Book Review: Occupied territory: Policing Chicago from red summer to black power

Published date01 September 2023
AuthorMichael Birzer
Date01 September 2023
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Simon Balto (2019).
Occupied territory: Policing Chicago from red summer to black power. The University of North Carolina Press. 343
pp. $37.50 (Hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-469-64959-7.
Reviewed by: Michael Birzer ,Wichita State University, KS, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819899449
The intersection of policing and race in America has been problematic since the founding of the very
institution of policing. A review of events the past few years is telling that something is terribly
wrong in regard to police engagement with the racial minority citizenry, especially the African
American community. This problem became so toxic following several highly publicized shootings
of unarmed Black men by the police that, in 2014, then President Barack Obama, signed an executive
order establishing the Presidents Task Force on 21st Century Policing with the objective to study
the state of policing.
Simon Balto has written a timely and important book that examines policing and Black Chicago.
The author does an impressive job of illuminating, historically, strategies beginning in the 1920s and
the through postcivil rights era, employed by the Chicago Police Department, and seemingly
cheered on by Chicagos political machine, which implicitly and explicitly subjected Chicagos
Black neighborhoods to heavy-handed enforcement often involving excessive force and signicant
civil rights violations. Perhaps the underpinning of this important book is captured in the authors
observation that, Over the span of decades, Chicagos police, political powerbrokers, and social
and business elites have made choices that organized patterns of deprivation and crime in ways
that lodged them disproportionately in black districts(p. 259).
The book features seven balanced and extremely well writtenand referenced chapters. The presen-
tation style is especially effectiveand engaging. Throughout the book,the author presents rich descrip-
tive accounts of police abuses and in some cases political economic abuses aimed at ChicagosBlack
citizens and their neighborhoods. These accounts are documented using primary and secondary
sources. The author weaves these accounts together with scholarly analysis and historical insight.
This presentation style proves effective throughout the book. For example, Chapter 1 opens with a
horrid account from 1919 centering on a Black Chicagoan named Horace Jennings, severely beaten
by a racist White mob and left lying on the street bleeding and semiconscious. A White Chicago
police ofcer stands over his battered body hurling racial epithets while interrogating Jennings as if
somehow he provoked the incident. The account concludes with a description of the police ofcer
physically assaulting the already injured Jennings into unconsciousness and robbing him of his
money. The author uses this account to launch an exploration into a documented history of abuses
and the blatant derogation of Black Chicagoansrights and power to inuence the oppressive system.
While each chapter offers important insight into policing Black Chicago at various slices of time,
perhaps the most compelling is chapter ve titled, Occupied Territory: Reform and Racialization.
The chapter largely chronicles the 7-year tenure of Chicago Police Superintendent Orlando Wineld
(O. W.) Wilson who was hired in 1960 and pulled away from a comfortable job as Dean of the School
Book Reviews
Criminal Justice Review
2023, Vol. 48(3) 403-411
© 2020 Georgia State University
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