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

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

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

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

by Elizabeth Hinton


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New York Times Book Review • Editors' Choice

"If you want to understand the massive antiracist protests of 2020, put down the navel-gazing books about racial healing and read America on Fire, Elizabeth Hinton’s scintillating account of the urban rebellions that engulfed the country since 1967. Collective political violence erupted everywhere, she argues, from big cities to segregated towns and hamlets, in response to racialized policing, government divestment, and economic violence that locked working-class Black communities in a cycle of poverty, precarity, and premature death. Rebellions ebb and flow but the conditions persist and we continue to reap the consequences. The lessons are clear: changing white hearts or training more cops won’t do. To put out the fire this time requires dismantling the entire state and corporate machinery of violence."
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination and Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

"In America on Fire, the brilliant political historian Elizabeth Hinton offers an indispensable account of the devastating cycle of police violence and community violence in the United States from the 1960s to the 2020s. With revelatory evidence, Hinton argues that these decades are best understood as an era of near constant Black rebellion, a pattern of politics whose history is essential to any understanding of the state of the nation, and the way from here."
—Jill Lepore, best-selling author of These Truths

"Elizabeth Hinton, our generation’s leading historian of the carceral state, uncovers the all-but-forgotten history of police repression, uncivil disobedience, and ignored commission recommendations in the wake of the civil rights and Black Power movements. In a shocking tour of towns in upheaval and cites aflame, this excellent history courageously reveals inconvenient truths about the origins and depths of America’s policing and community violence crises. America on Fire unmasks our myths about police reform, black protest, and the ‘urban crisis,’ and raises urgent questions about whether the fire this time will be different."
—Brandon M. Terry, professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University, and co-editor of To Shape a New World

"In this powerful, eye-opening book, Elizabeth Hinton reframes our understanding of the origins of the current struggle for racial justice. Focusing on uprisings in small, less well-known cities, she shows how beginning in the 1960s, biased policing sparked violent rejoinders, to which authorities responded with more even repressive policing. She insists that we think of these uprisings not as nihilistic ‘riots’ but as political rebellions with clear causes and demands. Sadly, lack of substantive progress in addressing the underlying causes has helped produce the crisis we are now experiencing. No book could be more timely."
—Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fiery Trial and DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University

"In this long overdue, desperately needed, and deeply careful look at the urban violence that erupted across this country during the 1960s and 1970s, Elizabeth Hinton reveals the sobering truth that this nation learned precious little from that period, and has paid a high price indeed for its ignorance."
—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water

"America on Fire is a book about people who get ignored by history, whose anger does not get to be righteous. Revelatory and remarkable, it is a story of how the people after the Civil Rights Movement made known that they had a right to be free."
—Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Felon

"If the crisis in American justice is ever to be resolved, it is going to take a full-scale reimagining not only of where we are in terms of policing and race but of how we got here. This is a job for historians, and there is no scholar today more insightful about this issue than Elizabeth Hinton. In America on Fire, Hinton shines a new light on the urban mass upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the “War on Crime” was new, and on those that occurred from the 1980s through the early 2000s, when the criminalization of black communities “demanded” the militarization of the police. Generally known derisively as chaotic, destructive, and community-sabotaging “riots,” these upheavals in Hinton’s account are rebellions—collective action that serves as a purposeful and inevitable response to ongoing daily police violence and brutality against black communities. This book will surely make many policy-makers and readers alike uncomfortable. More importantly, though, Hinton guides us to understand black rebellion as intentional, strategic, and ultimately necessary for progress."
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of The Black Church

"Sweeping in its analysis and searing in its prose, Elizabeth Hinton’s brilliant new work is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the history behind the Black Lives Matter movement. As America on Fire makes clear, the urban riots of the last half century were not isolated or irrational incidents, but rather part of a sustained rebellion against systemic racism and structural inequalities, a struggle that continues today."
—Kevin M. Kruse, professor of history, Princeton University

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631498909
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 548,337
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Hinton is an associate professor of history and African American studies at Yale University and professor of law at Yale Law School. The author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, Hinton lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I Origins

1 The Cycle 19

2 The Projects 46

3 The Vigilantes 70

4 The Snipers 94

5 The Poisoned Tree 121

6 The Schools 144

7 The Commissions 170

Part II Legacies

8 The System 201

9 The Proposal 229

10 The Reforms 257

Conclusion 287

Epilogue to the Paperback Edition: The Policy Cycle 309

Acknowledgments 323

Timeline of Black Rebellions 327

Notes 353

Index 399

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