The NAACP, established in 1909, was formed as an integrated organization to confront racism in the United States rather than seeing the issue as simply a southern problem. It is the longest running civil rights organization and continues to operate today. The original name of the organization was The National Negro League, but this was changed to the NAACP on May 30, 1910. Organized to promote racial equality and integration, the NAACP pursued this goal via legal cases, political lobbying, and public campaigns. Early campaigns involved lobbying for national anti-lynching legislation, pursuing through the US Supreme Court desegregation in areas such as housing and higher education, and the pursuit of voting rights. The NAACP is renowned for the US Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that desegregated primary and secondary schools and is seen as a catalyst for the civil rights movement (1955–1968). It also advocated public education by promoting African American achievements in education and the arts to counteract racial stereotypes. The organization published a monthly journal, The Crisis, and promoted African American art forms and culture as another means to advance equality. NAACP branches were established all across the United States and became a network of information, campaigning, and finance that underpinned activism. Youth groups and university branches mobilized younger members of the community. Women were also invaluable to the NAACP in local, regional, and national decision-making processes and campaigning. The organization sought to integrate African Americans and other minorities into the American social, political, and economic model as codified by the US Constitution.
The 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines established that students in public elementary and secondary schools do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Before Tinker, students often faced punishment from school officials for their role in protests both on and off campus. A rise in civil rights protests and the role of young people in the social movements of the 1960s led to frequent conflicts between students and school administrators. Many black students were especially vocal in contesting racial discrimination at school in the two decades following the 1954Brown v. Board of Education decision. But before Tinker, students in public elementary and secondary schools were not considered to have any constitutional rights, including the right to free expression. Some of these students brought lawsuits in response to punishments they believed unfairly disciplined them for participating in legitimate protests. The political activism of young people and developments in First Amendment law eventually brought the Constitution into the public school classroom, leading to Tinker and other cases that established students’ rights.
Slave law in early America may be found in the formal written laws created in metropolitan places such as Paris or Madrid as well as locally within English colonies such as Barbados or South Carolina. These written laws constitute only one portion of the known law governing slave behavior, for individual masters created their own rules to restrict enslaved persons. These master-made rules of conduct almost never appear in print and were conveyed most often through oral transmission. Such vernacular laws provide another element of the limitations all enslaved people experienced in the colonial period. Those without literacy, including Native Americans or illiterate settlers, nonetheless had rules to limit slave behavior, even if they remained unwritten. Customary law, Bible precepts, and Islamic law all provided bases for understanding the rules that bound unfree persons. Most colonial law mandated barbaric punishments for slave crime, though these were sometimes commuted to banishment. Spanish and French codes and local ordinances did not always agree on how slaves should be treated. The numerous laws found in English colonies, sometimes wrongly denominated as codes, spread widely as individuals migrated; the number and variety of such laws makes comprehensive transimperial comparisons challenging. Laws might occasionally ban keeping slaves or trading in them, but most such laws were ignored. Slave courts typically operated in arbitrary, capricious ways that assumed slave guilt and accepted weak evidence to prove it. Runaways might, if they joined strong maroon communities (bands of runaways living together), end up enforcing the laws against slave flight, much as slave catchers and slave patrols did. Laws to prevent manumission by a master frequently required the posting of bonds to prevent those freed from becoming a financial burden on their communities. Later manumission laws often mandated the physical departure of those freed, creating emotional turmoil for the newly emancipated.
Simon Balto and Max Felker-Kantor
The relationship between policing and crime in American history has been tenuous at best. In fact, policing and crime are imperfectly correlated. Crime is understood as a socially constructed category that varies over time and space. Crime in the American city was produced by the actions of police officers on the street and the laws passed by policymakers that made particular behaviors, often ones associated with minoritized people, into something called “crime.” Police create a statistical narrative about crime through the behaviors and activities they choose to target as “crime.” As a result, policing the American city has functionally reinforced the nation’s dominant racial and gender hierarchies as much as (or more so) than it has served to ensure public safety or reduce crime. Policing and the production of crime in the American city has been broadly shaped by three interrelated historical processes: racism, xenophobia, and capitalism. As part of these processes, policing took many forms across space and time. From origins in the slave patrols in the South, settler colonial campaigns of elimination in the West, and efforts to put down striking workers in the urban North, the police evolved into the modern, professional forces familiar to many Americans in the early 21st century. The police, quite simply, operated to uphold a status quo based on unequal and hierarchical racial, ethnic, and economic orders. Tracing the history of policing and crime from the colonial era to the present demonstrates the ways that policing has evolved through a dialectic of crisis and reform. Moments of protest and unrest routinely exposed the ways policing was corrupt, violent, and brutal, and did little to reduce crime in American cities. In turn, calls for reform produced “new” forms of policing (what was often referred to as professionalization in the early and mid-20th century and community policing in the 21st). But these reforms did not address the fundamental role or power of police in society. Rather, these reforms often expanded it, producing new crises, new protests, and still more “reforms,” in a seemingly endless feedback loop. From the vantage point of the 21st century, this evolution demonstrates the inability of reform or professionalization to address the fundamental role of police in American society. In short, it is a history that demands a rethinking of the relationship between policing and crime, the social function of the police, and how to achieve public safety in American cities.