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NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE
From the Polk Award–winning investigative duo comes a critical look at the systematic corruption and brutality within the Oakland Police Department, and the more than two-decades-long saga of attempted reforms and explosive scandals.
No municipality has been under court oversight to reform its police department as long as the city of Oakland. It is, quite simply, the edge case in American law enforcement.
The Riders Come Out at Night is the culmination of over twenty-one years of fearless reporting. Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham shine a light on the jackbooted police culture, lack of political will, and misguided leadership that have conspired to stymie meaningful reform. The authors trace the history of Oakland since its inception through the lens of the city’s police department, through the Palmer Raids, McCarthyism, and the Civil Rights struggle, the Black Panthers and crack eras, to Oakland’s present-day revival.
Readers will be introduced to a group of sadistic cops known as “The Riders,” whose disregard for the oath they took to protect and serve is on full, tragic, infuriating display. They will also meet Keith Batt, a wide-eyed rookie cop turned whistleblower, who was unwittingly partnered with the leader of the Riders. Other compelling characters include Jim Chanin and John Burris, two civil rights attorneys determined to see reform through, in spite of all obstacles. And Oakland’s deep history of law enforcement corruption, reactionary politics, and social movement organizing is retold through historical figures like Black Panther Huey Newton, drug kingpin Felix Mitchell, district attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and Mayor Jerry Brown.
The Riders Come Out at Night is the story of one city and its police department, but it’s also the story of American policing—and where it’s headed.
About the Author
Ali Winston is an independent reporter covering criminal justice, privacy, and surveillance. His work has been rewarded with several awards, including the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. Ali is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @AWinston.
Darwin BondGraham has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham’s work has also appeared with ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He lives in Oakland, California. You can follow him on Twitter @DarwinBondGraha.
“A culture of corruption and violence keeps flourishing despite repeated good faith efforts to stop the bad apples, who continue to show up, generation after generation, to spoil the barrel. And yet the authors make a case for civilian oversight by presenting civilians—civil rights lawyers, community activists, grieving parents of those killed by police—as the heroes of their stories. Winston and BondGraham treat episodes with a granularity that is a strength of the book. The opportunism and hypocrisy are often galling if not surprising, but the authors break newer ground by chronicling what happened after the [federal] monitor came in. Every city contemplating the future of its police force could use a book like this.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Devastating and illuminating. Winston and BondGraham chronicle, in excruciating detail, just how extraordinary the injustice must become before the arc finally begins to bend the other way. It’s an effort worthy of immense recognition —let the Pulitzer Prize buzz commence.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“An explosive, gut-wrenching narrative account of brutality and corruption in the Oakland Police Department. . . what the Riders got away with for so long will shock some readers, devastate others, and leave everyone with aching knowledge. . . a must-read for anyone interested in criminal justice reform and a book that easily threads the needle between nonfiction journalism and true crime.”
—Aryssa Damron, 2024 Selection Committee Chair, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence
"A fiercely argued case that the police can’t be trusted to police themselves—and that such policing is essential."
“On its face, the story pits the Riders’ “bad cops” against Batt, a “good cop” who did the right thing under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. But without negating anyone’s agency or moral culpability, Winston and BondGraham show how it’s ultimately less about the individual will of the officers than what the system they work within condones—and encourages…The book doubles as a rich political history of Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a city that has been repeatedly devastated by austerity and racist policies….Reading this feels sort of like watching the beginning of a horror movie: you suspect that something awful is coming, even as the characters remain unaware.”
“The Riders Come Out at Night is an incredible piece of journalism. The story in these pages is both captivatingly told and remarkably researched. Although its focus is the police department in Oakland, CA., its significance is national. This book should be required reading for every elected official and police chief in every city in the United States.”
“In harrowing detail, Winston and BondGraham describe the terror that Batt said Oaklanders endured at the hands of the Riders, as well as the ostracism Batt faced when he refused to honor the “blue wall of silence” that has long characterized cop culture. . . . Consent decrees have been used to improve policing in cities such as Detroit and New Orleans, but they are expensive to administer and don’t always work. Winston and BondGraham show how the Oakland police resisted the required reforms at every turn.”
“The reader is left wanting not so much to petition a legislature or file a lawsuit as to throw a brick. . . . The Riders Come Out at Night: Brutality, Corruption, and Cover Up in Oakland is investigative journalists Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham’s deep dive into the brutal history of the Oakland, Calif., criminal legal system—one dare not refer to it as a criminal “justice” system after this searing exposé."
The Washington Post
“Reporters Winston and BondGraham debut with a comprehensive look at why the Oakland, Calif., police department has been under federal oversight for two decades, longer than any other department in the country…In granular detail, the authors describe the fits and starts of the department’s efforts at reform, taking note of improvements in diversity training and transparency, as well as fatal police shootings of unarmed suspects, a botched SWAT team raid that resulted in four officers’ deaths, and other scandals.”
"As thrilling as the best noir fiction, The Riders Come Out at Night lays bare the horrors of police brutality with careful and unflinching courage. It stands to inform one of America’s most urgent debates, providing insight into the culture of a police department in freefall."
—Whiting Foundation, 2021 Creative Nonfiction Grant Jury