Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Book Review: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

This book gives a surprising angle on where we are today with black incarceration and police relationships. It focuses on DC where there's no surrounding state to sway statistics, but where the neighboring other-state counties can provide contrast, and also it's a majority-black city so issues tend to stand out in relief.

And in going back to the beginning, to the 1930s when police forces really started being a thing and when Jim Crow was in full force, and when illegal drugs first popped up, Mr. Forman finds something utterly fascinating: initially, African-Americans were on board with more police presence and actually argued for harsher drug laws.

Obviously you need to understand the full context for this, but before this time there was essentially NO police presence in black neighborhoods, as they were only protecting whites, and no one was responding to any crimes that happened to black people. Separately, when drugs started to really affect black neighborhoods, black leaders often thought (mistakenly but they had no way of knowing it at the time) that harsher drug laws would prevent black youths from getting involved with drugs, and therefore would protect black families and black neighborhoods. Obviously, that drastically backfired. The book then follows these policies up through now, showing the consequences. Very important read today. Oh also, this book won the Pulitzer Prize.

This book is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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