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Protesters and police converge at Michigan Ave and Wacker Drive in Chicago following the news that Ferguson Missouri police officer Darren Wilson will not be charged in the Aug 9 shooting of unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown. The demonstrations in Chicago remained peaceful and there were no reported arrests. 11/25/2014

Teach the History of Policing

April 21, 2021

Teach the History of Policing

Learn about the practices and history of policing and how they're vital to make sense of current events we experience each day.


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Talking About the Conflicted History of Policing in America

As part of our People’s Historians Online series, we hosted a special session with Keisha N. Blain on the “Roots of the 2020 Rebellion,” focused on the history of policing. Many teacher participants reflected that what they learned about the origins and practices of policing is vital to make sense of current events, but is not in their U.S. history textbooks.

Therefore, we offer resources below to teach outside the textbook in middle and high school classrooms about the history of policing in the United States.  There are many more books, articles, and films on the topic — these are just a few student-friendly suggestions.

To get started, we recommend the Throughline podcast on the history of policing in the United States with Khalil Gibran Muhammad.

Please let us know how you use these resources with students and key titles you suggest we add to the list.

Lessons and Textbook Critiques



Books for High School Students and Adults


Young Adult Novels and Graphic Novels

Also see books for children and young adults on the Social Justice Books Incarceration list, including a young readers’ edition of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

Articles and Collections


Primary Documents

This Day in History Series

Selected stories of police brutality and protests of the police, including a 1941 protest of police brutality in Washington, D.C. See This Day in History stories about the police.

Art by Trust Your Struggle Collective and Dignidad Rebelde. Photo by Thomas Hawk.

Campaign Materials


Black Lives Matter — Protect and Serve | WHUT | 8/25/2016 

SNCC veteran, lawyer, and Teaching for Change board member Tim Jenkins gives a 90-second history lesson about who the police “protect and serve”.


Perspective | The origins of policing in America | The Washington Post | 9/24/2020

Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika explain how American policing grew out of efforts to control the labor of poor and enslaved people.

Republished with permission from the Zinn Education Project.

Zinn Education Project
The Zinn Education Project, coordinated  by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in classrooms across the U.S. and internationally. It accomplishes this goal through: (1) a website that offers free, downloadable lessons and articles... See More

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