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Occupied Territory

Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power

By Simon Balto

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 2 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5917-6
    Published: February 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4959-7
    Published: April 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4960-3
    Published: March 2019

Justice, Power, and Politics

Paperback Available February 2020, but pre-order your copy today!

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In July 1919, an explosive race riot forever changed Chicago. For years, black southerners had been leaving the South as part of the Great Migration. Their arrival in Chicago drew the ire and scorn of many local whites, including members of the city’s political leadership and police department, who generally sympathized with white Chicagoans and viewed black migrants as a problem population. During Chicago’s Red Summer riot, patterns of extraordinary brutality, negligence, and discriminatory policing emerged to shocking effect. Those patterns shifted in subsequent decades, but the overall realities of a racially discriminatory police system persisted.

In this history of Chicago from 1919 to the rise and fall of Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s, Simon Balto narrates the evolution of racially repressive policing in black neighborhoods as well as how black citizen-activists challenged that repression. Balto demonstrates that punitive practices by and inadequate protection from the police were central to black Chicagoans’ lives long before the late-century "wars" on crime and drugs. By exploring the deeper origins of this toxic system, Balto reveals how modern mass incarceration, built upon racialized police practices, emerged as a fully formed machine of profoundly antiblack subjugation.

About the Author

Simon Balto is assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa.
For more information about Simon Balto, visit the Author Page.


“Using Chicago as a quintessential case study of black versus police relationships, Balto unfolds the grisly saga of police repression, one that the author uniquely dates back to the early 20th century. . . . Well-written, highly convincing, and richly documented.”--Choice Reviews

“Balto’s rich book dives specifically into the deep-seated historical relationship between blacks and the Chicago Police. Balto . . . hits every nail on the head and into the plank for good measure, dicing up facts about police brutality from the 1900s and sifting them with historical photos, quotes and stories of innocent black youth who only wanted equal treatment and better work opportunities.”--Newcity

“Offers a sweeping account of a century of dishonor by the CPD [Chicago Police Department].”--Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"Simon Balto’s study of twentieth-century black Chicago provides new insights into the historical roots of police abuse in black communities while challenging scholarship that posits the mid-twentieth century as a turning point for deteriorating relationships between the police and black Americans. This beautifully written history is a model of clarity and moral passion."--Beryl Satter, author of Family Properties: How the Struggle over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America

"The last several years have seen important histories written about the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, but what has been missing are studies that deepen our understanding of American policing. Simon Balto offers a much-needed history of policing in Chicago, clearly articulating the connection between the Chicago Police Department’s record of racism and abuse and its contemporary crisis of police brutality."--Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of Race for Profit and From BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

"As police violence gains much-needed attention across the nation, this book provides crucial context for the ways in which these issues are not new. Using the War on Crime as 'an endpoint rather than a launching pad,' Balto gives a harrowing, meticulously researched account of the way the roots of policing have been deeply violent and more preoccupied with social control than with safety since the inception of the institution. It is a disturbing history, which makes it all the more urgent. This is an important read for anyone who wants to understand how we arrived at this dispiriting state--and how we might ever possibly escape its grasp."--Eve L. Ewing, author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side

Multimedia & Links


Author interview on WORT (Madison, WI) program A Public Affair. (6/4/2019, running time 52:49).