Winner of the 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Grand Prize
"An original, wise and courageous work that moves beyond sterile arguments and lifts the discussion of race and justice to a new and more hopeful level."Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In this groundbreaking, powerfully reasoned, lucid work that is certain to provoke controversy, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy takes on a highly complex issue in a way that no one has before. Kennedy uncovers the long-standing failure of the justice system to protect blacks from criminals, probing allegations that blacks are victimized on a widespread basis by racially discriminatory prosecutions and punishments, but he also engages the debate over the wisdom and legality of using racial criteria in jury selection. He analyzes the responses of the legal system to accusations that appeals to racial prejudice have rendered trials unfair, and examines the idea that, under certain circumstances, members of one race are statistically more likely to be involved in crime than members of another.
"An admirable, courageous, and meticulously fair and honest book."New York Times Book Review
"This book should be a standard for all law students."Boston Globe
Part history, part contemporary analysis, this long book contains worthy nuggets about current legal debates. This study by Harvard law professor Kennedy, known for his nuanced views on racial issues, includes thoughtful efforts at progressive but not radical solutions. Still, most of the book recaps our nation's deplorable history of racism in the courts. Kennedy observes that blacks commit more crimes than whites but argues compellingly that it is socially unhealthy for police to be instinctively suspicious of blacks; rather, we should spend more effort on other means of enforcement to counteract this. He opposes both peremptory challenges in jury selection and race-specific efforts to add blacks to jury pools; he prefers race-neutral efforts (using driver's licenses rather than voter rolls). Kennedy laments that capital punishment remains skewed against black killers of white victims and complains that local politicians remain unwilling to reform death penalty laws. Finally, he argues that there may be a legitimate reason for assessing harsher sentences on black sellers of crack than on white sellers of cocaine because crack is more accessible and thus more dangerous. (May)