Edge of the Knife: Police Violence in the Americas by Paul Chevigny 50’s is the story of police abuse of power, whether unnecessary deadly force in the street or torture behind closed doors. Paul Chevigny examines police departments in Los Angeles and New York City in the US and then Sao Paulo Brazil, Buenos Aires Argentina, Kingston Jamaica, and Mexico City. For Los Angeles, the Rodney King beating in 1991, was a watershed event. The semi-military approach to policing had been largely free of scandal until that moment. That the public saw what happened created a sense of outrage and led to commissions which examined the sad fate of most civilian complaints. In LA complaints were rarely sustained and often the officers with the most complaints were the ones promoted.
This book is deeply researched and though it came out in 1995, it seems to be very relevant today as institutional cultures are remarkably slow moving. Even with the ever-present cell phone cameras, the issues in the 90’s are still present. Paul provides a wealth of evidence about violence, its link with corruption (bribes and kickbacks), and the general inability of the departments to monitor themselves. He advocates for greater accountability particularly from civilian review boards.
As troubling as his reporting on LA and NYC is, his details about what goes on in South America, Jamaica, and Mexico is exponentially more horrifying, where there is often no thought of the police as working for justice for the people. Tourists may not notice the frightening complicity between authorities and crime because private security forces are brought in to protect them. After reading this, I would not venture far from my hotel!
Edge of the Knife is not a diatribe. It seeks to understand how sociological and psychological forces work. It contains much thought that would be helpful to blacklivesmatter.