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Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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“Somewhere among the anger, mourning and malice that Policing the Black Man documents lies the pursuit of justice. This powerful book demands our fierce attention.”
“Like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Policing the Black Man insightfully shows us why the encounter between black men and even black boys with the criminal justice system is, and long has been historically, fraught, reflecting larger social and economic relations between white and black Americans. The essays collected here by Angela Davis effectively demonstrate how the painful history of racial injustice in America informs a black male’s experience of virtually every aspect of our system of justice, from arrest, through prosecution and sentencing, to incarceration. This book is essential reading for all of us who love the concept of justice in America, and seek for its practical applications to live up to its theoretical ideals.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“Policing the Black Man is a social-political mitzvah. With statistics in one hand and true beating heart in the other these writers deconstruct the monolith of racism and the conscious and unconscious deadly intent of the powers that be.”
"Rigorous and chilling. This collection from leading academics and lawyers is profoundly unsettling but also fiercely illuminating. For all those working to see truth, reconciliation, and justice prevail in America, this collection is an essential and timely provocation."
—Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8)
“This essential anthology explains the deep American history of the alarming and unconscionable racial disparities in policing, prosecution, and mass incarceration. From the Black Codes to capital punishment, specific policies and propaganda have licensed serially violent overreactions to the mere sight and shape of black boys and men. Yet this volume contains hope in its elucidation of the structural bases of such dangerous bias. In decoding how such a tragedy came to be, the essays in this collection just might lead to the kind of understanding so necessary for the health and safety of all citizens, for trust in the institutions of law enforcement, and for the rehabilitation of justice itself.”
—Patricia Williams, MacArthur Fellow and John L. Dohr Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
"Angela J. Davis powerfully shows the American police and justice system are heavily biased against non-white Americans. Policing the Black Man is an indictment of American justice system and police. It is one of the best books on racism in America. This should put every American to shame."
—The Washington Book Review
"Lucid perspectives on how and why the United States criminal justice system often victimizes black males . . . An absorbing anthology, scholarly yet approachable."
About the Author
ANGELA J. DAVIS is a professor of law at the American University and a former director of the D.C. Public Defender Service. She is the author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor and the coeditor of several books on criminal law and procedure. She has also written many articles and contributed chapters to many books on prosecutorial power and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
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The most horrifying aspect of American policing and prosecution is the way that Black boys are targeted. Sometimes only 10 or 12 years of age, they find themselves in the crosshairs of suspicion and implicit bias no matter what they do. Of course, the presumption that someone is violent, is dangerous, is guilty is never acceptable, and men and women all over the USA have seen it happen. However, most cultures hold their children dearest, and so what happens when every African-American boy grows up knowing that cops will assume he has done something wrong because he has stopped on the street corner, or not stopped; walked too slowly, or too quickly; looked away, or looked around down; what happens when an entire subset of the US population knows that he was essentially outlawed from the cradle?
Those that care about justice won’t want to read this collection while eating, and you won’t want to read it at bedtime, either. How do you swallow? How do you fall asleep when what you want to do is hit a wall? This reviewer’s own family is racially mixed, and when I consider the easy good humor of the Black men in my family, I wonder how they do it. And yet I know the answer: you can’t be angry seven days a week or your life is already over. They face American racism with fatalistic humor and get on with their lives.
That shouldn’t be necessary.
These essays each zero in one particular area of policing. Implicit bias is addressed, as is the failure of the US government to even admit that a problem exists. The Supreme Court has adopted the ivory-tower position that American justice is colorblind, centuries of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. There is no database at all regarding the deaths of Black boys and men by cops, and no requirement that anyone keep track. Does it make a difference if the prosecutor is Black? There’s no data. None.
And did you know that 95% of the people charged with a crime plead guilty? Prosecutors hold so much power that often a completely innocent person can be persuaded not to risk having an extra charge, and extra time, tacked on. Prosecutors get to decide whether a crime should be pursued as a state crime, which has far more lenient implications, or as a felony. Cops are out in the public eye—and thank goodness they are—but prosecutors do things quietly, often behind closed doors.
Davis’s own article alone is worth the purchase price of this collection, but once you have it in your hands, you will want to read the whole thing; and you should. You should do it, and then you should become involved. Protest in the way you are able, but don’t sit idly by and watch. Protest, because Black Lives Matter, and until this country admits that it has a race problem, how can any of us breathe?
Policing the Black Man is a detailed guide to how institution racism affects every aspect of the criminal justice system. It’s a compilation of essays, written by different authors, that includes topics such as the police shootings of unarmed black men, the prosecution of both black men in general and in police officers involved in shootings, the grand jury process, and the regular criminal trial sentencing process.
I learned so much from this book. Prior to reading this, I had mostly considered the racial bias of the police force and the judges in criminal trials. I didn’t really know anything about how the grand jury process works. And turns out, no one else does either. It’s highly secret and only the prosecutor and the jury know what happens behind the closed doors of the trial.
The essay on prosecutors was enlightening as well. I didn’t realize how much the prosecutor can affect the outcome of the trial. I figured that it affected how black men were treated as defendants but didn’t consider how the prosecutor affect the process when it’s a police officer on trial. I guess I assumed that the prosecutor always fights wholeheartedly for the government’s side no matter who he’s prosecuting. However, this isn’t always the case because of the close relationship between the prosecutor and the police. The police need prosecutors to prosecute the people they arrest and the prosecutors need the police officers to testify in the criminal trials. Therefore, the prosecutors might be reluctant to upset the police department by sending some of their officers to prison.
I liked the way Policing the Black Man was structured, in that each essay was about a different topic. It was easy to read an essay or two in a sitting without feeling like I was getting information overload. The essays are thoroughly researched with copious notes after each one. This book is a comprehensive look at the institutional racism present in the criminal justice system. I highly, highly recommend it.