Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America

Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America

Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America

Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America


With rising urban poverty and decreased affordable housing, the homeless and other disorderly people continue to occupy public space in many American cities. Concerned about the alleged ill effects of visible homelessness, many cities embrace zero tolerance or broken window policing efforts to clear streets of unwanted people. Banished explores a new and consequential form of these policing tactics. In many American cities today, undesirable people are banned from occupying certain spaces. Once zoned out, they are subject to arrest if they return. In this way, the power of the police to monitor and arrest thousands of city dwellers is tremendously enhanced. This book uses Seattle as a case study to demonstrate how contemporary banishment works and to explore its consequences. Drawing upon an extensive body of data, Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert chart the rise of banishment in Seattle and demonstrate its significance. Although the practice of banishment allows police and other criminal justice officials to say that they are responding to concerns about urban disorders, it is a highly questionable public policy. Banishment is expensive and does not reduce the underlying conditions that generate urban poverty. Interviews with the banished themselves reveal that exclusion makes their lives immeasurably more difficult, and their path to self-sufficiency more arduous. Banished provides an informed analysis of urban dynamics that are typically ignored in public policy discussions, even as they shape the life experiences of countless citizens.


Three Stories

One drizzly Seattle day, a young African American woman named Rhonda dropped off her boyfriend at a local community college. While he was in class, Rhonda went to find her mother. Frequently homeless, Rhonda’s mother used drugs and suffered from poor health. Concerned, Rhonda regularly looked for her mother to try to ensure that her basic needs were met. She usually began her search downtown, near the corner of 2nd and Pike, an intersection known to host an outdoor drug market and thus attract significant police attention.

After reaching her destination, Rhonda approached a male acquaintance to ask if he had seen her mother recently. He had not. As she turned to continue her search, she told us:

The police were comin’ down the street, so I just kinda stood
there lookin’ around and they started approachin’ on me
and the gentleman…. I had known the officer before, and
he said that I was goin’ to the jail for drug traffic loitering.
He said, “Did you know where you’re goin’?” and I’m like,
“What?” And he goes, “You’re goin’ to jail.” And he cuffed
me. They arrested me and they took me to the precinct and
strip searched me and took all my money and took me to jail.

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