Annual Meeting Roundup: “Policing Settler Colonies: Life and Death in North America” Session Preview

This session takes place on Thursday, April 12 from 12:45 pm-2:15 pm at the 2018 OAH Annual Meeting, and is endorsed by the Western History Association
Twitter: #AM2480

Chair: Ann McGrath, Australian National University

• Gregory Smithers, Virginia Commonwealth University
• Ethan Blue, University of Western Australia
• Brian Behnken, Iowa State University

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Understanding law enforcement strategies and technologies to police the diverse communities that constitute American society has never seemed more relevant. From recent violence against Native people at Standing Rock to the police killings of African American men and the overreliance of incarceration as a strategy for disciplining populations (or attempting to discipline convicted criminals through social isolation), it seemed to us that a deeper historical understanding of these dynamics were in order. As historians, it hasn't been difficult for us to see echoes of the past in the way policing, prisons, and extra-legal forms of violence continue to target Latino/a immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, gay and transgender people, and members of impoverished communities. In other words, the United States’ political and culture discourses of the twenty-first century echo loudly with the ongoing historical legacies of settler colonial dispossession of indigenous people, of psychological and physical violence against black Americans, and the contempt many of America’s political elites exhibit towards the “undeserving poor” or LGBTQ members of our communities. We therefore felt compelled to ask why Americans are seemingly stuck in a repeated series of cycles of violence and the apparent abuse of power? We hope that by opening our research findings to discussion and historically reflecting on important issues pertaining to law enforcement (in its many forms) in the context of contemporary discourses we can contribute to an enrichment of scholarly, political, and popular dialogs about policing in the United States.

Gregory D. Smithers is Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Posted: February 19, 2018
Tagged: Conference, OAHistorian, Historicizing Today, Previews