizes and rationalizes the use of force against marginalized members of the community. Ralph describes this system as a “torture tree,” rooted in racist fears of “the other,” that produces a foliage of abuse and mistreatment. Police harassment, intimidation, and shootings are all leaves of this tree. Hence, simply compensating victims of police violence and condemning a few “bad apples” cannot sufficiently combat the issue. Ralph implores readers to address the problem from the roots and the branches, challenging the ideology and institutional power underlying social injustice in Chicago. The clear willingness of authorities and the public to abide mistreatment, even torture, lends this argument considerable force. While the open letter format occasionally seems strained, this approach allows the author to express his righteous anger and to make his appeal for change more directly to a wider audience. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —P. C. Kennedy, York College of Pennsylvania

White, Michael D. Cops, cameras, and crisis: the potential and the perils of police body-worn cameras, by Michael D. White and Aili Malm. New York University, 2020. 200p bibl index ISBN 9781479820177, $89.00; ISBN 9781479850150 pbk, $25.00; ISBN 9781479865864 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2021

White (Arizona State Univ.) and Malm (California State Univ., Long Beach) examine the topic of body-worn cameras (BWC) from many different angles. Media coverage oversimplifies this subject in addition to presenting seemingly contradictory stories. The authors methodically explore the scholarly, evidence-based literature to create a more holistic picture of the situation and promise of BWCs. Nearly half of the text is consumed by this systematic review, with particular focus on twenty major studies, some of which have had media exposure. The authors assess the strengths and weaknesses of these studies and extrapolate general conclusions. They argue that most of the touted benefits of BWCs are plausible. But there are many pitfalls, including the fact that each police department’s starting point or baseline for improvement is unique. Defining improvement or success, maintaining cybersecurity and privacy, and managing public expectations are all problematic. The authors also discuss the rapid diffusion of BWCs, reviewing the perspectives of the various stakeholders. The book concludes with a chapter on emerging challenges. Each chapter is written clearly and succinctly; the text is presented in easily digestible chunks with helpful subheadings. Given the climate of public concern, this book is sure to be of interest to a wide group of readers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —W. M. Fontane, McNeese State University