Book Reviews on Criminal Justice
Bill Keller’s interview with Leovy, “Ghettoside’s Author Jill Leovy on What We Have Learned Since Rodney King”
Montrell Jackson Tragedy
The Bitter Southerner: “the unique burden black police officers carry”
Much of this section is devoted to Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside, which pretty much describes how I feel about our criminal justice system. Leovy knows from experience— she covered crime for the Los Angeles Times for many years— that poor minority communities are too often harshly policed, which they often certainly are. But she also laments that the majority of poor minority residents of these communities, who are law-abiding souls just trying to live life like the rest of us, must live among murderers and other predators, and that our society has been unable to provide them with something so basic to a civilized society as personal security. (For example, in Chicago in 2017, the police department’s clearance rate for homicides fell to about 17%. That is unbelievable, and unconscionable. See, “Chicago Police Solve 1 in every 20 Shootings: Here are some reasons why that is so low,” Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2018.) Leovy argues that the alienation in many poor black communities today is as much a result of under-policing as over-policing.
Leovy documents the bona fide fear of physical harm that people have in these communities if they agree to testify in court. Perhaps a good place to begin to rebuild trust of the police in these communities is for the state to expend the resources to consistently protect potential witnesses. Wouldn’t doing so be an opportunity to find some mutual understanding and common ground among Black Lives and Blue Lives supporters?
Both the harsh policing and the mortal danger to the residents of the communities Leovy describes are shameful. But so is the fact that so many Americans only seem to see one or the other of these two, very related problems.
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The other two posts in this section attempt to describe what it is like to be a Black law enforcement officer in America, trying to bridge the two sides of the coin that Leovy describes. Future content will include more on James Forman, Jr.'s great book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, a review of Patrick Sharkey's great book Uneasy Peace, and material on community policing.