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Simon Balto (free)

  • A Room of One's Own 315 West Gorham Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

The historian and former Madisonian visits to share his book about policing and racism in Chicago. Info


Historian Simon Balto made a couple of different marks on Madison during his time here, earning a PhD at UW-Madison and building up his career as a folk singer-songwriter. Balto, now a professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Iowa, has focused much of his research on African-American history and especially how it relates to policing and incarceration. At a time when even moderate and conservative Americans are beginning to admit that racism is brutally baked into our criminal-justice system, Balto's work can help us understand how we got here. In the new book he'll discuss here, Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago, Balto explores how one notoriously racist and sadistic police force responded to the racial realignments of the Great Migration.

Balto's time span in Occupied Territory goes from the race riots of 1919's "Red Summer"[] to the violent repression Black Power activists faced from Chicago police during the 1960s and 1970s. All of this points to the state of race and policing in Chicago in the 21st century—machine politicians still try to cover up for murderous cops, and the Chicago Police Department established its own black site in 2004—but Balto is chiefly concerned here with putting readers deep into the 20th century, and revealing how racism and corruption shaped black neighborhoods' relationships with Chicago police. Balto is currently working on a book about a closely related subject—CPD's murder of activist Fred Hampton—so perhaps he'll have more to say about that here. —Scott Gordon