Quick Review: Policing The Black Man


Legal scholar Angela J. Davis (not to be confused with the civil rights activist) has brought together eleven essays addressing the “plight of black men and boys,” that is, the underlying conditions, assumptions, bias, law, and practice contributing to the extensive and oft times excessive policing of African-American males.

In the very first essay, when Bryan Stevenson asserts “America has never systematically and publicly address the effects of racial violence, the criminalization of African Americans, and the critical role these phenomena have played in shaping the American criminal justice system,” readers are grounded in an anthology designed explicitly to challenge the criminal justice system. For those already involved in the ongoing process of criminal justice reform and social justice, very little in these essays will be new. Yet the purpose of the anthology isn’t so much to break new ground but to contribute to a foundation upon which others can build. Policing the Black Man is made up of patient, studious critiques making it an exceptional resource for educators at both the secondary and collegiate levels. 

A strength of the essays selected by Davis are their plain, non-academic prose presented in a matter-of-fact tone, which loses none of its scholarly vigor or scientific, data generated rigor. Perhaps the most utile aspect of the essays collected here is a great many offer practical solutions to redress bias and bigotry inherent in our legal systems. In plain language, buttressed with hard numbers, the contributors in each essay demonstrate the effects of implicit bias, racial profiling, and racial disparity among other topics.

Not a single essay collected here is a subjective opinion piece; each focuses upon a different aspect of the criminal justice system shining a light on how it has evolved into racist tactics. Kristin Henning breaks down how white culture is condition to see black boys from an astonishingly early age as predatory. Renee McDonald Hutchins’s essay ‘Racial Profiling: The Law, the Policy, and the Practice’ documents just how profiling arises and reinforces racial stereotypes while also pinpointing where such bias is codified in law. Towards the end of the collection, essays on how grand juries fail to overcome racial bias and how prosecutors are positioned/position themselves to make racially motivated decisions are thoroughly unsettling. For anyone who wants to understand the need for the Black Lives Matter movement and/or disabuse themselves of the misleading claims of toxic social media, this anthology is vital.

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