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Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

by James Forman Jr.

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267972,224 (4.4)27
"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. "--"Recounts the tragic role that some African Americans--as judges, prosecutors, politicians, police officers, and voters--played in escalating the war on crime"--… (more)

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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I was a criminology major in college, later a lawyer. The criminilization of blackness is something I have been studying formally and informally since the early 80s. This book has a different POV than any I have read. I think all rational people can agree that in the US white people have rigged the system to keep those with more melanin down, and that the justice system has been the most efficient and devastating tool in that arsenal. This book though goes a bit farther and looks at the ways African Americans abetted that process. I have seen others indicate this was a response to The New Jim Crow -- I disagree with that descriptor. This book is a "yes and" follow up to The New Jim Crow. A solid piece of scholarship and social commentary . I do think the book could have been better organized, and that the final section should have used much more of the good research out there about recidivism rates for offenders who go to prison versus those given probation and job training. The author left the reader to fill in a lot of blanks. Still an exceptionally worthwhile read to start my 2020. ( )
1 vote Narshkite | Jan 30, 2020 |
A very interesting historical perspective on crime and criminalization in America and the overwhelming adverse effects on black communities. This is a topic that could easily be covered in heavily biased way. Though the thesis is clear (and one-sided), I thought the arguments and evidence were handled in a balanced and thorough way. A very good book that lays out some history that we all lived through but were not necessarily exposed to first hand. Eye opening. ( )
  technodiabla | Dec 28, 2019 |
I listened to this book on audio after hearing a compelling interview with the author. For me the importance of this book was the historical review of crime and punishment and its impact on the black community since the 1970’s. Forman devotes chapters to each new idea to solve the crime problems in Washington DC (and around the country as well). His focus on DC helps keep the narrative crisp forming a continuing trajectory through the book. We keep getting it wrong. I remember so many of the theories that were put forth, tried and failed. The Epilogue was one of the best parts of the book but Forman’s ideas are only as good as today. Time will tell whether this time we are getting closer to a fair and just solution for our high incarceration rate. ( )
1 vote beebeereads | Apr 2, 2019 |
How does a majority-black district in the US, with many in positions of power, end up locking up so many of its own? In this concise yet comprehensive book, James Forman Jr thoughtfully and convincingly backs up his hypothesis with both his own experience as a public defender and extensive historical, socio-political research. He manages the impressive task of presenting the statistical data of his research alongside more personal stories of his PD experiences, humanising the individuals caught up in this unfair, overly-punitive system while capturing the enormity of the issue.

We are shown how the vast racist punitive system that the US has come to be known for was not built in one day. How harsher and harsher punishments were introduced gradually in response to the crisis of the moment, until now where despite comprising only about five percent of the world's population, the US holds about a quarter of the world's prison population. How racism and classism reinforced and reinforces a systemic (self-)policing amongst the (black) people in power such that black people end up occupying the prisons at a much higher rate disproportional to their white counterparts.

An eye-opening book on the origin of how these discriminatory systems came to be, the consequences (either unforeseen at the time or deemed unimportant in the face of a greater perceived evil), and how these systems could eventually be dismantled even by those not affiliated with law enforcement.

Further readings/viewings as recommended by James Forman Jr. available here. ( )
  kitzyl | Jan 23, 2019 |
This is a thought provoking book about why there is such a high percentage of Blacks in various penal institutions across our country. What is interesting here is that Forman sees the decisions and impetus for this coming from the black populous - driving this phenomena. A majority favored stricter marijuana laws, mandatory sentences and police stopping drivers for minor infractions to search for guns (Eric Holder) but then arresting them for other crimes. Also, he argues black citizens were against gun laws because they feared white society and home invasions. Justly deserves all its plaudits. ( )
  muddyboy | Jun 18, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It is difficult to criticise a bible, particularly one written with as much insight, rhetorical power and moral authority as The New Jim Crow. When James Forman, a law professor at Yale and the son of a prominent civil rights activist, first presented his criticisms of Alexander’s argument, colleagues nervously asked him why he was ‘critiquing a point of view that is so aligned with your own’. He agreed with Alexander that mass incarceration had turned convicted criminals into members of a stigmatised caste, condemned to second-class citizenship. He also agreed that one of the most destructive effects of mass incarceration was to lead the wider society to see poor black men as potential threats, social outcasts whose rights could be violated with impunity. But he believed that Alexander’s thesis obscured ‘some important truths’. [...] Locking Up Our Own is a sobering chronicle of how black people, in the hope of saving their communities, contributed to the rise of a system that has undone much of the progress of the civil rights era. But, as Forman knows, they could not have built it by themselves, and they are even less likely to be able to abolish it without influential white allies, and dramatic reforms in the structure of American society.
 
In the conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement, deflection to “black on black” crime has become a meme. Why, op-eds and pundits sputter, does the black community get so riled about police violence and yet remain silent about the gun and drug crime that savages so many of its own?

James Forman Jr, son of civil rights leader James Forman Sr, knew from his time as a public defender in Washington DC that such broadsides are patently wrong. In his new book, Locking Up Our Own, he goes beyond the broader argument – that it’s reasonable to expect more from sworn law enforcement than from street criminals – to make clear that the charge is simply wrong on face value too.

“I think of it as a 239-page rebuttal to the claim that black people and their elected leaders only care about crime when it’s [committed by] the police,” Forman told the Guardian. “If there’s one thing that I hope the book does, it’s demolish that lie.”
 
James Forman Jr. divides his superb and shattering first book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” into two parts: “Origins” and “Consequences.” But the temptation is to scribble in, before “Consequences,” a modifier: “Unforeseen.” That is truly what this book is about, and what makes it tragic to the bone: How people, acting with the finest of intentions and the largest of hearts, could create a problem even more grievous than the one they were trying to solve.
 
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To Ify and Emeka,
the loves of my life
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All of us in the public defender's office feared the Martin Luther King speech.
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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. "--"Recounts the tragic role that some African Americans--as judges, prosecutors, politicians, police officers, and voters--played in escalating the war on crime"--

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