Gotham’s War within a War

Policing and the Birth of Law-and-Order Liberalism in World War II–Era New York City

By Emily Brooks

258 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7659-3
    Published: October 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7658-6
    Published: October 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7660-9
    Published: October 2023

Justice, Power, and Politics

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A surprising history unfolded in New Deal– and World War II–era New York City under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, members of the NYPD had worked to enforce partisan political power rather than focus on crime. That changed when La Guardia took office in 1934 and shifted the city's priorities toward liberal reform. La Guardia's approach to low-level policing anticipated later trends in law enforcement, including "broken windows" theory and "stop and frisk" policy. Police officers worked to preserve urban order by controlling vice, including juvenile delinquency, prostitution, gambling, and the "disorderly" establishments that officials believed housed these activities.

This mode of policing was central to La Guardia's influential vision of urban governance, but it was met with resistance from the Black New Yorkers, youth, and working-class women it primarily targeted. The mobilization for World War II introduced new opportunities for the NYPD to intensify policing and criminalize these groups with federal support. In the 1930s these communities were framed as perils to urban order; during the militarized war years, they became a supposed threat to national security itself. Emily M. Brooks recasts the evolution of urban policing by revealing that the rise of law-and-order liberalism was inseparable from the surveillance, militarism, and nationalism of war.

About the Author

Emily Brooks is a full-time curriculum writer at the New York Public Library's Center for Educators and Schools. She received her PhD in history from the Graduate Center at the City University in New York.
For more information about Emily Brooks, visit the Author Page.


"A deeply researched narrative, Gotham’s War within a War tells the less familiar history of mid-twentieth- century New York City politics and policing. Emily M. Brooks offers fresh perspectives on urban governance, resistance against surveillance and criminalization, and the origins of liberal law-and-order policing. Brilliantly bridging several major academic fields, this book is a must read that will leave readers with new ways of understanding urban politics, carcerality, and New York City history."—LaShawn D. Harris, author of Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy

"An extremely smart and necessary contribution to the burgeoning field of carceral studies. Examining the understudied period of Mayor La Guardia's New York Police Department, Brooks offers a remarkably teachable and well-argued book on the origins of racialized and militarized law enforcement."—Jennifer Fronc, author of New York Undercover: Private Surveillance in the Progressive Era