The District’s Civil Disorder Unit sweeps through Resurrection City. (Star Collection, D.C. Public Library © Washington Post)
Map and voting information for the Pilot District Project. (Thomas L. Lalley Pilot District Project files [MS 0885], Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)
Marion Barry speaks to the press about the Pilot Police Precinct at the project’s head- quarters on June 24, 1969. (Matthew Lewis/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
From its 1790 founding until 1974, Washington, D.C., lacked democratically elected city leadership. Fed up with governance dictated by white stakeholders, federal officials, and unelected representatives, local D.C. activists pushed for greater participatory democracy and community control. Bringing together histories of the carceral and welfare states, as well as the civil rights and Black Power movements, Democracy’s Capital captures the ways that the fight for home rule undergirded conflicts over civil rights, law and order, and urban renewal and development throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The implementation of 1974 home rule legislation granted D.C. residents rights to self-government but allowed Congress the ability to intervene and overrule the District at any time. This was not a fluke. As I argue, the anticrime apparatus built by the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations helped shape the limits of black political power, leading to the unsustainable governing system with which District residents still live.
Democracy’s Capital draws on extensive research from presidential archives; city council records; the papers of business and trade groups, homeowners’ associations, and local and national civil rights organizations; oral history collections; newspapers; urban planning documents; Congressional hearings; federal commissions; and government reports to offer a critical contribution to the growing field of carceral studies. It reveals the importance of punitive federal crime legislation, the use of new surveillance methods, and the racialization of crime policies and crime discourse to the marginalization of radical politics and the undermining of self- determination. In doing so, it broadens our understanding of the effects of the carceral state, the term for the institutions, laws, customs, and politics that have created a punishment-oriented system of governance in modern America.