In recent years, policing and the criminal justice system have come under renewed scrutiny in the United States. While crime rates have been declining, the prison population of the nation has been increasing. The great majority of prisoners are African Americans and Latinos and this raises questions about fairness, public policy, and democracy. Moreover, in many locations, policing is disproportionately concerned with social disorder, which is not the same as serious crime, in spite of such claims by police officials and certain politicians. Finally, a number of high profile atrocities that have been committed by the police against civilians and captured in video, have fueled demands for police reform. This webpage includes some of my writings on the subject and lists a number of important books written by other scholars. Calls for police reform and a fair criminal justice system are not new, but have an important history, which is partially highlighted here from an urban perspective and an emphasis on the post-1945 period.

Themis Chronopoulos, “Police Misconduct, Community Opposition, and Urban Governance in New York City, 1945-1965,” Journal of Urban History 43 (2017).

In the post–World War II period, the police department emerged as one of the most problematic municipal agencies in New York City. Patrolmen and their superiors did not pay much attention to crime; instead they looked the other way, received payoffs from organized crime, performed haphazardly, and tolerated conditions that were unacceptable in a modern city with global ambitions. At the same time, patrolmen demanded deference and respect from African American civilians and routinely demeaned and brutalized individuals who appeared to be challenging their authority. The antagonism between African Americans and the New York Police Department (NYPD) intensified as local and national black freedom organizations paid more attention to police behavior and made police reform one of their main goals. The article is available here.

Themis Chronopoulos, “Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and Spatial Regulation,” in Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance (New York: Routledge, 2011), 78-90.

This chapter, which appears in the book Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance, delineates the political philosophies of neoliberalism and neoconservatism and shows how elements of these two persuasions began to affect the political and economic landscapes of New York. In the aftermath of the 1975 fiscal crisis, the city government embraced neoliberalism and heavily subsidized the corporate and real estate sectors because of their potential as engines of economic growth. However, neoliberal reforms aggravated existing social problems including a staggering increase in the number of homeless people who overtook high profile public spaces. At that point, the city government adopted neoconservative recommendations of spatial regulation such as order-maintenance policing, which was the application of the broken windows theory, targeting people who were viewed as the source of social disorder. In other words, principles of neoconservatice criminology began to guide policing in New York City and this approach is still with us today.

Themis Chronopoulos, “The Declining Appearance of Order, 1978-1993,” in Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance (New York: Routledge, 2011), 118-146.

This chapter, which appears in the book Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance, focuses on the decline of urban order in the period after the fiscal crisis, when the number of homeless people increased, the crack epidemic devastated the populations of many neighborhoods, and the incidence of crime rose. Mayor Ed Koch (1978-1989) presided over a pro-growth business coalition that attracted working- and middle-class white ethnics to his pro-business and anti-minority rhetoric. However, his efforts to tackle crime and disorder failed. In the early 1990s, the David Dinkins Administration (1990-1993) overwhelmed by a further increase in crime, reacted by substantially enlarging the police forces. The city administration devised a strategy of community policing, which included both crime-fighting and crime-prevention components. Crime rates declined, though David Dinkins lost the 1993 mayoral election to Rudolph Giuliani because many New Yorkers still considered the city to be a crime-infested disorderly place.

Themis Chronopoulos, “The Radicalization of Spatial
Regulation, 1994–2001,” in Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance (New York: Routledge, 2011), 118-146.

This chapter, which appears in the book Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance, explores the maturity of social solutions in fighting urban disorder in New York City under the Giuliani Administration (1994-2001), which engaged in comprehensive spatial regulation. During this period, the city government began to go after minor offenses and any people who made public spaces appear disorderly with a vengeance, arguing that serious criminals also committed minor violations. As the police tightened their grip over space, they increasingly violated the human rights of aggressively targeted people who committed minor infractions or otherwise appeared disorderly. Despite severe criticism, the city administration refused to change its procedures to maintain order, arguing that the recovery of the city depended on them. During Mayor Giuliani’s second term, the city administration began to also routinely violate the rights of free speech and assembly of protesters, under the explanation that public demonstrations were inherently disorderly, and that they interfered with the orderly image of the city that the public and the private sectors had attempted to construct.

Themis Chronopoulos, “Political Power and Passive Citizenship: The Implications of Considering African Americans as Residents of Rural New York State Districts,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 34 (July 2010): 7-33.

Between the early 1970s and the late 1990s, the number of prisoners in the State of New York soared. The majority of these prisoners were African Americans who used to live in New York City, but served their sentences in upstate rural prisons. This transfer of urban African Americans to rural prisons has had profound political implications. Although state law dictates that these prisoners have no political rights, their numbers have been crucial for the existence of upstate senate districts dominated by conservative legislators who have generally been hostile to African Americans and their interests. The counting of disenfranchised African Americans as residents for political apportionment has a long history in the United States and the practice is akin to a condition that I term passive citizenship. African Americans constitute the group with the longest and most extreme degree of passive citizenship in the United States. This has been the case with the South, which for more than a century derived immense political power from the numbers of African Americans living in its territory while excluding them from the polls. This has also been the case in the State of New York since the 1970s where upstate rural districts have benefitted from the longer sentencing of downstate urban people, since prisons have provided jobs to upstate areas but also political power. The article is available here.

On August 3, 2010, New York State lawmakers voted to end the practice of counting prison inmates as residents of the counties where their prisons are located. This action made New York the second state in the union after Maryland to count prisoners in the areas where they lived before incarceration.

Afro-Americans in New York Life and History has been publishing research and scholarship pertaining to African Americans in New York State for more than three decades.