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The age of mass incarceration may actually be abating

Roundup
tags: racism, Incarceration



Charles Lane is a Post editorial writer specializing in economic and fiscal policy, a weekly columnist, and a contributor to the PostPartisan blog. 

Among the many shameful legacies of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States is the fact that African Americans make up a disproportionate share of both those who are victims of violent crimes and those who are incarcerated for committing them. 

Locking Up Our Own,” a remarkable new book by Yale Law School professor and former D.C. public defender James Forman Jr., tells the poignant but neglected story of how newly enfranchised black communities coped with this dilemma as a crime wave swept through urban America in the 1980s and 1990s, driving the murder victimization rate among blacks to an astonishing high of 39.4 per 100,000 population in 1991. 

African American mayors, police and prosecutors responded to the pleas of beleaguered constituents with rhetoric, and policy, that were no less “tough on crime” than that of their white counterparts. Black leaders often framed crime-fighting as an issue of salvaging the civil rights revolution.

“What would Dr. King say?” about the violence plaguing predominantly black cities, they would ask rhetorically — and then crack down on mostly youthful offenders, which inevitably involved “locking up our own.”

This was an era, Forman reminds us, during which activist-attorney Johnnie Cochran regularly attended rallies against drug dealing in Los Angeles, calling for PCP dealers to be punished “harshly,” and Eric Holder, then the District’s top prosecutor, supported aggressive, often pretextual police stops and searches of cars in predominantly black sections of the city, in a desperate effort to get guns off the street. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post


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