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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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Policing and the Problem of Crime within Local Communities in Colonial Algeria, ca. 1850-1890 (Valentin Chémery)


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Policing and the Problem of Crime within Local Communities in Colonial Algeria, ca. 1850-1890

Valentin CHÉMERY

On 28 April 1857, the préfet of Oran sent a letter to the Gouverneur général of Algeria reporting an alarming surge in the number of murdered Europeans in his département over the previous month.1 Citing daily and weekly reports from law enforcement services, the préfet listed nine assassinations of Europeans in May only, all of which were blamed on Natives (Indigènes) from the remote outposts of French colonial expansion called civilian territories (territoires civils). One crime in particular, on 21 May in La Sénia, had caught his attention: in a savage quadruple murder, a Genovese citizen called Bruzzo had lost his wife and two children – even the housemaid was killed. The prime suspects were seven “Kabyles from Morocco”2 who were working on Bruzzo’s farm at the time and went missing after the murders.

The préfet’s letter focussed exclusively on alleged murders of Europeans by “Natives” and offered neither the slightest hint of a comprehensive vision of criminality, nor any quantitative data substantiating his argument. All that emerged from it was an oppressive sense of threat looming over the European community, entirely blamed on a specific, distinct local demographic group that the préfet, however, failed to characterize properly and whose motives he clearly struggled to understand. While allegedly motivated by “revenge or theft” only,...

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