Policing, Incarceration, and Empire: Recasting the Progressive Era State

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE)

Friday, April 16, 2021, 11:15 AM - 11:45 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Labor and Working-Class; Politics; Race


This panel examines the American state and its growing coercive capacity from three distinct perspectives: the local, the comparative, and the imperial. Each perspective illuminates the earlier origins for developments historians have primarily located in the second half of the twentieth century. In the age of mass incarceration, ICE enforcement sweeps, and a massive border patrol, the immense coercive capacity of the U.S. state is clear. These papers together trace origins of patterns of policing, incarceration, and empire that reach back to the Progressive era of the early twentieth century and continue to shape the distinctive features of the American state to the present.

Papers Presented

Producing and Policing Violence: Illicit Markets, Law Enforcement, and State Power in Urban America

This paper argues that law enforcement practices and policies play a critical role in obfuscating state responsibility for violence among illicit markets and marginalized communities while simultaneously empowering law enforcement officers to use violence to enforce racial and social boundaries. In 1923, the mayor of Chicago ordered the Chicago Police Department to crack down on the illegal sale of alcohol in the city, initiating a crime control campaign that would come to be known as the Beer Wars. The announcement followed a rash of violent confrontations between two criminal syndicates vying for control of beer distribution in the city and flew in the face of Chicago’s reputation as a “wide open town.” The mayor and police officials insisted that the Beer Wars would restore urban order and root out police corruption, neither of which came to fruition. In practice, the campaign provided local law enforcement officers with augmented authority to enforce their own conceptions of racial hierarchy through processes of policing and criminalization. During the years of the Beer Wars, Chicago police routinely arrested African Americans and immigrants in disproportionate numbers and performed mass arrests and warrantless arrests among those same neighborhoods. Furthermore, the Beer Wars represented a punitive law enforcement response to a problem that the state itself had created and fostered—the problem of violence among the illicit market for alcohol.

Presented By
Nora Krinitsky, University of Michigan

Regulating the Fordist Order: Policing and Incarceration in the United States and the United Kingdom, 1880s–1920s

This paper locates changes in policing and incarceration within a fundamental reconstruction of the capitalist political economy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In this paper I explore how policing and incarceration contributed to the construction of a new Fordist order. Drawing on municipal and state records, it closely compares the histories of two U.S. cities (Baltimore and Pittsburgh) and two UK cities (Liverpool and Sheffield). Across all cases, police forces expanded, professionalized, and surveilled urban populations with new intensity and precision by the 1920s. Over the same years, incarceration grew from a marginal arena of state power to becoming a significant area of population management and state expenditure. While local policing and incarceration moved along partially parallel trajectories in both the U.S. and UK, already in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S. cities and states were policing their populations with greater intensity and incarcerating dramatically larger shares of the population in jails and prisons. To understand the regulated, managed, and planned political economy of the mid-twentieth century, interpretive frameworks such as the “New Deal Order” or “Welfare Capitalism” have missed the far deeper entanglement of the state in regulating the population through police and prisons.

Presented By
Rudi Batzell, Lake Forest College

Deported from the Empire: Immigrant Removal and State Power in the U.S. Territories during the Interwar Period

This paper will explore how deportation from sites of American empire during the interwar period was part of the national project of consolidating control and disciplinary state power over these contested spaces. The immigration bureaucracy extended beyond the continental U.S. to spaces like Honolulu, San Juan, and Ketchikan, and by maintaining and exercising the power to police migration and territorial belonging, it played a critical state-building role within these far-flung locales. At these sites, diverging political dynamics, labor needs, and the agenda of territorial officials both aided and complicated the Immigration Service’s ability to enact its vision of Americanization through immigrant removal. As the government expanded the boundaries of the nation in uneven formations of colonial control and governance, they were forced to find ways to export and adapt the deportation apparatus within these imperial spaces. American officials seeking to extend the reach of the deportation regime frequently ran up against logistical, legal, and infrastructural challenges, and nowhere was that more apparent than in spaces of American empire. There, the interests of the federal government, territorial officials, and local business interests often clashed significantly. As the number of deportations accelerated in the period following WWI, the territories were a critical site for the renegotiation of deportation from a small-scale, highly selective practice, to a more sweeping arm of state policing power. Whether officials were fretting about Spanish instigators in Puerto Rico and Chinese migrants in the Philippines or debating the need for foreign labor in Alaska, deportation figured prominently as an instrument of state authority over distant and disputed spaces.

Presented By
Emily Karen Pope-Obeda, Lehigh University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Sam Mitrani, College of DuPage
Sam Mitrani is a Professor of History at the College of DuPage. He is a historian of policing, labor, political economy, and the US State. His first book The Rise of the Chicago Police Department
Class and Conflict, 1850-1894 was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2014, and he is currently researching economic crises and the state.

Presenter: Rudi Batzell, Lake Forest College
Rudi Batzell is an Assistant Professor of History at Lake Forest College. He received his PhD in 2017 from Harvard University. He is interested in the political economy of capitalism, state formation, and the intersection of class, gender, and racial inequality in shaping and driving social movements and the political process.

Presenter: Nora Krinitsky, University of Michigan
Nora Krinitsky is a historian of the modern United States urban history, African American history, and the history of the American carceral state. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2017. She is a Lecturer in the Residential College at the University of Michigan, the Interim Director of the U-M Prison Creative Arts Project, and the Director of the U-M Carceral State Project.

Presenter: Emily Karen Pope-Obeda, Lehigh University
Emily Pope-Obeda is an Assistant Professor of History at Lehigh University. She received her PhD in 2016 from University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign. Her work centers on migration and migration control, race, and working class history.