When the Police Knock Your Door In

Alice Goffman

in Violence at the Urban Margins

Published in print April 2015 | ISBN: 9780190221447
Published online March 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780190221461 | DOI:

Series: Global and Comparative Ethnography

When the Police Knock Your Door In

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  • Urban and Rural Studies
  • Social Theory


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The unique rise in US imprisonment over the past forty years is disproportionately borne by Black young men with little schooling. In poorer Black neighborhoods, historically high incarceration rates are accompanied by more hidden systems of policing and surveillance. Police helicopters circle overhead; cameras monitor people on the streets; and the police routinely stop, search, and arrest people. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in Philadelphia, this chapter takes the perspective of partners and family members who come under significant police pressure to inform. As the police raid women’s houses, threaten to arrest them, evict them, and take their children, women must decide between their own safety and the freedom of the men they love. As with other chapters, we see how violence—in this case, pervasive police violence—is tearing at the fabric of everyday life. But women also withstand police pressure and work to rebuild their damaged relationships.

Keywords: mass incarceration; war on crime; police violence; collateral consequences; inequality; ethnography; youth; gender; family

Chapter.  16488 words. 

Subjects: Urban and Rural Studies ; Social Theory

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