Research Interests

  • American History, African American History, Urban History, Race and Ethnicity, Social Movements, Policing, and the Carceral State

My research explores the relationship between racial inequality, liberalism, and policy in post-World War II American cities through the lens of policing, incarceration, and anti-police abuse movements. My first book, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD, is a history of policing, crime policy, and antipolice brutality activism in Los Angeles from the 1965 Watts uprising to the 1992 rebellion. Policing Los Angeles shows how and why the police power grew in the decades after the 1960s and how the police reinforced systemic racial and ethnic inequality in the late-twentieth century.

As a social and political history, Policing Los Angeles argues that police power was not incidental or supplemental, but constitutive of postwar city politics. My book demonstrates how the growth of police departments and the expansion of police prerogatives was the product of a convergence of interests. Conservative and liberal officials were proactive in promoting asserting solutions to urban social problems that rested on the coercive power of the state. The reliance on police and criminal justice solutions to the urban crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, in other words, was a state-building project during an era often characterized by a dramatic retreat in government services in the city. Rather than displacing government, the post-1960s local war on crime produced a punishing local state that facilitated a reinterpretation of structural inequalities as the fault of individual behavior.

Rather than an exclusively top-down process directed by national policymakers, Policing Los Angeles shows how the expansion of police power was shaped on the ground by a dynamic struggle among local politicians, law enforcement officials, residents, and antipolice brutality activists. Even as the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) authority became more capacious, black and Latinx residents and activists challenged the city’s reliance on policing and crime control. By providing alternatives to punitive policies and demanding accountability and civilian oversight of the LAPD, they shaped conceptions of justice, power, and politics in this period. Policing Los Angeles reveals how struggles around policing and punitive War on Crime policies structured understandings of race, citizenship, criminality, and state power during an era of economic transformation, immigration and demographic change, and political realignment. Following these struggles, Policing Los Angeles reveals how struggles around policing structured understandings of race, citizenship, and state power.

My second book project, DARE to Say NO: Education, Prevention, and the War on Drugs, which explores drug education programs and policies, what I call the soft power of the carceral state, since the 1970s. While waging a militarized war on drugs during the 1980s and 1990s, the LAPD also designed and implemented anti-drug education programs in L.A. schools, most notably the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). The DARE program spread to cities across the country and anti-drug messages, Just Say No in particular, became a popular slogan of the Reagan-era war on drugs. DARE relied on uniformed police officers to deliver anti-drug messages to students and quickly became the most popular drug education program in the country. Policymakers, police, and educators all began to see DARE as a central solution to drug use among the country’s youth. DARE to Say NO seeks to answer the question, why did policymakers, police, and educators across the country turn to drug education programs as the solution to the drug crisis and how and why did the emphasis on preventing drug use contribute to the reshaping of state power, the perpetuation of racial inequality, and the growth of the carceral state?

By focusing on the DARE program and the broader anti-drug education campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s, my new research explores how anti-drug education programs not only brought police into schools but also framed drug addiction as a problem of personal responsibility, moral failure, and poor behavior rather than social and economic inequality. In turn, these programs legitimized intensified policing and punishment as the solution to addiction. If drug addicts or dealers failed to live up to proper standards of behavior they deserved to be policed and punished. The two sides of the drug war – hard and soft measures of social control – were mutually constitutive. As the war on drugs developed, in short, solutions framed as preventive reinforced the governing logics that accepted zero-tolerance and expanded punishment for transgressing white, middle-class norms of drug use and sale.