Locking Up Our Own: Crime & Punishment in Black America
Forman seeks to answer the question of how a majority-black jurisdiction ended up incarcerating so many of its own. This delicate question is answered with nuance and compassion. The author, a former US Supreme Court clerk and Public Defender in Washington DC, describes how a black community’s enthusiasm for stricter law enforcement to counteract the presence of drugs and violence in their own neighborhoods led to national unforeseen consequences resulting from the enactment of stricter laws and the acceptance of enhanced law enforcement led to the tragedy of black men and women being disproportionately incarcerated.
One Review for “Locking Up Our Own: Crime & Punishment in Black America”
Forman, a Yale law graduate and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, recounts through his experience as a Public Defender in Washington D.C., the incremental steps that helped to create the current US System of Mass incarceration. He provides a history of local government’s well intentioned decisions, specifically by persons of color in leadership positions in the DC government. These decisions included rejection of a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, the imposition of minimum prison sentences, mandating maximum sentences for crimes involving guns, pretext traffic stops and searches, and the consequences of sentencing distinctions between non-violent and violent offenses. Many of the rationales expressed to justify these actions originated in the black community and were used at the national level to support the 1994 Crime Bill. The resulting impact of these decisions has been the increased incarceration and subordination of the poor especially in the black community.
The author provides a compelling case for rejecting a one size fits all approach to crime. This book illustrates the fact that all politics are local and that decisions at the local level can have a directly influence the adoption of policies nationally.
The author’s stories of Sandra Dozier, a young black woman arrested for marijuana possession following a pretext stop and Dante Highsmith, a 16 year old black boy charged with armed robbery, were particularly moving. Each of these stories provide good summations of the unintended consequences created by these incremental decisions and the disproportionate impact on individual lives. For me, the story of Dante Highsmith was a testament to Forman’s dedication as a public defender, the necessity of alternative programs to alleviate poverty, and a passionate plea to recognize the quality of mercy as an essential element in rendering justice
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