Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 14, 2024
COURTESY OF MICHAEL TRAUTMANN-RODRIGUEZ A Hopkins sociology professor discussed U.S. policing abroad and locally.

Stuart Schrader, the associate director of the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship, presented his new book Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing at Red Emma’s last Thursday. The book explores how American counterinsurgency efforts abroad informed the norms and methods of policing at home, and vice versa. 

John Duda, a worker-owner of Red Emma’s, said that he appreciated the ways in which Schrader engages with his material without losing a critical eye.

“It challenges us to think about... the combination of imperialism and policing in new ways,” Duda said. “Rather than thinking about the thing that we are trying to fight in the terms and categories it tries to sell us, Stuart [does] a really remarkable job of unpacking an archive that, honestly, those bureaucracies might have wanted to keep hidden or at least unacknowledged.”

Osita Nwanevu, a New Republic staff writer, joined Schrader on the stage to engage him in conversation. 

Schrader began by sharing the quote that inspired his research project, which began as an investigation of possible connections between the domestic war on crime launched in the 1960s and foreign wars the U.S. was also involved in over the same period.

“The quote is: ‘the value of an effective police organization, both civil and military, in maintaining law and order’ is strong ‘whether in California, Pennsylvania, Mississippi or the rice patties and jungles of Vietnam,’” he said.

This relationship between the actions of the American military abroad and those of American police departments back home was an important theme of the night. 

“The one thing that I would say that should be clear is that I'm arguing that the U.S. policing experts really view the whole globe as their field of operations,” Stuart said. “They then go across the globe and then a lot of the things that they do across the globe, they then come and do back home.”

To illustrate this point, Schrader explained the history of the adoption of CS gas, a powerful crowd control tool, in the 1960s.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and other top American policymakers used a very specific rationale when discussing CS gas, Schrader argued.

“They all said, we can use it in Vietnam because we were using it back at home in cities. But the thing was it wasn't true that CS had yet been used in cities. When it does eventually get used in cities in the United States, the argument is in effect, well, we’ve tried it overseas and it works so well,“ he said. 

Schrader argued that the U.S. developed two distinct models of foreign intervention during the Cold War to combat the spread of communist and other left-wing governments. These were the guerilla forces model, which tried to foment coups against existing left-wing governments, and the police forces model, which aimed to prevent coups from being launched against existing right-wing regimes.

Initially, Schrader said the U.S. tended to favor the guerilla forces model because of successes like the 1954 coup in Guatemala. However, after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, he argued, U.S. policymakers lost faith in this model.

“It becomes clear that the kind of active guerilla model is not going to work,” he said. “Now, with the police model... the idea is to keep insurgency from breaking out in the first place; counterinsurgency meaning countering it before it happens and keeping the threat of Communism or subversion at bay through police work.”

Schrader and Nwanevu also focused heavily on how policing justifies its invasion into more and more spheres of life by purporting to be able to preempt crime. To demonstrate, Nwanevu used the example of Byron Engle.

Engle was a U.S. official stationed in Japan during the postwar American occupation. While there, he oversaw the reconstruction of the Japanese police forces, emphasizing to his trainees the responsibility of the police for keeping good moral order and aggressively handling small crimes in order to forestall larger ones. 

“In that description of the police system, there's an obvious circularity that should be familiar to everybody whose read and thought about policing,” Nwanevu said. “Your way of eliminating the opportunity to do crimes [is to] create another crime that the police can then apprehend somebody for in order to prevent some worse crime. It is a ballooning, expansive thing that ends up justifying further police power.”

Another cycle associated with policing, Schrader observed, has to do with police performance, community complaints and their budgets.

“The answer for police when they encounter crises of their own making is to say, ‘give us more money and we will increase our training, we will increase our use of technology, we will reform ourselves. We will further professionalize and that will solve the problem.’ So it becomes this feedback loop, in a sense, where for every problem you just summon the same solution over and over,“ he said.

Quinn Lester, a graduate student and member of of the organization Students Against Private Police, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that he finds this last dynamic that Schrader described incredibly harmful.

What it essentially means, Lester argued, was that the police had put themselves beyond effective political control.

“Using the language of professionalization, police have been able to seize control of political efforts at reform and increased their own power and prestige while resisting recurring criticisms of police brutality,” he said. “It just funnels more money and technology for the police to decide how it's used instead of creating meaningful community control of policing.” 

Senior Maggie Luo said that she felt that Schrader helped her better understand a lot of current issues and controversies related to policing today.

Importantly, she said, the talk helped her understand that policing strategies are not always about just crime-stopping effectiveness.

“You see a lot of headlines right now that are about police officers being extra brutal and normally it is in cases of crimes that aren't major at all in any way. This really touches on how that doesn’t actually help reduce crime overall and doesn’t actually help communities and make them safer overall,“ she said. 

Lester tied together the themes that Schrader touches upon in the talk and book to the currently ongoing development of plans for a Hopkins police force.

The talk did not give Lester confidence in these plans. 

“The final insidious implication of [Schrader’s] book is that, no matter what [Ronald Daniels] says, a JHU police force will certainly not be controlled or even need to listen to the people it polices, and perhaps worryingly for Daniels, it's also unclear if he or the Board of Trustees will ultimately control the growth and practices of a JHU police force as well,” he wrote.

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