Book Review: Presumed criminal: Black youth and the justice system in postwar New York

AuthorJimmonique R. S. Rodgers
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Corbin concludes that there is a lack of due process in juvenile court due to problems surrounding
the role of the juvenile defender. This is possible, and perhaps likely, but it cannot be concluded from
a study in which this matter was neither explicitly addressed nor measured. Corbins study raises
concern about defense representation in juvenile court, but Corbins methodology makes it nearly
impossible to discern the precise dimensions of that concern. Nevertheless, this book would be
best suited for scholars in the eld interested in continuing this work or graduate students looking
to learn more about the topic.
Suddler, Carl. (2019). Presumed criminal: Black youth and the justice system in postwar New York. New York
University Press. 223 pp. $45.00, ISBN: 9781479847624.
Reviewed by: Jimmonique R. S. Rodgers, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820913082
In Presumed Criminal, Carl Suddler, Emory University assistant professor of history, chronicles
the criminalization of Black youth in Harlem from the 1930s through the 1960s. Using contem-
poraneous media accounts, governmental records, and eyewitness reports, Suddler describes the
socioeconomic and legal factors supporting his theory that the New York City justice system
contributed to the racialized constructions of Black youth criminality. The author argues that
the justice system subjected Black youth to more punitive measures and categorically stigma-
tized them as criminals. Written in easy-to-read language, this discussion is presented over
ve chapters, each focusing on the social and legal environment for Harlems Black youth
during the focus period.
Chapters 1 and 2 discuss the criminalization of Black youth before World War II. In Chapter 1,
Suddler examines the rise of youth crime in Harlem and ofcial responses to address it. Black res-
idents, historically denied full access to employment, education, and social mobility, became
more frustrated with the decreased opportunities available in the wake of the Depression. The
author discusses how the conuence of social factors including the need for both parents to
work, the lack of recreational spaces for Black youth, and the disintegration of the nuclear
family all contributed to an increase in the prevalence of unsupervised children. Police amplied
their presence in Harlem to suppress what many considered a fabricated crime wave. As surveil-
lance increased, so did the involvement of Black youth in the justice system. At the same time,
New York City and the nation began to shift from progressive-era perspectives on rehabilitating
youth to punitive measures, further exacerbating the discriminatory treatment of Black youth. The
author notes that this continued despite the 1938 passage of the federal Juvenile Delinquency Act
and the efforts of the nationsrst Black judge who was appointed to the New York City Domestic
Relations Court in 1939.
With a discussion of the 1934 Harlem uprising, Chapter 2 shifts from the formal justice system to
the rising community frustration with racial discrimination. While domestic jobs increased during the
deployment of Americans for war efforts, many Blacks were excluded from these jobs due to dis-
crimination. Suddler observes that increased police surveillance in Harlem only heightened racial
tensions, which ignited when a police ofcer shot a Black soldier who had intervened to stop the
arrest of a local Black woman. The riots tore through Harlem only ending after Mayor LaGuardia
imposed a curfew and sent in law enforcement. While the mayor publicly refuted the characterization
of the event as a race riot, Suddler notes that racial tensions in Harlem festered.
404 Criminal Justice Review 47(3)

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