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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, DC, 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.
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By Andrew on 12-13-17
Wow. This book is excellent. I read Michelle Alexander's book as well as the John Pfaff's book on mass incarceration. Both are incredibly insightful (and you need to read BOTH). I was worried this might not add much. Nothing to fear there. Forman delivers an incredibly detailed history of policing in Washington DC. One of the bog lessons from John Pfaff's book is that policing and incarceration are predominantly local. So despite the ease and attraction of focusing on a single national war on drugs/crime - the truth is buried in city and county level stories repeated over and over again. The power of seeing how black officials and black police and black judges also contributed to the problem (despite "thinking" they were doing the right thing) is a powerful insight. This DOES NOT mean that he lays the blame for mass incarceration at the foot of the black community. Far far from it (that would be a deliberately ignorant reading of this book). But showing the hand that all actors played in the current crisis is incredibly useful. He never lays scorn on the people he disagrees with. Instead he tries his best to understand what they were thinking. Overall I am in awe of this book and this author. An incredible work. I want to email him and Yale and think him personally. The narrator is also worth mentioning. This is probably as good as non-fiction can be read. Just the right blend of clarity with emotion and familiarity. An excellent book enhanced by a tremendously gifted narrator. I implore you to read this. Thanks James Forman Jr.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Dorothy on 07-20-17
Historical Analysis with Implications for Today
What did you love best about Locking Up Our Own?
Locking Up Our Own is a fascinating window into an issue that has long confounded many of us – how good intentions, often times responding to real issues, could have driven a problem so devastating and consequential as mass incarceration. In telling this story, though, Forman goes beyond a historical account. By describing the way that well-intentioned policies drove this problem, he sheds light on many reforms that are being attempted today. He describes many of the unintended consequences that these reforms could have, perhaps ones that even delay or inhibit our goals. This book is important for anyone who studies, practices, cares about or is affected by the justice system, or who cares about finding ways that we can advance social change generally.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Locking Up Our Own?
For me, the part that stood out most was the push for all Black police forces, followed by the realization that issues with policing transcend race.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful