Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience

Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience

Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience

Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience


From animal rights to anti-abortion, from tax resistance to anti-poverty, activists from across the political spectrum often deliberately break the law to further their causes. While not behaviors common to hardened or self-seeking criminals, the staging of civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, and direct action can nevertheless trigger a harsh response from law enforcement, with those arrested risking jail time and criminal records. Crimes of Dissent features the voices of these activists, presenting a fascinating insider's look at the motivations, costs and consequences of deliberately violating the law as a strategy of social change.

Crimes of Dissent provides readers with an in-depth understanding of why activists break the law, and what happens to them when they do. Using dynamic examples, both historic and recent, Jarret Lovell explores how seasoned protesters are handled and treated by the criminal justice system, shedding light on the intersection between the political and the criminal. By adopting the unique vantage of the street-level activist, Crimes of Dissent provides a fascinating view of protest from the ground, giving voice to those who refuse to remain silent by risking punishment for their political actions.


Most of the time, though, we’re bored to tears by eggheads with no
criminal practice of their own.

—Alain Mabanckou, African Psycho (2003)

Alain Mabanckou’s novel African Psycho tells the story of Gregoire, a would-be serial killer who not only is consumed by an unhealthy fascination with crime but who also is filled with an overpowering rage toward experts who purport to understand the mind of a criminal. Amid countless literary jabs that critique everything from a crime-obsessed media to the failings of the police, this protagonist of sorts saves his harshest lashings for the most loathsome of all crime watchers: the criminologist. “They claim to be analyzing crimes, but have they committed even one? What kind of nonsense is that?” Declaring the writings put forth by academics to be nothing but “a lot of nonsense,” he vows to ignore criminology outright until the day when “criminals, real ones, start teaching their subject themselves.”

Should the fictional Gregoire be given the chance to hold these pages in his hands, he probably would be satisfied with its approach to the study of crime. There are no accounts of murder, bloodlust, or dismemberment, to be sure. There are, however, plenty of passages detailing the actions of persons—criminals if you will—who deliberately and publicly violate the law as expressions of protest against perceived racial, economic, or other social injustices. Moreover, these accounts are provided not by secondparty observers but by the very persons who perform these transgressions. Indeed, both as a criminologist and as this book’s author, I have been neither a dispassionate observer nor a detached bystander of the phenomena at hand. Instead, I have been an active participant in some of the very transgressions detailed throughout the chapters that follow.

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