CRIME AND THE POLITICS OF HYSTERIA: How the Willie Horton Case Changed American Justice by David C. Anderson

CRIME AND THE POLITICS OF HYSTERIA: How the Willie Horton Case Changed American Justice

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A tonic exploration of the notorious Willie Horton case and the ""politics of fear"" that has hindered American justice. The Horton case, exploited in potent TV ads during the 1988 presidential campaign by supporters of George Bush, involved a black convict released on furlough by Massachusetts prison officials during the administration of Michael Dukakis; Horton went on to commit rape and assault on a white Maryland couple. Former New York Times editorial writer Anderson (Crimes of Justice, not reviewed) sees the Horton case as fostering ""expressive justice,"" that is, policies like capital punishment and mandatory sentencing that are ""designed more to vent communal outrage than to reduce crime."" But he addresses such broad policy questions only infrequently, devoting the bulk of his book to a close -- at times too close -- analysis of the Horton case. Reconstructing Horton's 1987 rampage, Anderson notes that it was hardly unusual, but the country, fed crime but not context on TV, reacted disproportionately. He flashes back to probe Horton's initial conviction and his generally responsible prison record. While Horton's crimes were not monstrous and his release on furlough an error, not gross malfeasance, outrage was magnified by the emotional cries of crime victims; irresponsible coverage by a local newspaper; and the persistence of unfounded rumors regarding the crime that landed Horton in prison. After describing the Bush forces' grim calculations and the issue's continuing fallout -- including Bill Clinton's refusal during the 1992 campaign to pardon a brain-damaged convict sentenced to death -- Anderson argues that we should support rehabilitation but must also allocate more resources to help crime victims. Common-sense talk in a debate characterized by demagoguery.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Times