Chokehold: Policing Black Men and Women in America

US justice is built to humiliate and oppress black men. And it starts with the chokehold hokehold: a maneuver in which a person’s neck is tightly gripped in a way that restrains breathing. A person left in a chokehold for more than a few seconds can die. The former police chief of Los Angeles Daryl Gates once suggested that there is something about the anatomy of African Americans that makes them especially susceptible to serious injury from chokeholds, because their arteries do not open as … [Read more...]

Innocence Is Irrelevant

This is the age of the plea bargain—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences. t had been a long night for Shanta Sweatt. After working a 16-hour shift cleaning the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, in Nashville, and then catching the 11:15 bus to her apartment, she just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. Instead, she wound up having a fight with the man she refers to as her “so-called boyfriend.” He was a high-school classmate who had recently ended up on the street, so … [Read more...]

Can a Civilian Persuade L.A. Cops to Stop Shooting?

It’s 11 a..m. on a Tuesday last March, and Matthew Johnson, the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, is seated front and center with the four other part-time civilian commissioners in a large theater-style meeting room at the LAPD’s headquarters downtown. On today’s agenda is approval of a potentially historic new policy intended to decrease the high number of LAPD shootings. But as has been the case for years now, the angry, overwhelmingly black, overflow crowd is hurling … [Read more...]

Let Black Kids Just Be Kids

George Zimmerman admitted at his 2012 bail hearing that he misjudged Trayvon Martin’s age when he killed him. “I thought he was a little bit younger than I am,” he said, meaning just under 28. But Trayvon was only 17. What may be most tragic about Mr. Zimmerman’s miscalculation is that it’s widespread. To many people, black boys seem older than they are: In one study, people overestimated their ages by 4.5 years. This contributes to a false perception that black boys are less childlike than … [Read more...]

Can Sex Sell Peace?

An adman thinks it can help. Tell young people they might die from gun violence, and the message gets lost in the hopelessness of impoverished neighborhoods, where fatalism runs deep. Tell young men that a bullet could lead to lifelong paralysis and what the pill-makers call “erectile dysfunction,” and you are more likely to have their attention. That is the working hypothesis James Evans reached after conducting focus groups, online surveys and one-on-one interviews in his murder-plagued … [Read more...]

Why Civil Asset Forfeiture Simply Won’t Die

That Attorney General Jeff Sessions would resurrect a controversial federal program for civil asset forfeiture isn’t surprising. He has long been one of the rare advocates for the policy, a vestige of the war on drugs restricted by the Obama administration that allowed local and state law enforcement officials to use federal law to seize (and keep) property suspected of crime. But his announcement last week that the Justice Department was expanding the practice nonetheless perfectly … [Read more...]

‘The Grim Sleeper”—South L.A. Serial Killer and the Women Who Were His Victims

The Grim Sleeper,” Christine Pelisek’s painfully relevant new book about the notorious South Central serial killer of perhaps 25 or more women, comes at a time when true crime has been made great again. The agents of that greatness have not been books but, rather, podcasts and television series, of the kind frequently appended with the “prestige” label, lest anyone mistake them for unserious entertainment on par with slasher flicks or the kinds of lurid quasi-documentaries that play on cable … [Read more...]

Number of Fatal Shootings by Police Nearly Identical to Last Year

Police nationwide shot and killed 492 people in the first six months of this year, a number nearly identical to the count for the same period in each of the prior two years. Fatal shootings by police in 2017 have so closely tracked last year’s numbers that on June 16, the tally was the same. Although the number of unarmed people killed by police dropped slightly, the overall pace for 2017 through Friday was on track to approach 1,000 killed for a third year in a row. The Washington Post … [Read more...]

A Presumption of Guilt

Late one night several years ago, I got out of my car on a dark midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to “blow my head off.” I’d been parked outside my new apartment in a racially mixed but mostly white neighborhood that I didn’t consider a high-crime area. As the man repeated the threat, I suppressed my first instinct to run and fearfully raised my hands in helpless submission. I begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over … [Read more...]

Philandro Castile and the Terror of an Ordinary Day

Philando Castile was shot to death last July on his way home from buying groceries with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. Last week, the Minnesota police officer who killed him was acquitted by a jury on all counts. I am haunted by how ordinary Mr. Castile’s final moments were. He was just running errands with his family. It’s this denial of the right to simply be — the perpetual state of otherness — that dangerously shadows black people. This is most obvious in our criminal … [Read more...]