Next Projects

DEEP COVER: Surveillance and the State-Building Origins of American Carcerality

Thanks to a growing body of scholarship we now know quite a bit about the origins and impact of the carceral state, but two critically important gaps remain in our study of this apparatus. Firstly, we have failed to explore the ways in which carceral elements of the American state may well have been foundational to the state building project writ large in the wake of WW II. Secondly, we have not examined what expanding the American carceral state in the latter third of the 20th c. meant for the legitimacy of the American state, nor for fate of the American democracy itself, as the postwar period progressed.

This omission matters, particularly to how we understand the relationship between the punitive carceral state and the democratic American state. In short, if the building of the American carceral state was not only rooted in, but indeed foundational to, the constructing and legitimizing the American state itself after WW II–and thus the American state depends upon a robust carceral state for its legitimacy–then the nation’s carceral apparatus would necessarily expand as that state matures and, as important, the full fruits of democracy might well be foundationally and structurally impossible to realize.

Via a history of surveillance in the United States, Deep Cover: Surveillance and the State Building Origins of American Carcerality, will examine the extent to which in the wake of WW II–and in the face of Cold War pressures abroad as well as Civil Rights pressures at home–the construction of a stable American state depended upon monitoring, neutralizing, containing, and even eliminating, threats to its legitimacy. It hypothesizes that the legitimacy and stability of the American nation state was structurally dependent upon a robust carceral state. As important, it posits that the reverse was equally true—that the seemingly limitless expansion American of the carceral state after WW II depended upon the stability and foundational legitimacy of the American state writ large.

Ultimately, then, this study, calls for scholars to disentangle the process of postwar state building in the U.S. from the principles of democracy that American politicians publicly espoused, and the citizenry remained inspired by, even as the nation grew less democratic and more punitive over time.

BULLET AND BURN: The Philadelphia Move Bombing and its Fallout 

 You’ve heard of Kent State, Attica, and Wounded Knee…But then there was MOVE…

Drawing from never-before-seen records, and delving deeply into the history of the 1970s and 1980s in the city of Philadelphia and the nation writ large, this book offers readers an explosive new look at one of the most lethal confrontations that has ever taken place between the police and black urbanites in American history.

After being served an eviction notice many months earlier, in 1978 black residents of a neighborhood in Philadelphia, members of a group called MOVE, engaged in a prolonged stand off with local police that ended with one officer shot to death as well as the injury of other policemen, firefighters, MOVE residents, and neighbor witnesses.

Although they vehemently denied responsibility for the death of the officer, in 1980 nine MOVE members were found guilty and were given to 30-100-year sentences after their dramatic 19-week, non-jury, trial. Photographic evidence of that ugly confrontation between police and MOVE in 1978 made clear that one of those sent to prison, Delbert Africa, had been savagely beaten by officers. None of the three officers accused of that assault were convicted of a crime.

Seven years after the 1978 shootout, and with much fascinating but little-known history in the interim, the Philadelphia Police Department engaged in yet another eviction confrontation with members of MOVE, this one ending in the literal bombing of the MOVE house, and the subsequent burning to the ground of the entire black neighborhood where that house sat.

On May 13 1985, law enforcement dropped powerful explosives on the West Philly rowhouse that MOVE members refused to relinquish, and as it soon became an inferno with flames engulfing every surrounding structure, thirteen people, including six children, cowered in basement choking on the thick smoke.

They were too fearful to come out because so many police guns were trained on the only door from which they could exit. Eleven of those people died that day, including five children.

The cost of this block-wide carnage, where 65 houses quickly were reduced to ashes, topped 28 million dollars.

Despite three major investigations–an extensive city inquiry, a grand jury investigation, and a probe by the U.S. Justice Department, the only person to face criminal indictment for the carnage on Osage Ave. was the sole adult survivor of the bombing, Ramona Africa. A judge sentenced her to seven years behind bars for Riot and Conspiracy.

The dramatic events of 1978 and 1985 chronicled in this book had deep origins. They were, at bottom, rooted in the ever-simmering tension between the police and the black community that plagued the city of Philadelphia throughout the 1950s and 1960s and that eventually led black city residents to explode in a massive urban uprising in 1964.

Such tension only escalated thereafter as the national War on Crime and War on Drugs came to Philadelphia with a vengeance. Thanks to ever-more aggressive policing of Philly’s black neighborhoods, and eventually with the ugly clash between the police and MOVE members that made headlines in 1978, and then the shocking 1985 conflagration at a MOVE house in West Philly that left over 250 black city residents homeless and led to the agonizing deaths of nearly a dozen others, this city was indelibly and permanently scarred.

BULLET AND BURN renders this little known historic event both powerful and present. This book will take readers inside of West Philly houses of black MOVE members and their families both on 33rd st. in 1978, and on Osage Avenue in 1985, and they will experience all that happened in those houses as they felt it first-hand. It also will bring readers into the homes of the overwhelmingly white police officers who lived on the Northeast side of the city, as well as into the Roundhouse–police headquarters downtown–to experience this period of Philadelphia’s history and these ugly events of the 1970s and 1980s as they and their families did as well.

Readers will then find themselves in the office of law-and-order white Mayor Frank Rizzo, and later in that of Philly’s first black Mayor Wilson Goode whose initial popularity stemmed in no small part from his commitment to reign in abusive policing but who, notably, found himself the city official most condemned for the police assault on the MOVE house.

Readers will also get to listen in on private meetings that were held behind closed doors in the Pennsylvania State House as well as in the White House in Washington, DC—meetings that reveal a great deal about the origins of racial tension and injustice in this city and in America as a whole. And finally, readers will spend time in the courthouses, jails and prisons of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania where only some were held accountable for these traumatic clashes that scarred that city and state so deeply.

But this decades-long story of ugly and racialized confrontation–one in which there are few heroes, many victims, where the lines between good and evil too often are blurred, and where equal justice under the law regularly is denied–will give readers new insight into far more than this local tragedy.

BULLET AND BURN ultimately tells a story of politics, policing, and black America between 1970 and 1990 that resonates well beyond Philadelphia and, in doing so, it shines critical new light on the state of our nation today.  This book’s detailed and human chronicling of a time in our nation’s history when cities across the country began waging an ever-deepening war on crime and war on drugs gives needed perspective on the many today’s headlines regarding policing and black Americans—be they from Ferguson and Charleston or Baltimore and Brooklyn.