Timely reading as Americans continue to reckon with an unreliable, sometimes racist criminal justice system.

DEEP DELTA JUSTICE

A BLACK TEEN, HIS LAWYER, AND THEIR GROUNDBREAKING BATTLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE SOUTH

An examination of a 1966 racial confrontation and its aftermath, which “would help dismantle the infrastructure of white supremacy that had strangled [a rural Louisiana] community for centuries.”

Van Meter, a Detroit-based journalist who is an assistant director of that city’s Shakespeare in Prison project, describes an altercation between two black high school students and four white students. It took place in Plaquemines Parish, a bayou community already infamous for its virulent racism, in large part because of the bigoted politician who ruled the area, Leander H. Perez, who “hurled himself bodily at challenges, heedless of opposition or difficulty.” The criminal case that resulted from the incident, which received a push from Perez, involved Gary Duncan, 19 at the time. On Oct. 18, 1966, Duncan noticed the two black students while driving out of town. Sensing that the white students might attack them, Duncan stopped his car and defused the situation, lightly touching the arm of one of the white boys before driving off. That moment, writes the author in this readable legal and civil rights history, “marked the beginning of one of the most important—and improbable criminal cases in history.” Duncan was charged with assault. Through a series of unlikely connections, he found 28-year-old Richard Sobol, a white attorney visiting Louisiana to work on civil rights litigation while on a brief break from his corporate firm in Washington, D.C. White lawyers in the area, pushed by Perez, become so enraged at Sobol that they attempted to ban him from practicing law in the state, but Sobol prevailed. The federal court in New Orleans ruled that the prosecution “can only be interpreted as harassment” and “was meant to show Richard that civil rights lawyers were not welcome in the parish and their defense of Negroes…would not be tolerated.” Though not as revelatory as Just Mercy, this will appeal to admirers of Bryan Stevenson and similar crusaders.

Timely reading as Americans continue to reckon with an unreliable, sometimes racist criminal justice system.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-43503-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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