How Black Leaders in U.S. ‘Locked Up Our Own’

Yale Law Prof. James Forman Jr. describes how black leaders supported tough-on-crime measures that harmed many African Americans. He accuses Attorney General Jeff Sessions of also pursuing anticrime approaches with “damaging consequences.”

Yale Law Prof. James Forman Jr., author of the new book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” tells NPR about the role of African-American political and community leaders in advocating tough-on-crime measures as ways to stop drugs and guns from destroying black communities. Forman cites “investigatory stops” in Washington, D.C., when Eric Holder was U.S. Attorney in the 1990s. The goal of the police “is to get guns. And that’s a worthy goal,” he says .”But the way they unveil this policy, when you consider other aspects of our society and of our criminal justice system, lead to many terrible outcomes.”

Police officers often didn’t find guns but small amounts of drugs instead, Forman says. Even if suspects weren’t prosecuted, the fact that they were arrested might lead them to lose their jobs. Millions of people “because of unequal enforcement choices have ended up so much worse off than they ever would’ve been otherwise,” Forman says. Currently, Forman says, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions “are leading us in a disastrous direction on criminal justice matters.” Forman says Sessions is “stuck in this mindset that is blind to the damaging consequences that these incredibly aggressive approaches [against crime] have to communities of color in particular, but to communities nationwide.”