Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
By James Forman, Jr.
"All of us in the public defender's office fear the Martin Luther King speech." Forman's first line in this winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction begins our challenging read. His last challenge is this: "Mass incarceration, as we have seen, was constructed incrementally, and it may have to be dismantled the same way."
In 1995, "one in three young black men were under criminal supervision." This resulted from the tough 1970 approaches to crimes. Our nation with "5 percent of the world's population held 25 percent of its prisoners." And invoking "Dr. King while locking up another young black man was perverse." This occurred even in an all-black court in Washington, D.C., from judge, prosecutor, and court reporter.
"How did a majority in a black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its own?" Foreman, current Yale law professor, focused on finding the answers: 1) Devastation of black communities from crime violence, heroin--later crack--and homicides was "the worst thing to hit us since slavery." 2) The black communities chose to protect their communities. 3) Policies focused on communities' needs, but "racism shaped the political, economic, and legal context" in which politicians were elected. No communities' Marshal Plan appeared. 4) Although mass incarceration harmed black America, the major victims came from the "poorest and least educated blacks," incarcerated for drugs and stigmatized for a lifetime.
Fear of crime crossed racial identities. Nationwide, gun laws were touted. And as Atlanta's Mayor Maynard Jackson said, "'We are living in an armed camp--an illegally armed camp.'" Getting rid of guns, however, faced barriers including the tradition to bear arms: both a tool for black "self-defenses and...