What began in spring 2020 as local protests in response to the
killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police quickly exploded into
a massive nationwide movement. Millions of mostly young people
defiantly flooded into the nation's streets, demanding an end to
police brutality and to the broader, systemic repression of Black
people and other people of color. To many observers, the protests
appeared to be without precedent in their scale and persistence.
Yet, as the acclaimed historian Elizabeth Hinton demonstrates in
America on Fire, the events of 2020 had clear precursors-and any
attempt to understand our current crisis requires a reckoning with
the recent past. Even in the aftermath of Donald Trump, many
Americans consider the decades since the civil rights movement in
the mid-1960s as a story of progress toward greater inclusiveness
and equality. Hinton's sweeping narrative uncovers an altogether
different history, taking us on a troubling journey from Detroit in
1967 and Miami in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1992 and beyond to chart
the persistence of structural racism and one of its primary
consequences, the so-called urban riot. Hinton offers a critical
corrective: the word riot was nothing less than a racist trope
applied to events that can only be properly understood as
rebellions-explosions of collective resistance to an unequal and
violent order. As she suggests, if rebellion and the conditions
that precipitated it never disappeared, the optimistic story of a
post-Jim Crow United States no longer holds. Black rebellion,
America on Fire powerfully illustrates, was born in response to
poverty and exclusion, but most immediately in reaction to police
violence. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson launched the "War on
Crime," sending militarized police forces into impoverished Black
neighborhoods. Facing increasing surveillance and brutality,
residents threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at officers, plundered
local businesses, and vandalized exploitative institutions. Hinton
draws on exclusive sources to uncover a previously hidden geography
of violence in smaller American cities, from York, Pennsylvania, to
Cairo, Illinois, to Stockton, California. The central lesson from
these eruptions-that police violence invariably leads to community
violence-continues to escape policymakers, who respond by further
criminalizing entire groups instead of addressing underlying
socioeconomic causes. The results are the hugely expanded policing
and prison regimes that shape the lives of so many Americans today.
Presenting a new framework for understanding our nation's enduring
strife, America on Fire is also a warning: rebellions will surely
continue unless police are no longer called on to manage the
consequences of dismal conditions beyond their control, and until
an oppressive system is finally remade on the principles of justice
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