Join Solid State bookseller and policy enthusiast Chris Watson for a discussion of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr. The book is 10% off through November.
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.
“Locking Up Our Own should be read by everybody who cares about race and justice in America.” —Van Jones
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.
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