Matthew Guariglia Researches Race, Policing, and Privacy as Affiliated Scholar

As historian Matthew Guariglia researches his latest book about the history of race, policing, and surveillance, he is struck by how little has changed in more than a hundred years.

“While all the technology policy use has changed, what we ask the technology to do has not changed at all,” he says. “Facial recognition and predictive policing, or license plate reading and car recognition—all of these technologies had their analog equivalents in the early 20th century,” he says.

Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joined UC Law SF’ Institute for Criminal Justice as an affiliated scholar last year. In that role, UC Law SF students and faculty may see him visiting the campus, using the library, or delivering a lecture.

His collaboration with UC Law SF grew out of his work with the Carceral Studies Working Group, an interdisciplinary group of academics throughout the Bay Area led by UC Berkeley. He has participated in UC Law SF events over the years, including one that explored how surveillance technology in the city of Piedmont was affecting racial justice and public safety.

His most recent effort is a book, released last summer, co-edited with New Yorker writer and Columbia University Professor, Jelani Cobb. “The Essential Kerner Commission Report” recontextualizes the government’s 1968 report on urban uprisings through the lens of today’s ongoing struggle for racial justice.

“The commission found that urban uprisings are caused by racist policing as well as lack of economic opportunity, adequate housing, health care, and education,” he says. The concise version of the report is designed for use in classrooms across the country.

He is currently working on another book, to be published in 2023, that delves into the history of policing, specifically in New York City. He examines how policing in the New York City Police Department changed during the massive influx of immigrants in the late 1800s through the 1920s. He finds that police used immigration law and deportation to ostensibly fight crime in immigrant neighborhoods.

He is also drawing on the parallel history of San Francisco, which experienced a similar surge of Chinese immigrants and change in police tactics.

The Bay Area was also home to one of the earliest higher education programs geared toward police, which has provided crucial insight into understanding how policing developed from the 1920s on.

“My scholarship suggests that policing as an institution has evolved through a very explicit consideration of race, ethnicity, and immigration,” he says.

Though the remainder of his year at UC Law SF, Guariglia hopes to enhance his scholarship so it may be used by those who are advocating for a more equitable and holistic understanding of public safety.