CHOKEHOLD by Paul Butler
Kirkus Star


Policing Black Men
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“If this chapter reads like a nightmare, it is because that’s exactly what the criminal system is for an African American man”—a searing look at the interactions of law enforcement and black men by a former prosecutor.

When it comes to the law, it seems, black men inhabit a different country than white men. Granted, as Butler (Law/Georgetown Univ.; Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice, 2009) writes, acknowledging “ugly facts,” black men commit disproportionately more violent crimes, especially homicide, than Latino or white men, but they are also disproportionately likely to be victims of just those crimes. In any event, whites are far likelier to be victimized by other whites than by anyone else, even as black men, and especially young ones, are subject to what Butler calls the Chokehold: an entire system of justice that presumes their guilt and that is entirely geared to the suppression of an entire category of citizens. This system often works insidiously. As Butler writes, for instance, the Supreme Court has ruled that people with intellectual disabilities are not subject to the death penalty, because they may not be aware that they are committing crimes. However, prosecutors circumvent this by adding points to the IQ scores of minority criminals, playing on the nostrum that IQ measures traditionally discriminate against minority members and thereby raising the score of black men “enough for them to be executed.” The author writes from experience, having been charged with a crime that he did not commit and that he was able to refute only by knowledge of the system. In a depressing inventory, he offers pointers for reducing black men’s chances of being caught up in it, ranging from not wearing a hoodie (“when I put on a hoodie everybody turns into a neighborhood watch person”) to avoiding red flags: “three or more black men in a car at any time,” “black men raising their voices,” and the like.

Smart, filled rightfully with righteous indignation, and demanding broad discussion and the widest audience.

Pub Date: July 11th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-59558-905-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:


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