Focusing on municipal policing campaigns against gay men in the 1950s and 1960s, including in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York, my paper examines the institutional and epistemological politics of vice enforcement in the mid-twentieth century. Exposed to the intricacies of gay men’s social and sexual practices, vice officers developed insights into the gay world and used them to implement more robust anti-homosexual campaigns. Yet in court, however, those campaigns ran against both constitutional limits on police power and some judges’ personal qualms about the value and morality of vice policing, officers frequently found it more useful to downplay rather than advertise the cultural insight that characterized police work on the ground. From arrest to conviction, the success of the police’s decoy campaigns thus depended less on epistemic coordination within the criminal justice system than on persisting disruptions and discontinuities between what the police and what the judiciary knew regarding the nature of gay life.
See more of: AHA Sessions