Police Power and Race Riots
Urban Unrest in Paris and New York
by Cathy Lisa Schneider
Three weeks after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a New York City police officer shot and killed a fifteen-year-old black youth, inciting the first of almost a decade of black and Latino riots throughout the United States. In October 2005, French police chased three black and Arab teenagers into an electrical substation outside Paris, culminating in the fatal electrocution of two of them. Fires blazed in Parisian suburbs and housing projects throughout France for three consecutive weeks. Cathy Lisa Schneider explores the political, legal, and economic conditions that led to violent confrontations in neighborhoods on opposite sides of the Atlantic half a century apart.
Police Power and Race Riots traces the history of urban upheaval in New York and greater Paris, focusing on the interaction between police and minority youth. Schneider shows that riots erupted when elites activated racial boundaries, police engaged in racialized violence, and racial minorities lacked alternative avenues of redress. She also demonstrates how local activists who cut their teeth on the American race riots painstakingly constructed social movement organizations with standard nonviolent repertoires for dealing with police violence. These efforts, along with the opening of access to courts of law for ethnic and racial minorities, have made riots a far less common response to police violence in the United States today. Rich in historical and ethnographic detail, Police Power and Race Riots offers a compelling account of the processes that fan the flames of urban unrest and the dynamics that subsequently quell the fires.
"[A] devastating study of police officers failing to enforce law in a manner that expresses appropriate respect for the communities that they purport to serves . . . the arguments raise much broader issues about the function of the police within the institutional fabric of the modern state."—Perspectives on Politics
"Readers will be rewarded with subtle remarks, a vast knowledge of historical trends helping to better grasp the current situations, and a stimulating ethnographic work."—Ethnic and Racial Studies
"Incredibly thorough and provocative. . . . Schneider skillfully brings individual perspectives to this complicated social phenomenon. In so doing, she demonstrates that violent revolt holds value for all those involved."—Humanity & Society
"[Police Power and Race Riots] generates a depth of ethnographic material that provides the reader with a rare insight as to the plight of specific ethnic minority groups and their relationship with the police."—Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy
"In past decades, most urban unrest in Western countries has been provoked by deadly confrontations between law enforcement officers and inhabitants of disadvantaged neighborhoods belonging to minorities. Offering a transatlantic comparison and a temporal depth to events which for the most part have been studied in national contexts from an ahistorical perspective, Police Power and Race Riots proposes a novel and crucial addition to the literature on the subject, allowing for a greater understanding of the often overlooked colonial and racial dimension of iterative disturbances in France as well as the little analyzed political and social aspects of the relative calm in New York-a remarkable achievement."—Didier Fassin, author of Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing
"Cathy Lisa Schneider's comparative analysis of policing in New York and Paris examines the relationships between the state and urban minorities, and asks under what conditions do fractious relationships turn into riots. Schneider compares police tactics in enforcing racial boundaries, and argues that access to the judicial system and municipal authorities are the key variables in dampening social unrest. The book is an exciting addition to the literature on policing and urban violence, and will find an appreciative audience with those interested in urban studies, sociology, and public policy."—Eric Schneider, University of Pennsylvania
"A superb work of comparative and historical scholarship that makes a major contribution to our understanding of policing, violence, and urban riots, in the United States as well as France."—Jacqueline E. Ross, University of Illinois College of Law