WHEN GROWN MEN CRY by John L. Burris


Blacks and Cops in Conflict--and What We Can Do About It
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Noted Oakland, Calif., civil rights attorney (and onetime prosecutor) Burris draws on his experience in the arena of police brutality suits to produce a passionately rendered, detailed work that, for all its timeliness and expertise, still seems in some crucial ways to be preaching to the choir. Burris recounts numerous incidents in which innocent African-Americans were, through malice or misunderstanding, physically abused by officers using such devastating tactics as chokeholds, stun guns, and chemical sprays. Although their properly pursued complaints often resulted in moderate cash settlements, Burris holds that such remuneration loses meaning in a larger police culture that, in seeking to shield officers and insulate law enforcement from civilian oversight, inevitably provides tacit encouragement for behavior ranging from racially influenced traffic stops and pedestrian searches, to the deadly rings of rogue cops that occasionally terrify impoverished neighborhoods. He observes that the financial costs of this Faustian bargain drain already strapped city funds, and that current proposals for civilian review often wind up stifled (as in Giuliani’s New York). Although Burris is most convincing in detailing the ways in which young blacks encounter the police “continuum of force” more often and far more severely than do young whites, his argument’s effectiveness is limited by examining racism as the sole motivator of such malfeasance, and by the dearth of consideration of the inherent stress and danger of police work. Burris concludes with a sound ten-point proposal that encompasses careful recruitment, expansion of “community policing” programs, greater emphasis on communications in training, and aggressive pursuit of police wrongdoing. Although moderate versions of his initiatives are actually underway in many departments, one feels Burris’s text is somehow incomplete in its address of the more malign (and seemingly permanent) elements of law-enforcement culture. Burris’s energy and experience aid in the overall effectiveness of this take on a defining topic of this decade of King, Gammage, Louima, and Diallo. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20392-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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