Skip to main content

Policing the Racial Divide: Urban Growth Politics and the Remaking of Segregation

New York University Press, May 2022

Daanika Gordon
Assistant Professor
CHAT Faculty Fellow, 2022-2024

For thirteen months, Daanika Gordon shadowed police officers in two districts in “River City,” a profoundly segregated rust belt metropolis. She found that officers in predominantly white
neighborhoods provided responsive service and engaged in community problem-solving, while officers in predominantly Black communities reproduced long-standing patterns of over-policing and under-protection. Such differences have marked US policing throughout its history, but policies that were supposed to alleviate racial tensions in River City actually widened the racial divides. Policing the Racial Divide tells story of how race, despite the best intentions, often dominates the way policing unfolds in cities across America.

Drawing on in-depth interviews and hundreds of hours of ethnographic observation, Gordon offers a behind-the-scenes account of how the police are reconfiguring segregated landscapes. She illuminates an underexplored source of racially disparate policing: the role of law enforcement in urban growth politics. Many postindustrial cities are increasing the divisions of segregation, Gordon argues, by investing in downtowns, gentrified neighborhoods, and entertainment corridors, while framing marginalized central city neighborhoods as sources of criminal and civic threat that must be contained and controlled.

Gordon paints a sobering picture of modern-day segregation, and how the police enforce its racial borders, showing us two separate, unequal sides of the same city: one where rich, white neighborhoods are protected, and another where poor, Black neighborhoods are punished.