The Complicated Role Of Black Leaders In Shaping The Criminal Justice System

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

On this week’s episode of Code Switch, we dove into Kamala Harris’s past as a prosecutor, both as the district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California. It’s a history that she has touted on the campaign trail, but it’s also earned her flak from those who criticize what they see as a harsh and unyielding approach to prosecuting and incarcerating people—especially Black people—without due consideration of the ways the system discriminates against those defendants.

But, as we explore in the episode, Harris’s history as a prosecutor and politician is inseparable from the moment she began her career: the epoch of Bill Clinton’s crime bill and the end of the crack epidemic era. And in those days she was one of many Black lawyers, judges, police officers and legislators who took a similar approach to the problems they saw affecting their community. So we talked to James Forman Jr., a professor at Yale Law School and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, to help us understand the complicated interplay between Black leaders and the criminal justice system, which has …

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