Locking up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Author(s): James Forman Jr.

Social Sciences | No Category

Former public defender James Forman, Jr. is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of colour. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation's urban centres.

Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness - and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighbourhoods.

A former public defender, Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants and crime victims. He writes with compassion about individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas - from the men and women he represented in court to officials struggling to respond to a public safety emergency. Locking Up Our Own enriches our understanding of why American society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system.


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Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction

Longlisted for the National Book Award

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2017

“Locking Up Our Own is a well-timed, nuanced examination of the past, but I am glad that the story it tells is over. Beginning in the early ’90s, crime went down dramatically across the country. It has continued, by and large, to decline. Activists have turned their attention to mass incarceration and police violence. Even mainstream civil-rights organizations now focus on reducing sentences and making the police more accountable and transparent. Gone are the days when some black activists and politicians aimed to equip cops with more-powerful guns, as then–D.C. Mayor Marion Barry wanted to do during the crack wave that began in the late ’80s. 

At its best, democracy is about being creative and experimental, learning from mistakes and trying a different approach. Locking Up Our Own makes a powerful case that the African American community was instrumental in creating a monster. We should be grateful that the same community—from nullifying D.C. jurors and Black Lives Matter activists to writers like Michelle Alexander and artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar—is leading the fight to take the monster down.” 

Paul Butler – The Atlantic (JC BookGrocer)

General Fields

  • : 9780349143682
  • : Little, Brown Book Group Limited
  • : Abacus
  • : September 2018
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : James Forman Jr.
  • : Paperback
  • : 320