Simon Balto

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: University of Wisconsin- Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: The Law Has a Bad Opinion of Me: Policing and Politics in Twentieth-Century Black Chicago
  • Simon Balto's dissertation examines the ways that racial tensions, civil rights, and criminal justice policies converged in urban America during the early and middle parts of the twentieth century. To explore these issues in microcosm, his project focuses on the city of Chicago and the relationships between the African American community and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) between the late 1910s and the early 1970s. The project traces strategic shifts in policing in response to an array of racial, cultural, and political factors: through race riots, economic depression, racial terrorism toward black neighborhood encroachment, rising drug crime, gang proliferation, the civil rights and Black Power revolutions, and more. Throughout, Mr. Balto also pays close attention to how black Chicagoans interpreted and responded-often differently, often in tension with one another-to these shifts.

    Because it is so deeply related to contemporary questions about incarceration and race, many of the concepts and questions within this project reverberate into our own time. Scholars and policy analysts of many different stripes have been noting for some time now, and with great urgency recently, that the meteoric, post-1980 rise in the number of Americans coming into contact with the criminal justice system poses serious conundrums for both our social fabric and budgetary bottom-lines. Those affected include a disproportionate number of people from poor urban communities of color. As such, looking historically at criminal justice policies toward those places (policies like stop-and-frisk, formalized several decades before that 1980s tipping point) offers one angle for understanding the genesis and development of this 'mass
    incarceration. '