The Streets Belong to Us

Sex, Race, and Police Power from Segregation to Gentrification

By Anne Gray Fischer

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, 3 maps

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6504-7
    Published: March 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6505-4
    Published: January 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5922-8
    Published: January 2022

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Police power was built on women's bodies.

Men, especially Black men, often stand in as the ultimate symbol of the mass incarceration crisis in the United States. Women are treated as marginal, if not overlooked altogether, in histories of the criminal legal system. In The Streets Belong to Us—a searing history of women and police in the modern United States—Anne Gray Fischer narrates how sexual policing fueled a dramatic expansion of police power. The enormous discretionary power that police officers wield to surveil, target, and arrest anyone they deem suspicious was tested, legitimized, and legalized through the policing of women's sexuality and their right to move freely through city streets.

Throughout the twentieth century, police departments achieved a stunning consolidation of urban authority through the strategic discretionary enforcement of morals laws, including disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and other prostitution-related misdemeanors. Between Prohibition in the 1920s and the rise of "broken windows" policing in the 1980s, police targeted white and Black women in distinct but interconnected ways. These tactics reveal the centrality of racist and sexist myths to the justification and deployment of state power. Sexual policing did not just enhance police power. It also transformed cities from segregated sites of "urban vice" into the gentrified sites of Black displacement and banishment we live in today. By illuminating both the racial dimension of sexual liberalism and the gender dimension of policing in Black neighborhoods, The Streets Belong to Us illustrates the decisive role that race, gender, and sexuality played in the construction of urban police regimes.

About the Author

Anne Gray Fischer is assistant professor of history at University of Texas at Dallas.
For more information about Anne Gray Fischer, visit the Author Page.


“Revelatory. . . . While movements like SayHerName highlight police violence against Black women today, [Fischer] shows us its deep roots in our history, our laws, and our cities.” —Sarah Seo, The Atlantic

“Richly detailed and thoroughly researched. . . . It is challenging to take an intersectional lens to historical materials, but Fischer’s monograph shows just how valuable that work can be.” —American Journal of Legal History

"[Fischer] shows in stunning detail how American policing has shifted its justifications over time to maintain control of Black people, especially Black women."—Sarah Schulman, New York Review of Books

"Valuable and necessary . . . . A powerful historical analysis of sexualized policing in the US . . . . Highly recommended."—CHOICE

“Anne Gray Fischer’s crucial book reveals the utterly pivotal role of the sexual policing of Black women in the vast buildup of police power across the twentieth-century United States. Brilliantly researched and compellingly argued, The Streets Belong to Us is a must-read for all who seek to understand the making of today’s policing crisis.”—Emily Thuma, author of All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence

"Well written, intellectually rigorous, and compelling, this impressive book tackles long-standing issues of policing and gender through the legal policies that impacted American women from the Great Depression to the mid-1990s. Its argument is historical and yet all too timely, making devastatingly clear how women's bodies, and particularly Black women's bodies, were central to strengthening and legitimizing the same carceral policing that violated and oppressed them."—Cheryl Hicks, author of Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935