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Policing in Colonial Empires

Cases, Connections, Boundaries (ca. 1850–1970)


Edited By Emmanuel Blanchard, Marieke Bloembergen and Amandine Lauro

Colonial security strategies and the postcolonial vestiges they left both in the global South and in former metropoles have recently attracted renewed academic attention. Policing in Colonial Empires is a collection of essays reflecting current, ongoing research and exploring the multifaceted dynamics of policing in colonial societies over the past two centuries. Spanning several continents and colonial contexts (some of them liminal or little-explored), the book examines the limits and legitimacies of the functioning of colonial policing. Addressing issues such as collaboration, coercion, violence, race, and intelligence, the collected works ask what exactly was colonial about colonial policing. Together, the contributors point out the complex nature of colonial law and order maintenance, and provide insights on histories that might reflect the legacies of its many variants.

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Race, Violence, and White Crime: French Assimilationism and its limits in the Saigon Colonial Police (Melissa L. Anderson)


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Race, Violence, and White Crime

French Assimilationism and its Limits in the Saigon Colonial Police


One night in 1909, Saigon municipal police officer Rasson Dessaints hailed an idle rickshaw worker ostensibly to verify his papers (carte réglementaire). The man bolted as soon as he saw Dessaints approaching, hastily abandoning his rickshaw in the process. The man was too slow, however, and Dessaints managed to restrain him. The policeman did not speak Vietnamese, and the driver, who did not speak French, began struggling and crying out for help. A crowd gathered, and witnesses reported that the policeman beat and kicked his prisoner. One witness claimed that Dessaints was drunk. The commotion drew the attention of a second policeman, Vietnamese officer Tran Van Nguon, who ignored his French superior and addressed the prisoner directly in Vietnamese. This angered Dessaints, who shoved Nguon and went in search of a translator, finally locating a bilingual shopkeeper through whom the rickshaw driver offered an innocent explanation for his flight: he was too tired to pull any more passengers (it came out later that Dessaints was well-known for never paying his fare). The matter, according to Dessaints, was closed. Nonetheless the policeman found himself facing a disciplinary committee the following month for brutality, among other charges.1

At first glance, Dessaints’ beating of the rickshaw driver might appear to be just another instance of a European bullying a non-European – a staple...

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