cover image The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth

The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth

Kristin Henning. Pantheon, $32 (512p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4890-6

Black youth in the U.S. are subjected to unwarranted scrutiny by police and an overly punitive and biased justice system, according to this sobering and richly documented study. Georgetown law professor Henning draws on high-profile cases, sociological research, and her experiences representing defendants in D.C.’s juvenile courts to document the institutional mechanisms that criminalize the normal adolescent behavior of Black youth. She notes, for example, that some communities have banned sagging pants, a symbol of hip-hop culture; that Black adolescents meeting in groups are routinely branded as gang members, while white teenagers are not; and that Black youth are more likely to be prosecuted for drug crimes, despite evidence that white youth use illicit drugs at the same rates or higher. Henning also contrasts the case of an 18-year-old Black high school football player sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old classmate with that of Stanford University freshman Brock Turner, who received a six-month sentence for felony sexual assault. Henning’s suggested reforms include fostering resilience by teaching Black history, de-escalation training for police officers in schools, and “the elimination of unconstitutional and racially targeted stops, searches, and arrests.” Copiously documented and passionately argued, this is a powerful and persuasive call for change. (Sept.)