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The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (Historical Studies of Urban America) Hardcover – 9 May 2014

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"In this impressively researched and clearly written account, which takes into careful consideration both the discretion officers had and the pressures they faced, Agee shows convincingly how intertwined police practices and urban liberalism were in postwar San Francisco. The Streets of San Francisco represents a major contribution to the history of policing and politics in modern America." (Michael Flamm author of Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s)"

About the Author

Christopher Lowen Agee is assistant professor in the history department at the University of Colorado Denver.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Policing the Liberal City 4 Jan. 2015
By A Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a sharp study of policing and city government, grounded in impressive oral history and archival research. Reminiscences from cops, artists, reporters, poets, gay bar owners, and community organizers who lived and worked in San Francisco in the 1950s and '60s (drawn from oral history interviews Agee conducted) bolster his thorough reading of the city's newspapers and other textual records. The setting is the battle over what kind of city San Francisco would be after World War Two and Agee's insights lead him to the front lines of that fight--the street -level interactions between police and citizens.

Agee finds that San Francisco liberals, like law-and-order conservatives, wed policing and politics, but to different ends. Agee's liberals, pressured by a host of politically active citizens, used policing to foster a culturally tolerant, or "cosmopolitan," city, but one that was still committed to white-collar (and color-blind) technocracy and "growth." This is a story of politics and culture in post-war America that moves beyond stories of rebellion and reaction. Cops, like the members of the communities they police, were historical actors and their actions produced unexpected outcomes. In fact, Agee's important finding is that policing itself was an avenue for change; disempowered groups used their relationships with the police to make greater claims on City Hall and political leaders, in turn, tried to take away the discretionary powers of the cop on the beat in order to enact top-down reforms.

It is an academic book that makes an academic argument, but all that means is that he's careful with his evidence and concerned with saying something that will resonate beyond the streets of San Francisco. It will be relevant to anybody interested in the role of the police in modern America or in the prospects for liberal government. And, in our era of paeans to the "creative class" and "vibrant cities," San Francisco is the best place to look if we want to understand places where cosmopolitan cultural politics pay steady-going obeisance to capital.
Good Topic But Disappointing Production 31 Dec. 2014
By Avid San Francisco Reader - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Reading this book is a challenge to say the least as it's not particularly reader-friendly much of the time. Despite my interest in the subject matter and very knowledgeable about local history, I had difficulty getting through this book. While at times it read beautifully, for too much of the time it was dense and high-brow. The often convoluted prose and erudite vocabulary was off-putting and tiresome. I got the feeling that this was another one of those books written by an academic to impress other academics. Too bad, as it covers an interesting time in San Francisco's history, one that would be of interest to many city residents and natives but, as it stands, is a missed opportunity because few readers of local history are going to stick it out to get through this book.

I attended Professor Agee's presentation for his book at the San Francisco Public Library on a Saturday morning in mid-November. It was sparsely attended because the timing for this event was frankly ridiculous. While Agee's presentation was actually pretty good, we were stunned when he announced the cost of the book to be $49, including tax. No one bought a book. Despite there being a long list of holds on the library's copy of the book, I got to the top of that list fairly quickly which was not a good sign. It meant that few, if any, of those on the hold list actually read the book all the way through. Instead, it was quickly returned, again and again, and when I tried to read it, I knew why.

Having pushed my way through it, I can't see the justification for its cost. It's not that long of a book and features just over a dozen, generally half-page, B&W photographs and one standard map of the city. The footnotes are extensive and the list of abbreviations is only marginally helpful as it mainly refers to publications. What this book really needed was a glossary for all the acronyms sprinkled throughout the narrative referring to an endless number of groups, police associations and local organizations. It was impossible to keep them all straight, there were just too many. Also, publishing this book in hard cover was unnecessary and only contributed to making the book more expensive than it needs to be.
Professor Agee tackles a difficult subject with an interesting and ... 19 Aug. 2015
By Bjejune - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Agee tackles a difficult subject with an interesting and informative look at San Francisco as it developed from a traditional blue-collar city into a pluralistic one that struggled with difference and diversity from 1940s through and up to the 1970s. He focuses his observations and investigation around San Francisco citizenry interactions with city government and the SFPD.

He focuses on the different types of city government models (machine vs. managerial approaches), neighborhood developments and their struggles(North Beach, Hunter's Point, and Haight-Ashbury), and grass root organizations within these communities and the police department itself. In doing so, he offers an insightful and well-documented presentation of the times and the forces of work within this crucial period in San Francisco's history.

I grew up in the Bay Area, lived in San Francisco from'72-'84, and the East Bay for a number of years and found his discussion fascinating and revealing as to the politics and temperaments of those times, districts, and movements in San Francisco.

There are other histories which take a broader view and look at those times with a focus on media, cultural, and institutional forces that shaped this time period that add another layer to Agee's discussion (e.g., Gray Brechin's "Imperial San Francisco; Kevin Starr's "Embattled Dreams"). Agee does not attempt to duplicate those stellar works, but instead he carves out a element/subject matter of SF history with a focus and intensity that deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in the myriad of forces and issues that influenced and contributed to its development.
A fresh, groundbreaking look at San Francisco history 24 Jan. 2015
By East Coast reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a frequent visitor to the Bay Area, I found this book to be a very compelling and often surprising account of how San Francisco became a welcoming place for people of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds.The process revolved in considerable measure around policing practices, both as a result of direction from City Hall and -- perhaps more frequently -- tactics devised by police officials or the cop on the street. Just as Atlanta became the business and cultural capital of the New South by embracing moderate and relatively progressive racial policies, San Francisco -- despite widespread antagonism against people who were "different" -- emerged as a symbol of liberalism and acceptance because, in large measure, it was ultimately deemed to be in the city's best interest. The process was often antagonistic, oppressive and complex, and Agee spells it out clearly and fully, and with a confidence and authoritativeness that is possible only through thorough research and story-telling. Agee's writing digs deep, but is always focused, purposeful and on point. "The Streets of San Francisco" broadens the scope of understanding of San Francisco's history, and, in a broader sense, is sure to focus greater attention on police tactics in studies of other American cities.
I am glad it was required reading 23 April 2015
By Danielle Farmer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had to read this book for a California history class. I already wrote a paper on it, so excuse the brevity of the review. I am glad it was required reading. I lived in SF for ten years, and this book really put a new lens on my understanding of the shaping of the city and the police force. Very interesting material. I definitely recommend this book.
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