Review of “Locking Up Our Own” by James Forman Jr.
Locking Up Our Own presents a history of black involvement in criminal justice politics and policy. It begins by relating the detrimental effects of the War on Drugs on African American communities and asking, “Why would black people ever have supported the drug war?” (18). This is the point of departure from which Forman Jr. goes back in American history to the establishment of the first major cohort of black mayors and other elected officials in the 1960s and their role in the mass incarceration of black people. Again, Forman Jr. argues that this role was not undertaken with the intent of subjugating African Americans in the justice system for generations to come. Instead, black mayors and elected officials played this role because they had little other recourse, if any, in their efforts to curb crime in the face of extreme violence and drug use. A major reason for this is that root-cause solutions (the establishment of a job market in which African Americans are fairly considered for employment, for example) were not considered pragmatic responses to crime because they did not attack crime rates directly. At the same time, the heroin, cocaine, and gun violence epidemics that began shaking America’s cities in the 1960s made it a moral imperative to act swiftly and effectively.