Sunday Reading: America’s Policing Crisis

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, President Biden called on legislators to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, saying, “We have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal-justice system.”

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This week, in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin verdict, in Minneapolis, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about the history of race and policing in America. In “How Police Unions Fight Reform,” William Finnegan writes about the troubling powers of N.Y.P.D. unions. In “Busted in New York,” the essayist and novelist Darryl Pinckney recounts his arrest on a minor drug charge on the Lower East Side. (“Jail was going to get me over my fear of saying the obvious, because there was no way to ignore all morning the fact that everyone in the cell was either black or Hispanic.”) In “How a Deadly Police Force Ruled a City,” Shane Bauer examines the failure to hold officers accountable in Vallejo, California, where cops are responsible for a higher rate of killings than all but one of the nation’s hundred largest police forces. Finally, in “The Invention of the Police,” Jill Lepore explores the evolution of modern urban policing and its connection to American racism. (“To say that many good and admirable people are police officers, dedicated and brave public servants, which is, of course, true, is to fail to address both the nature and the scale of the crisis and the legacy of centuries of racial injustice.”) These pieces offer a kaleidoscopic and penetrating look at a central crisis in American life.

—David Remnick


Photograph courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Why did American policing get so big, so fast? The answer, mainly, is slavery.


Illustration by R. Gregory Christie

A nighttime walk leads to trouble.


Activists insist that police departments must change. For half a century, New York City’s P.B.A. has successfully resisted such demands.


After years of impunity, the police in Vallejo, California, took over the city’s politics and threatened its people.

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