The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (Historical Studies of Urban America) (Hardcover)

The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (Historical Studies of Urban America) By Christopher Lowen Agee Cover Image
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During the Sixties the nation turned its eyes to San Francisco as the city's police force clashed with movements for free speech, civil rights, and sexual liberation. These conflicts on the street forced Americans to reconsider the role of the police officer in a democracy. In The Streets of San Francisco Christopher Lowen Agee explores the surprising and influential ways in which San Francisco liberals answered that question, ultimately turning to the police as partners, and reshaping understandings of crime, policing, and democracy.

The Streets of San Francisco uncovers the seldom reported, street-level interactions between police officers and San Francisco residents and finds that police discretion was the defining feature of mid-century law enforcement. Postwar police officers enjoyed great autonomy when dealing with North Beach beats, African American gang leaders, gay and lesbian bar owners, Haight-Ashbury hippies, artists who created sexually explicit works, Chinese American entrepreneurs, and a wide range of other San Franciscans. Unexpectedly, this police independence grew into a source of both concern and inspiration for the thousands of young professionals streaming into the city's growing financial district. These young professionals ultimately used the issue of police discretion to forge a new cosmopolitan liberal coalition that incorporated both marginalized San Franciscans and rank-and-file police officers. The success of this model in San Francisco resulted in the rise of cosmopolitan liberal coalitions throughout the country, and today, liberal cities across America ground themselves in similar understandings of democracy, emphasizing both broad diversity and strong policing.

About the Author

Christopher Lowen Agee is associate professor in the history department at the University of Colorado Denver.

Praise For…

“The history that Agee recounts offers important lessons for the current movement to rein in America's hyper-aggressive, overmilitarized police departments. In designing solutions, reformers must grapple not only with formal laws and policies, but also, and perhaps more importantly, with the welter of personal motives and workplace grievances that drive individual officers' day-to-day decisions.”
— Reason

"Agee's nuanced perspective on city policing and on the evolving new political agenda of San Francisco’s political leadership fills a gap in our understanding of these years, and makes The Streets of San Francisco well worth reading."
— BeyondChron

"A fascinating study. . . It provides an interesting and under-examined insight into the cultural dynamics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, revealing that the police were not just an enemy of social change, but were often as much a part of it as the social movements they faced down in the streets."
— PopMatters

The Streets of San Francisco is an interesting addition to the Historical Studies in Urban America Series . . . full of good discussions on big city policing. . . .  Agee’s excellent discussion of the preeminent influence of the media and his linking of social issues and growth politics are his most important contributions.”
— Western Historical Quarterly

“Few historians have fully appreciated or analyzed the complicated role that the police have played in the making and unmaking of great American cities.  But in this impressively researched and clearly written account, which takes into careful consideration both the discretion officers had and the pressures they faced, Agee shows convincingly how intertwined police practices and urban liberalism were in postwar San Francisco.  From the Bay to the Breakers, the 1940s to the 1970s, he has ably documented how new notions of democratic citizenship and proper government emerged in response to street clashes between police officers and the diverse communities they served.  The Streets of San Francisco represents a major contribution to the history of policing and politics in modern America.”
— Michael Flamm author of Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s

“This is an insightful and bracingly original study of law enforcement and municipal politics.  Agee tells a gripping, often surprising story of how San Francisco became the city it is today, and in the process he sheds new light on the ways that battles over policing influenced and reflected broader transformations of American urban life in the second half of the twentieth century.”
— David A. Sklansky

“Agee's powerful and innovative book demonstrates that urban liberalism played as vital a role as law-and-order conservatism in the transformation of policing and crime politics in modern America.  In postwar San Francisco, police officers made public policy at the street level through corrupt and discretionary enforcement against stigmatized groups and cultural nonconformists such as bare-footed bohemians, gay bar patrons, provocative artists, antiwar hippies, youth gangs, and African American ‘vagrants.’  By embracing the ‘harm principle,’ white liberal reformers decriminalized cultural and sexual expression and restrained police discretion in majority-white enclaves while simultaneously institutionalizing stop-and-frisk tactics and repressive crime-fighting policies in black neighborhoods.”
— Matthew D. Lassiter

The Streets of San Francisco offers a revealing look at the contradictory policing impulses of urban liberals in the second half of the twentieth-century. Caught between law and order on one side and emerging demands for racial and sexual pluralism on the other, liberals struggled to manage the complex apparatus of big-city police departments. With San Francisco as his focus, Agee tells this story in his unique and insightful voice.”
— Robert Self

“Agee argues that ‘cosmopolitan liberalism’ and a new assertive policing style emerged together and supported each other. His arguments are impressive for at least three reasons, the first being that they exist at all. . . . Police departments rarely make public the documents that typically underwrite historical inquiry. This dearth of reliable police sources encouraged twentieth-century historians to pursue other topics. But Agee works around the blue wall of silence by creatively patching together publicly available sources and oral histories.”
— Journal of American History

“Agee’s book is an important intervention that connects liberal politics and urban policing, two topics that have been remarkably neglected by historians of the post–World War II era. . . . Deeply researched and elegantly argued, The Streets of San Francisco deserves a wide readership among political and urban historians. . . . The book is also a pioneering work of LGBT history. . . . Agee’s research deftly reveals the degree to which LGBT political history in the postwar decades can be enriched by moving beyond newspapers and oral history interviews. . . and to the ways that gay and urban historians might profitably engage more deeply with each other’s scholarship.”
— Journal of the History of Sexuality

“A superb study of the shifting dynamics of policing and municipal governance in San Francisco. . . . Agee provides an alternative to the dominant historical narrative that casts changes in police politics during this time as ‘conservative ascent.’ Instead, Agee demonstrates how liberals. . . treat[ed] the liberal ideals of inclusiveness and pluralism as compatible with a toughening fight against crime. . . . The Streets of San Francisco is groundbreaking.”

— American Historical Review

“Agee departs from th[e] familiar focus on political economy by highlighting law enforcement as the critical realm for understanding the evolution of contemporary urban liberalism.It is a refreshing reorientation and Agee executes the move with erudition in his penetrating analysis. . . . He concludes that cosmopolitan liberalism became the dominant ideology within police departments throughout the U.S. by the 1980s, and paved the way for innovations such as hot-spots policing, order maintenance policing, and community policing. In short, this is a fascinating account of the pivotal role of cosmopolitan liberals in ‘the development of postwar law enforcement and the central place of police politics in the transformation of liberalism itself.’”
— Pacific Historical Review

“Carefully researched and fascinating. . . . Agee contends that . . . liberalism and police enforcement were not always antagonistic, but engaged together to rework definitions of crime, citizenship, and acceptable social norms. . . . The Streets of San Francisco is a valuable work of detailed historical scholarship that takes us beyond a monolithic understanding of police actions in the postwar period to a more careful look at the daily interactions between police and urban citizens. In doing so, it also allows us to rethink our basic understanding of both policing and liberal urban politics in American urbanism.”
— Southern California Quarterly

“Today tourists visit Haight Ashbury and North Beach neighborhoods where beat poets and hippies experimented with art, drugs, and bohemian lifestyles. . . . These same places also recall bitter confrontations between police and local residents. . . . Agee’s excellent The Streets of San Francisco disentangles the far more complex and contingent history of how city residents, police officers, and elected officials forged a ‘cosmopolitan liberal politics’ through conflict, compromise, and institutional reform. . . . Agee’s study combines impressive detail with a sophisticated analysis grounded in the larger context of structural changes transforming cities after World War II.”
— Canadian Journal of History
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226122281
ISBN-10: 022612228X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: March 31st, 2014
Pages: 256
Language: English
Series: Historical Studies of Urban America