Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics


Crime and Punishment in Black America

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American Politics | Journalism Studies


James Forman Jr., the author of a new book arguing that law enforcement initiatives by black officials have had devastating consequences for black communities, is featured in a program at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at The University of Mississippi. Forman, a Yale Law School professor, is the son of one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His father, Jim Forman, was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), became an active figure in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964 and later developed a “Black Manifesto” that was widely circulated. A half-century later, Forman’s son has broken with the philosophy held by many black leaders who advocated strong penalties for defendants in criminal cases, especially those ensnared by drug arrests. In his book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Forman writes that mass incarceration tactics have had a disproportionate impact on people of color in this country. In a front page review in the New York Times Book Review earlier this year, the book was described as a “masterly account” of the role played by black elected officials to deal with rising crime and drug use in Washington with harsh sentences. As the policy spread to other locales, Forman says, it raised serious questions about its fairness and efficiency.

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