Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (Hardcover)

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An original and consequential argument about race, crime, and the law

Today, Americans are debating our criminal justice system with new urgency. Mass incarceration and aggressive police tactics and their impact on people of color are feeding outrage and a consensus that something must be done.

But what if we only know half the story? In "Locking Up Our Own," the Yale legal scholar and former public defender James Forman Jr. weighs the tragic role that some African Americans themselves played in escalating the war on crime. As Forman shows, the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office around the country amid a surge in crime. Many came to believe that tough measures such as stringent drug and gun laws and pretext traffic stops in poor African American neighborhoods were needed to secure a stable future for black communities. Some politicians and activists saw criminals as a cancer that had to be cut away from the rest of black America. Others supported harsh measures more reluctantly, believing they had no other choice in the face of a public safety emergency.

Drawing on his experience as a public defender and focusing on Washington, D.C., Forman writes with compassion for individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas from the young men and women he defended to officials struggling to cope with an impossible situation. The result is an original view of our justice system as well as a moving portrait of the human beings caught in its coils.

About the Author

James Forman Jr. is a professor of law at Yale Law School. He has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, numerous law reviews, and other publications. A former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, he spent six years as a public defender in Washington, D.C., where he cofounded the Maya Angelou Public Charter School.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374189976
ISBN-10: 0374189978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Pages: 320
Language: English


“If you don't like someone's story, write your own.”
― Chinua Achebe