Books: Non-Fiction

America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s

Book - Non-Fiction. By Elizabeth Hinton. 2021. The rebellion and movement for Black lives of 2020 had clear precursors, this book explains, and any attempt to understand that crisis requires a reckoning with the recent past.
Time Periods: 20th Century, 21st Century, 2001 - Present
Themes: African American, Criminal Justice & Incarceration, Civil Rights Movements, Organizing

What began in spring 2020 as local protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police quickly exploded into a massive nationwide movement. To many observers, the protests appeared to be without precedent in their scale and persistence. Yet, as the acclaimed historian Elizabeth Hinton demonstrates in America on Fire, the events of 2020 had clear precursors–and any attempt to understand our current crisis requires a reckoning with the recent past.

Even in the aftermath of Donald Trump, many Americans consider the decades since the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1960s as a story of progress toward greater inclusiveness and equality. Hinton uncovers an altogether different history, taking us on a troubling journey from Detroit in 1967 and Miami in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1992 and beyond to chart the persistence of structural racism and one of its primary consequences, the so-called urban riot.

Hinton offers a critical corrective: the word riot was nothing less than a racist trope applied to events that can only be properly understood as rebellions — explosions of collective resistance to an unequal and violent order. As she suggests, if rebellion and the conditions that precipitated it never disappeared, the optimistic story of a post-Jim Crow United States no longer holds. Hinton draws on exclusive sources to uncover a previously hidden geography of violence in smaller American cities, from York, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois, to Stockton, California.

The central lesson from these eruptions — that police violence invariably leads to community violence — continues to escape policymakers, who respond by further criminalizing entire groups instead of addressing underlying socioeconomic causes. The results are the hugely expanded policing and prison regimes that shape the lives of so many Americans today. Presenting a new framework for understanding our nation’s enduring strife, America on Fire is also a warning: rebellions will surely continue unless police are no longer called on to manage the consequences of dismal conditions beyond their control, and until an oppressive system is finally remade on the principles of justice and equality.

ISBN: 9781631498909 | Published by Liveright Publishing Corporation

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