Over the last few weeks we have zoomed in from a big picture of the nature of American policing to the particular moment in time and space that generated so much interest on the part of scholars in the history and sociology of policing: the crisis in policing of late 1960s. As Americans contested the fundamental terms of their national compact, policing moved to the center of politics. It was both object and subject of these politics. On the one hand, participants in the era’s uprisings directed their anger at police forces and sought to change police practice; on the other, police officers sought to defend their interests by becoming active in politics. Although there were deep divisions amongst police rank-and-file, and between patrol officers and police leaders, the police-in-politics most often allied with conservatives in using rising crime and disorder as way to rearticulate demands for equality.
The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice’s Task Force Report: The Police was the most important effort of liberals to respond to the police crisis at the federal level. In the face of radical challenges from Black Power activists and New Left radical, and the emerging demands of conservatives for law and order, the Task Force Report sought a middle ground that could incorporate both demands for civil rights and for greater order. That it laid out a substantial agenda for reforming the American police is uncontestable. But what kind of agenda was it?
Your assignment is to write a five page paper (1500-1800 words) that makes an argument about the meaning or significance of some aspect of the Task Force Report, in light of broader historical writing on this moment of crisis. As you know from our previous assignment, the argument should be contestable, reasonable, specific, significant, and interpretive. (Please see this TWP Handout on “Developing a Central Claim,” or talk to me, if you remain confused about the meaning of those terms.) As always, your argument will be most interesting and persuasive if it is made in response to a genuine inquiry into the Report and its meaning.
There are a wide variety of questions that you might ask, which include:
- What background factors of history or politics shape the Report‘s perspective on the issues at hand?
- How do the Report‘s authors characterize the problems they addressed?
- What assumptions make possible their framings of the problems and their proposed solutions?
- What other solutions might the Task Force have proposed? (What solutions were others proposing at the time?)
- What ideas about institutional or social change, or about the police and their role, did the Task Force Report rely on in asking its questions and coming to its conclusions?
- Did the proposed solutions fit the declared problems? If not, what constraints influenced the authors to choose their proposed solutions? Are they explicitly dealt with in the text or do they go unmentioned?
- How were the framings of the problems and the solutions offered different from or consonant with prior ideas about policing? What changes or continuities do they reflect? (The same question could be asked about succeeding ideas.)
- Were these solutions implemented and did they work? Why or why not? How did the dynamic changes of American history and politics over the 1970s and 1980s shape implementation of the Report‘s ideas?
This type of interpretive essay is the bread and butter work of historians. The primary purpose is for you to use your close examination of the Task Force Report to help us better understand the broader moment (in which I would also include prior and subsequent history) in which it was written. The understanding that you advance might not relate specifically to the police, but rather may be about how the questions raised about policing are a window into larger ideas of politics, society, and social change. Or, you may use the broader history to make specific claims about the meaning of the Report.
One example of this kind of analysis that we have encountered is the essay by Daniel Geary, “What the Kerner Report Got Wrong About Policing.” Geary’s essay first accounts for how the Kerner Commission portrayed the police role in the uprisings, and then argues that they missed a particularly essential aspect of police violence. His argument that despite the Kerner Commission’s willingness to recognize police as “‘symbols’ of ‘white power, white racism, and white repression,’ the report downplayed the significant ways in which police were not merely symbols of a fatal problem but its agents.” In so doing, they missed a fundamental dimension of the problem of policing: that police were an active agent in fomenting urban unrest not a passive recipient of it. Reframing the police role as pro-active, rather than responsive, fundamentally changes our conception of the urban uprisings.
In Writing Project 1, I asked you to make an argument about our texts rather than the world. This time, we will do secondary research that will help you to be better prepared to advance claims about the world. You should find and use a minimum of two secondary sources (outside of our class materials) to support your argument. These secondary sources should be academic articles published in peer-reviewed journals or chapters from books published by university presses. You should also feel free to use our earlier readings on the nature of American policing to help set up your inquiry and to support your argument. In writing your paper, there are a variety of ways in which you might use secondary sources: to give your reader a better understanding of aspects of the history that the Report does an inadequate job explaining; to bring a critical theoretical perspective to the Report; to support particular points of argumentation; to learn how things were before or after the Report; or, many other ways not listed here. To assist you in your secondary research, we will be having a library research session with our course librarian, Hannah Rozear, on Wednesday, March 1, in our classroom at class time.
A successful essay will:
- be the product of a genuine inquiry that seeks to advance our understanding of the past
- advance an argument about the meaning or significance of some aspect of the Task Force Report that is specific, contestable, debatable, interpretive, and significant
- support the argument using evidence drawn the Task Force Report
- support the argument using two or more academic articles or book chapters that you have located, in addition to the secondary sources we have used for class
- have a structure that is appropriate to its argument
- engage the reader with lively and precise prose
- demonstrate an awareness of its significance by at least gesturing to larger questions of importance
Writing Project 2 will involve the following steps:
- Read and discuss assignment. Monday, February 27.
- Read (or re-read) the section of the report about which you want to write. Identify an idea, argument, or reform in the text that interests you. Think about what you do and don’t know about it and what kinds of questions that you might ask about it. Be prepared to discuss your ideas and begin researching them in our session with our librarian. Wednesday, March 1.
- Come to class with a clearly framed inquiry and the articles that you will be using to help you answer it. Set up a time to meet with our embedded writing consultants, between March 20 and March 27. Monday, March 6.
- Rough Draft Project 2 due on Box and a paper copy in class. Come to class prepared to workshop your fellow students work. Use the Peer Response Template in the Writing Project 2, Draft 1, Peer Response folder for your comments. Wednesday, March 8.
- Compose a summary of the feedback given to you by your classmates and what you find most useful or insightful about their comments, or from your own experience of doing peer review of their papers. Use the Reflection Template in the Writing Project 2, Draft 1, Reflection folder for your comments. Upload to Box before 11:59pm on Friday, March 10.
- Final draft Project 2 due on Box and a paper copy in class. Monday, March 27.