Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
The premise of Locking Up Our Own, by James Forman Jr., is that black people are wholly involved in sending other black people—predominantly black men—to jail and prison. The problem of incarceration in the African American community, which increased with public policy reform in the 1970s, isn't just a result of a predominantly white law enforcement and judicial system, Forman argues. It stems from a need to handle community-wide problems of violence, drugs, unemployment, and poverty.
In Locking Up Our Own, Forman examines how the do-good policies of the church, the practices of the police force, and the influences of the media conspire with public (e.g., housing, school, community) policies to create an environment conducive to arresting black men. He focuses on specific communities where African Americans dominate, particularly Washington, DC.
The seed for today's mass incarceration began with attempts to solve the problems of gun violence and drug dealing within African American communities. Widespread violence made communities unsafe for children; drug dealing led to an eroded economy and a feedback cycle of unemployment, particularly for men in African American communities.
But when communities attempted to legislate and pass laws to control violence, the solution (incarceration) became the problem. Incarceration rates for black men skyrocketed once leaders in the African American community began ensuring that criminals would be locked up; once incarcerated, getting back to a "normal" life in the community was difficult, so the cycle of incarceration led not only to recidivism but also to generations of black men serving time.
Leaders in the black community, frustrated with crime and disappointed with many of the idealistic social programs of the last 1960s and early 1970s (like subsidized housing, or busing for school integration) kept pushing for hard-line law enforcement. Elected officials ran on platforms of crime control.
Curtailing violence and ridding neighborhoods of drugs were policies that were popular in all sectors of the community, a sensible reaction to the realities of life for many African Americans. But local anti-crime policies led to increasing incarceration, and these worsened in the 1970s, with Nixon's war on...
(The entire section contains 549 words.)
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