The Men of Mobtown

Policing Baltimore in the Age of Slavery and Emancipation

By Adam Malka

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 halftones, 2 graphs, 17 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6390-6
    Published: February 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3629-0
    Published: April 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3630-6
    Published: March 2018

Justice, Power, and Politics

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What if racialized mass incarceration is not a perversion of our criminal justice system’s liberal ideals, but rather a natural conclusion? Adam Malka raises this disturbing possibility through a gripping look at the origins of modern policing in the influential hub of Baltimore during and after slavery’s final decades. He argues that America’s new professional police forces and prisons were developed to expand, not curb, the reach of white vigilantes, and are best understood as a uniformed wing of the gangs that controlled free black people by branding them—and treating them—as criminals. The post–Civil War triumph of liberal ideals thus also marked a triumph of an institutionalized belief in black criminality.

Mass incarceration may be a recent phenomenon, but the problems that undergird the “new Jim Crow” are very, very old. As Malka makes clear, a real reckoning with this national calamity requires not easy reforms but a deeper, more radical effort to overcome the racial legacies encoded into the very DNA of our police institutions.

About the Author

Adam Malka is associate professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.
For more information about Adam Malka, visit the Author Page.


“[Malka] provides a significant contribution to the history of policing in the United States, pressing readers to consider uncomfortable truths.”--Journal of Southern History

"Turns the conventional wisdom about racial policing in the United States on its head. Far from being a grotesque, late twentieth-century distortion of American political principles, race-based disparities in arrests and incarceration, according to Malka, are expressions of core liberal values and emerged alongside assumptions about African American freedom. . . . This argument is original, important, and timely."--Journal of Social History

"A remarkable book. . . . Malka's major achievement is to force readers to consider how today's racial disparities in policing and incarceration are rooted not only in the last fifty years, or in Jim Crow, but in liberal attempts at Reconstruction and the abolition of slavery."--Joshua Clark Davis, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"In this absorbing history of policing in 19th century Baltimore, Adam Malka uses a close case study to fill out our understanding of the evolution of policing, vigilantism, and property in 19th century America."--CrimeReads

“Malka’s book lays the foundation for our contemporary understanding of how African Americans became the primary victims of police abuse and mass incarceration. He uses newspapers, court records, published reports, and a host of primary sources to support his argument that white supremacy was the driving force that shaped policing and criminal justice in nineteenth-century Baltimore.”--Journal of American History

"Malka has produced a forceful history, one that resonates with contemporary concerns over racialized policing routines and a carceral system that falls most heavily on people of color."--American Historical Review