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RACE, CRIME, AND THE LAW by Randall Kennedy


by Randall Kennedy

Pub Date: May 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43881-5
Publisher: Pantheon

 ``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. (Author tour)