James Forman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

AuthorJohn Halushka
Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
Subject MatterBook reviews
untitled Book reviews
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Walter S DeKeseredy
West Virginia University, USA
James Forman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, Farrar,
Straus and Giroux: New York, 2017; 320 pp. (including index): 978-0374189976, $27
In Locking Up Our Own, James Forman Jr. explores the racial politics of crime and
punishment in post-civil rights Washington, D.C. Forman uses D.C.—a black-
majority city with significant power over sentencing policy—as a case study to
explore how, beginning in the 1970s, black citizens in D.C. used their newly won
political power to demand state protection from street violence. Drawing on exten-
sive archival research, as well as his personal experience as a public defender and
charter school founder in Washington, D.C., Forman illustrates how, in an effort
to protect black lives from drugs and violence, well-intentioned black city officials,
police officers, and citizens advocated for “tough-on-crime” policies that wound up
contributing to the mass incarceration of the very communities which they sought
to protect.
Forman joins a growing body of literature that explores how liberals, as much
as conservatives, played a central role in advocating for “tough on crime” policies
dating back to at least the Kennedy Administration (Hinton, 2016; Murakawa,
). These studies challenge the “backlash thesis” as the primary explanation for
mass incarceration’s origins (Pfaff, 2017). According to the backlash thesis, white
resentment against the civil rights movement, not crime itself, fueled the war on
drugs and the resulting mass incarceration of communities of color (see e.g.,

Punishment & Society 21(3)
Alexander, 2010; Beckett, 1997). While not denying the role played by the racist
undertones of the “southern strategy,” these studies illustrate how mass incarcer-
ation was a bipartisan political project built by a coalition of liberals and conser-
vatives, each pursuing competing interests and agendas.
Forman adds to this literature but departs in important...

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