Race, Crime, and the Law


Winner of the 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Grand Prize

"An original, wise and courageous work that moves beyond sterile arguments and lifts the discussion of race and justice to a new and more hopeful level."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In this groundbreaking, powerfully reasoned, lucid work that is certain to provoke controversy, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy takes on a highly complex issue in a way that no one has before. Kennedy uncovers the long-standing failure of ...

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Race, Crime, and the Law

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Winner of the 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Grand Prize

"An original, wise and courageous work that moves beyond sterile arguments and lifts the discussion of race and justice to a new and more hopeful level."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In this groundbreaking, powerfully reasoned, lucid work that is certain to provoke controversy, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy takes on a highly complex issue in a way that no one has before. Kennedy uncovers the long-standing failure of the justice system to protect blacks from criminals, probing allegations that blacks are victimized on a widespread basis by racially discriminatory prosecutions and punishments, but he also engages the debate over the wisdom and legality of using racial criteria in jury selection. He analyzes the responses of the legal system to accusations that appeals to racial prejudice have rendered trials unfair, and examines the idea that, under certain circumstances, members of one race are statistically more likely to be involved in crime than members of another.

"An admirable, courageous, and meticulously fair and honest book."—New York Times Book Review

"This book should be a standard for all law students."—Boston Globe

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Part history, part contemporary analysis, this long book contains worthy nuggets about current legal debates. This study by Harvard law professor Kennedy, known for his nuanced views on racial issues, includes thoughtful efforts at progressive but not radical solutions. Still, most of the book recaps our nation's deplorable history of racism in the courts. Kennedy observes that blacks commit more crimes than whites but argues compellingly that it is socially unhealthy for police to be instinctively suspicious of blacks; rather, we should spend more effort on other means of enforcement to counteract this. He opposes both peremptory challenges in jury selection and race-specific efforts to add blacks to jury pools; he prefers race-neutral efforts using driver's licenses rather than voter rolls. Kennedy laments that capital punishment remains skewed against black killers of white victims and complains that local politicians remain unwilling to reform death penalty laws. Finally, he argues that there may be a legitimate reason for assessing harsher sentences on black sellers of crack than on white sellers of cocaine because crack is more accessible and thus more dangerous. May
Library Journal
Kennedy law, Harvard has penned a balanced historical analysis of the state of race relations in the administration of criminal justice. He forcefully argues that many characteristics of the justice system, such as police surveillance, jury selection, and capital sentencing, perpetuate racial bias against African Americans. To eradicate this racism requires that judges, lawyers, and police deal honestly with America's history of racism. In illustrating this point, Kennedy unearths mountains of evidence testifying to America's brutally racist past, focusing on the slave codes, lynchings, and rape as a means to enforce a rigid racial hierarchy. Therefore, this text seems to work better as a history bookan excellent one at thatthan as a prescription for the social ills of our current legal system. Academic and large public libraries should consider.Steven Anderson, Baltimore Cty. Circuit Court Law Lib., Towson, Md.
The New York Times
Rarely if ever has anyone systematically and cogently addressed as many of the vexing issues persisting in American society. -- The New York Times
The Boston Globe
This book should be a standard for law students and "required reading" for informed citizens. -- The Boston Globe
Kirkus Reviews
"The most salient feature of race relations in America at the end of the twentieth century is its complexity," writes Kennedy. And he proves his point here.

Harvard law professor Kennedy takes full account of discrimination by prosecutors and judges toward minority defendants, and by police and politicians who neglect the public safety of minority neighborhoods. But he contends that these problems have been largely ameliorated in recent decades by a genuine decline in white racism and a greatly expanded role for minorities in the political and legal systems. He fears that poorly substantiated allegations of racism will "elicit stubborn defensiveness from officials who can concede having been mistaken but cannot abide the charge that racial bias determined their conduct." Kennedy insists that we "look beyond looks" whenever race becomes an issue within the criminal justice system; he notes that doing so sometimes leads to conclusions that contradict the presumption, shared by many on the left, that racism is always at the root of differential results. Thus, he finds a disturbing residuum of bigotry in the Supreme Court's approval of the often race-based criminal "profiles" used by law enforcement to identify likely criminals and illegal aliens; on the other hand, he faults critics of the large discrepancy in sentences between those convicted of offenses involving crack, most of whom are black, and those convicted of powder cocaine offenses, most of whom are white, for failing to take into account crack's much greater availability to (and devastating impact on) African-Americans. He also excoriates Georgetown law professor Paul Butler for counseling black jurors to protest white racism by acquitting some clearly guilty black defendants; Kennedy believes such a practice would further erode already weak public support for the jury system.

Whether his specific analyses are right or wrong, Kennedy's insistence on substituting thought for sloganeering is a refreshing anomaly in the bitter debate over the legal system's treatment of minorities.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375701849
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 538
  • Sales rank: 589,335
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The Race Question in Criminal Law: Changing the Politics of the Conflict 3
2 History: Unequal Protection 29
3 History: Unequal Enforcement 76
4 Race, Law, and Suspicion: Using Color as a Proxy for Dangerousness 136
5 Race and the Composition of Juries: Setting the Ground Rules 168
6 Race and the Composition of Juries: The Peremptory Challenge 193
7 Race and Composition of Juries: From Antidiscrimination to Imposing Diversity 231
8 Playing the Race Card in a Criminal Trial 256
9 Race, Law, and Punishment: The Death Penalty 311
10 Race, Law, and Punishment: The War on Drugs 351
Afterword 387
Notes 391
Bibliography 465
Index 515
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