Crime and the Politics of Hysteria: How the Willie Horton Story Changed American Justice

Crime and the Politics of Hysteria: How the Willie Horton Story Changed American Justice

by David C. Anderson
     
 

Remember Willie Horton? His ghost continues to haunt American politics as Republican candidates seek to make Democratic opponents look soft on crime. Republicans used his story to attack the state's Democratic governor, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential campaign, igniting a national controversy over negative advertising and racism. Why won't Willie Horton go… See more details below

Overview

Remember Willie Horton? His ghost continues to haunt American politics as Republican candidates seek to make Democratic opponents look soft on crime. Republicans used his story to attack the state's Democratic governor, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential campaign, igniting a national controversy over negative advertising and racism. Why won't Willie Horton go away? In part because that controversy remains unresolved. In hindsight, however, as David C. Anderson argues in his compelling and sobering book, Crime and the Politics of Hysteria, it is apparent that Horton also stands for something far more specific than political tactics and taboos. His story is the locus classicus that inspires a particular kind of reaction, one that has abetted a disturbing shift in American attitudes. What was the real story of the Willie Horton case, and what was the real story of how his crimes were used by ambitious and deeply cynical politicians? And what has been the story's enduring - and deforming - impact on America's criminal-justice system? This startling and powerful book is both an investigation of and a meditation on the way some politicians and institutions play upon our deepest fears, exploiting them shamelessly. A violent tale told by a gifted reporter, Crime and the Politics of Hysteria is a mirror of our turbulent times.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the 1970s, penologists began to articulate the philosophy that the purpose of incarceration is punishment, not rehabilitation. Thus the incident of a convict sentenced to life who, while on furlough in 1987, terrorized a couple and raped the woman can hardly be said to have altered the system substantially. Yet the case of Willie Horton is widely acknowledged to have helped decide the 1988 presidential election, when George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis after Republicans accused the Massachusetts governor of allowing the prison furlough program from which the convict Horton had escaped. New York Times reporter Anderson (Crimes of Justice) here probes the implications of the case, with its racist overtones (Horton was black, his victims white), for the criminal justice system. He also looks into what he terms the cynical manipulation and exploitation by politicians of Americans' fear of crime and makes recommendations for rehabilitation and enlightened crime control along with victim compensation programs. Many readers are apt to consider his proposals idealistic rather than realistic. (June)
Mary Carroll
Anderson, a 25-year crime reporter (first for the" Wall Street Journal", more recently for the" New York Times"), delves into William Horton's life and crimes--and ways his crimes have been reported and manipulated--because "the Horton case [has] become the locus classicus for a new American folktale of crime and justice [which] both arose from and encouraged a politics of fear . . . now turning Americans away from principles that had governed their approach to law enforcement and penology for two centuries." In the U.S., innocent victims meet random violence infrequently. But such crimes are overreported, so scared citizens demand "expressive justice" : the death penalty, mandatory sentencing, "three strikes and you're out," as well as Singapore's caning, Alabama's chain gangs, and other actions whose only justification is that they make some victims and observers feel better. There are many villains here: criminals, of course, but also sloppy journalists, venal politicians, clumsy bureaucrats, and citizens (including victims) who use public policy debate as personal therapy. Making fundamental changes in the U.S. justice system so that people will feel better is profoundly dangerous; Anderson calls for crime-victim benefits but argues eloquently that "expressive justice" can only delay real crime control.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812920611
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/10/1995
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
291
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.58(h) x 1.07(d)

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