cover image OUR ENEMIES IN BLUE: Police and Power in America

OUR ENEMIES IN BLUE: Police and Power in America

Kristian Williams, . . Soft Skull, $17.95 (385pp) ISBN 978-1-932360-43-1

Sweeping generalizations and little nuance make self-described anarchist Williams's first book likely to appeal only to a preselected readership who will not be put off by the title and the oversimplified theme that police officers are inherently aggressive, racist and brutal tools of the powers that be. Williams, who has written for Dissent and the Progressive, traces the development of the American police from colonial times and Southern efforts to keep slaves in check. He's strongest in delineating the unintended consequences of well-intentioned efforts to reduce police corruption and brutality, but barely a page goes by without the voicing of extremist views (e.g., a New York PBA rally that became a riot against then-mayor David Dinkins, followed by the election of the police-friendly Rudolph Giuliani, is called a "municipal-level coup"). While the litany of police misdeeds—ranging from collusion with the Klan to the shooting of unarmed Amadou Diallo—makes plain that there has always been unjustified behavior by police, it doesn't prove his argument that nothing can be done to reform the force. His alternate proposal—replacing a government force with a voluntary community patrol—will strike many as naïve in a post-9/11 world, and too rigid when he dismisses, as a form of co-optation, community policing, which has enabled officers to rely less on force. (Feb.)