The postwar years were a period of “autonomous police discretion.” Discretion in theory allowed police to embody local norms while enforcing “order.” Yet this encouraged regular abuse and often evoked such strong community outrage that police power was compromised. Kennetta Hammond Perry describes how officers in Leeds, England effected and operated within a system of state power that sanctioned a continuous, public, and ultimately fatal regime of harassment and brutality against Nigerian-born vagrant, David Oluwale in the late 1960s. Elaine Frantz shows that the subjects of policing in Pittsburgh suffered informal violence by police officers which lead to bystander intervention and outrage. As Jessica Elkind shows, the U.S. attempt to introduce such western policing models to South Vietnam failed to result in security, order, or public trust in the state. Our chair, Toussaint Losier, and commentator, Drew Darien, will also bring their own important work on policing beyond national lines to bear.
Four key actors hover around these papers: the state, the police officer, the subjects of arrest, and the general public. Elkind’s paper focuses most closely on the US-supported South Vietnamese state and its efforts to win over the South Vietnamese public through “professional policing” methods, despite its lack of legitimacy with the policed. Perry explores how the trial of two officers initially charged in connection with the death of David Oluwale generated an archive documenting the overlapping powers of the carceral state and the welfare state. Frantz explores the tense and carefully choreographed moments when police officers extracted the direct subjects of arrest from the general population.
Collectively, these papers suggest how the study of policing presents an opportunity to think within and beyond the nation and to understand how the police and the policed engaged and challenged the power of the state during the mid-twentieth century.They will be of interest to scholars of policing and of the emergence of the carceral state.