Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing

Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing

by Stuart Schrader

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From the Cold War through today, the U.S. has quietly assisted dozens of regimes around the world in suppressing civil unrest and securing the conditions for the smooth operation of capitalism. Casting a new light on American empire, Badges Without Borders shows, for the first time, that the very same people charged with global counterinsurgency also militarized American policing at home.
In this groundbreaking exposé, Stuart Schrader shows how the United States projected imperial power overseas through police training and technical assistance—and how this effort reverberated to shape the policing of city streets at home. Examining diverse records, from recently declassified national security and intelligence materials to police textbooks and professional magazines, Schrader reveals how U.S. police leaders envisioned the beat to be as wide as the globe and worked to put everyday policing at the core of the Cold War project of counterinsurgency. A “smoking gun” book, Badges without Borders offers a new account of the War on Crime, “law and order” politics, and global counterinsurgency, revealing the connections between foreign and domestic racial control.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520295629
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/15/2019
Series: American Crossroads , #56
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 1,162,616
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Stuart Schrader is Associate Director of the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship and Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

Read an Excerpt


Rethinking Race and Policing in Imperial Perspective

IN 1944, THE INTERNATIONAL CITY MANAGERS' Association enlisted a midwestern police chief, Theo E. Hall, and an anthropologist of Pacific island cultures, Joseph E. Weckler, to coauthor a report titled The Police and Minority Groups: A Program to Prevent Disorder and to Improve Relations Between Different Racial, Religious, and National Groups, which focused on urban unrest. Historically a white mob attack on Black people, "rioting" was now becoming a form of Black protest and self-defense, as in Harlem in August 1943, a "precursor" to unrest of the 1960s. In the former type of riot, police failed to protect Black populations from white mobs; in the new form, police violence against Black people spurred unrest. Given that riots were extremely difficult to manage once they exploded, Hall and Weckler argued, they needed to be prevented. This idea would become public safety orthodoxy, and Hall became the acting director of the overseas police assistance program in the 1950s, prior to its consolidation as the Office of Public Safety. During the June 1943 riots in Detroit and Los Angeles, Hall and Weckler observed, "minority peoples" could not depend on police for "protection." Such "intergroup" clashes, the contemporary term for racial violence, were not only a problem at home, they had the potential to bring about intergroup clashes of a different order: "Such disorders ... undermine our influence with millions of our non-white Allies and neutrals and give our enemies material for effective propaganda against us." The pamphlet recommended a number of professionalizing reforms pertaining to police training, organization, and tactics in unrest. Published around the same time as Gunnar Myrdal's landmark study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy for the Carnegie Corporation, "The Police and Minority Groups" entered police training curricula across the country, distributed by theInternational Association of Chiefs of Police. Sometimes trainers paired it with Myrdal's work. The short pamphlet and the extensive study both outlined a new governing approach to civil rights in the United States that situated the challenge in a global context. Events soon proved them prescient.

In 1946, a white mob in Georgia gunned down George Dorsey, a Black veteran of World War II, and three companions, galvanizing new Black demands for rights and freedom. How could a man who had fought against tyranny abroad not be spared from it at home? A dozen years later, the Congress of Racial Equality lobbied the US secretary of state on behalf of a Black man named Jimmy Wilson, condemned to death in Alabama after a conviction for a small theft. The secretary's attention, like that of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, focused on how world opinion, particularly in West Africa, interpreted this sentence. These stories are central to the narrative of Cold War civil rights: the superpower clash between the Soviet Union and the United States spotlighted US racial injustice, particularly in the South, which compelled diplomats and statesmen to take up the cause of civil rights, lest racist brutality give the Soviet Union a competitive advantage in garnering adherents among the "darker nations," in the phrase of W.?E.?B. Du Bois.

The analysis of Cold War civil rights hinges on a mismatch. Racial inequality at home did not comport with a US foreign policy drained of racism, newly attempting global stewardship without recourse to racist ideology. Racial hierarchy as the principle of global organization and mode of managing interstate relations was supposed to conclude with the defeat of the Axis powers, the ongoing dissolution of European imperialisms, and the rise of the United States to leadership of a multilateral global system of sovereign states. In place of racial development, economic and political development would be the ordering principle and objective, with US technical assistance as the means of enlarging and refining state and communal capacities. But domestic racism undermined this new leadership role, making its elimination a geopolitical necessity. Myrdal's An American Dilemma defined this liberal approach. In contrast, a dissenting analysis emphasizes how anticommunism that comported with Myrdal's thinking constrained Black freedom movements and how Black voices highlighted US hypocrisy and built solidarities among victims of racism at home and imperialism abroad.

Between elites and the grassroots, though, stood the first line of defense: cops. The centrality of US police experts to this reshaped world-system suggests the need for a closer look at the police role in reshaping race on a global scale. The story of Cold War civil rights might also begin with technical police assistance, "the most far-reaching" of all types of technical assistance "in its effect on the lives of people of the free world," a high-ranking official boasted. Not only the foreign-policy elite, but police too were acutely sensitive to how racist violence at home would be perceived overseas. The very police institutions where these experts learned their trade, from Kansas City to New York City, Los Angeles to Greensboro, NC, were frontline enforcers of the US racial order — an uneven distribution of civic participation, citizenship, commerce, property, and sexual intimacies. World War II swept many of these cops off their beats to far-off lands, and after it ended, they would take responsibility for race management at home and abroad, suturing the two domains. Race management entailed preserving racial hierarchy, preventing outright rebellion against it. Working with and for the State Department, however, these security experts were aware that they would be judged based on how they managed grassroots revolts at home and abroad. They aimed to transform subjectivities for the prevention of disorder by reforming policing. In the process, the meaning of race itself would be transformed. World War II did not usher in a solution to what Du Bois called "the social problem of the twentieth century," namely, "the relation of the civilized world to the dark races of mankind." What would race management entail in a postcolonial world-system consisting not of European empires but of sovereign states and international institutions? Myrdal's American Dilemma contemplated the overcoming of racism at home and in international affairs, according to a putatively race-neutral discourse of development, but Theo Hall's global travels as a policing expert indicated that the machinery of race management would not vanish as quickly as its ideology.

For security experts, the challenge of the post-1945 era was how to effect "internal defense" exogenously, to maintain rule while creating sovereign, self-governing power in a multilateral system. At home, police institutions were soon attempting to liquidate the appearance of bias in their ranks. Police forces controlled by partisan political machines had been instruments for the social advancement of minoritized European ethnic groups, but professionalization efforts weakened this control. Now, Hall and Weckler advocated hiring more African American, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and other darker-skinned cops. Overseas, the solution was to delegate responsibility for security to a stratum of the subject population, who might better achieve legitimacy with US technical assistance, a strategy that had long structured small wars. The arrival of foreign police officers on US shores for training purposes alerted police professionalizers to the need to achieve order other than by outright racial repression. Strategies for overcoming racism within the institutional matrix of policing went hand in hand with strategies for overcoming the appearance of racism by police. Pressure to end the appearance of racism by police resulted in efforts to end the appearance of racism within police institutions.

Before World War II's end, it was difficult to predict how US national-security thinkers would come to rely on police in the coming decades, favoring efficient and diligent constabulary forces to ensure order in far-flung but strategically important former colonies in Asia and Africa and the republics of Latin America. Du Bois and thinkers like him realized that even if the United States did not replicate prior colonialisms, the challenges to existing forms of domination posed by popular anticolonial insurgencies were likely to modify US racial hegemony. Decentralized US technical assistance would constitute an imperialism without imperialists that did not require staffing distant jurisdictions with white supremacist colonial officers, because local police would protect the emergent discretionary empire. This new situation matched the fortunes of white supremacy at home, which would be slowly remolded toward a "racism without racists": persistent patterns of inequality no longer legitimated by open avowals of bigotry. The American Century was supposed to usher in a new epoch of peace and freedom, with European tyrannies vanquished, but Du Bois and others observed that the United States, the rising steward of a remade global order, was itself captive to its own color line, which prevented it from achieving "rational and progressive" democracy.

Police, who had been so deeply responsible for enforcing the color line, would now, after 1945, become the instruments of the spread of a color-blind Americanism abroad. In his Philadelphia ward, Du Bois recalled, the "police were our government," not guarantors of the safety of Black people. The same had been true of the European colonies, too, and would be of US client states. But this enrollment of the police apparatus into a new imperial situation of social hierarchy not necessarily determined by color changed the relationship of police activity and racial formation, modulating the dimensions of rule, while also requiring renovation of the apparatus itself. Sheer racial repression and subjugation would be combined with more subtle and constructive forms of pacification and subject formation. These efforts relied on the conscription of darker peoples into their own racial management.


In 1948, CIA analysts also saw race and decolonization as shaping the predicament US global power faced. A CIA paper, "The Break-Up of the Colonial Empires and Its Implications for US Security," argued that the European colonial system had emerged from World War II badly damaged and was likely to disintegrate further, creating "a power vacuum in the Near and Far East" that the United States would not necessarily be able to fill. Obstacles to the formation of alliances between the United States and Europe's former colonies were manifold. The new nations would likely align politically to act along coalition lines, based on ethno-religious solidarities and shared economic aspirations. Among the chief hurdles to easy conciliation between the new nations and the United States was "racial antagonism": Japan's successes in the Russo-Japanese war and World War II had "punctured the myth of white superiority," and "a deep-seated racial hostility of native populations toward their white overlords" had "taken the form of a reaction against 'white superiority.'?" This reaction was to the advantage of the Soviet Union, which maintained "an assimilative racial policy" and could "represent itself to colonial peoples as largely Asiatic," thereby avoiding "the resentment of colored toward white peoples." In contrast, "US treatment of its Negroes, powerfully played up by Soviet propaganda, embarrasses the US on this issue."

After fostering an ideology of self-government, Washington risked charges of hypocrisy if it supported European powers struggling to hold on to their remaining colonies, the CIA analysis cautioned. "US encouragement of colonial self-determination and economic development may itself incur the charge of US imperialism and run the risk of alienating the colonial powers," but "the US may be unable to afford to let its policy on colonial issues be swayed by the colonial powers if such support of its allies tends to alienate the dependent peoples and other non-European countries." A generation of political leaders and intellectuals in the new nations confirmed this CIA analysis, among them Kwame Nkrumah and Walter Rodney.

The CIA recognized the need for policymakers to understand the interconnections among peripheral nations, and how postcolonial solidarity and institutional coalitions would make use of emerging fora, especially the United Nations and the new Organization of American States, formed amid violent upheaval in Colombia a few months earlier in 1948. Too robust and aggressive a posture would create antagonism; too flimsy a security apparatus would be easily outsmarted and outgunned. Stability, security, and political deference to the United States were unlikely to be achieved by direct US intervention. Yet in trying to fashion a favorable global integument, US security assistance often landed in furrows already plowed by prior colonial powers, strengthened authoritarian militaries, and bolstered caudillos, tycoons, and compradors.

Robert Komer, a CIA analyst for fourteen years, from the time of the agency's founding until he entered the Kennedy administration in 1961, took note of this 1948 paper, which was the only document from his early days at the CIA that he left behind amid a disorganized jumble of personal papers. He would devise the Special Group (Counter-Insurgency), and the Office of Public Safety that it oversaw, to work within the difficult parameters the CIA analysis outlined.


"Anywhere you go, a cop is a cop," public safety advisor John F. Manopoli declared. "There is an odd kind of professional brotherhood." Manopoli spoke French (albeit with a Bronx accent), which was helpful in achieving a rapport with police in Burundi, the Congo, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Rwanda, and South Vietnam, if not so much in Liberia and Nicaragua.

Yet beneath that fraternal feeling a risk calculus unfolded, as did a practical assessment of security capabilities to contain risk. The calculus was inscribed, for example, in the dry technical reports outlining each nation's limitations that preceded the initiation of a police assistance mission. Writing these reports was Manopoli's professional specialty. Equality, ever provisional, was still subject to risk analysis. Inequality registered as a criminalized threat to equality, but also as an impediment to the necessary technical upgrading of police institutions. One such impediment was, for example, "the temperament of Latin people." Not all advisors were convinced that a universal police science was possible, even as they nurtured the global fraternity of police. There was a "vast difference in thought processes between oriental and occidental minds," one declared. Prepackaged lessons might be "wasted" or even "counterproductive." "What might placate an American mob might infuriate one in Bangkok, Saigon or Djakarta." Officers' fellowship was riven by anxieties about the development of state capacity, which advisors often scripted through racialized metonymy as the personal capacities of advisees.

The public safety program had no great ambitions in francophone Africa. As chief of the Congo program, which lasted fourteen years, Manopoli did not expect it to be a "deluxe job." In 1965, basic police tasks were the goal of what became Africa's costliest police assistance effort. A mere decade earlier, as a New York State police officer, Manopoli had witnessed his own agency's rapid modernization, with the advent of cream-and-blue police cars, festooned for the first time with sirens and flashing lights, patrolling the Dewey Thruway, the new highway across New York State. Police horses were put out to pasture, spurs and riding breeches were retired. The .38 special revolver replaced the old Colt .45 as the troopers' standard firearm.

Though recently achieved, the standard set by New York State was not Manopoli's benchmark. "We are not trying to turn out criminologists, or give them polygraphs, or laboratories, or fingerprint files. We are just trying to get a functioning police force," Manopoli explained about the Congo program. The line between basic functioning and higher-order police science was blurry, however. It would be redrawn according to exigencies on the ground. In this flexibility inhered the volatility of the risk calculus of racial ascription that would no longer herald itself in racial terms. A global police brotherhood confronted a globally active but locally embedded threat. But it was not simply that racially demarcated dishonor became alchemized into criminal disposition; suspicions fell on foreign police themselves. The anticommunist bulwark that the United States needed around the globe could be permeable if it remained underdeveloped. Although the police might lag among the suite of governing institutions afforded US technical assistance, and, as Manopoli confirmed, be ineligible for the most advanced approaches, the local police apparatus had to serve societal modernization. US national security depended on it.


Excerpted from "Badges Without Borders"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Stuart Schrader.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


1 • Rethinking Race and Policing in Imperial Perspective
2 • Byron Engle and the Rise of Overseas Police Assistance
3 • How Counterinsurgency Became Policing
4 • Bringing Police Assistance Home
5 • Policing and Social Regulation
6 • Riot School
7 • The Imperial Circuit of Tear Gas
8 • Order Maintenance and the Genealogy of SWAT
9 • “The Discriminate Art of Indiscriminate Counter-revolution”


Selected Bibliography

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