Law Never Here: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice

Law Never Here: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice

Law Never Here: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice

Law Never Here: A Social History of African American Responses to Issues of Crime and Justice

Synopsis

Shared racial and cultural experiences and the collective memory of those experiences play important roles in determining the responses of African Americans to issues of crime and violence. By examining American history through the prism of African American experience, this volume provides a framework for understanding contemporary issues regarding crime and justice, including the much-discussed gap between how blacks and whites perceive the fairness of the criminal justice system. Following a thesis offered by W.E.B. Du Bois with regard to African American responses to oppression, the authors argue that responses by African Americans to issues of crime and justice have taken three main forms--resistance, accommodation, and self-determination. These responses are related to efforts by African Americans to carve out social and psychological "space" for themselves and to find their "place" in America.

Excerpt

The title of this book reflects an inherent historical contradiction -- an irony -- in the relationship between African Americans and the American criminal justice system. The title comes from a conversation between the landscape architect and journalist Frederick Law Olmstead and a slave he encountered during his tour of the slave states. The slave's name was William. His master, a Louisiana plantation owner, had assigned William, one of his house servants, to drive Olmstead in the plantation owner's buggy. During the course of their twenty-mile journey, Olmstead casually probed William as to his opinions about slavery. William, originally from Virginia, believed that Virginia-bred slaves were far superior to Creole slaves. William also detected some difference among masters, particularly American masters and those of French descent. He found the French masters more severe than Americans. William added that he and the other slaves on Mr. R.'s plantation were fortunate to have him as a master. William explained that French masters sometimes did not give their slaves enough to eat; sometimes they gave them no meat at all. Olmstead told William that "this could not be so, for the law required that every master should serve out meat to his negroes." To this, William responded, "Oh, but some on 'em don't mind Law, if he does say so, massa. Law never here; don't know anything about him." Later in the conversation, William, the slave of a good American master who provided his slaves with ample food and clothing, expressed to Olmstead his own wistful longing for freedom.

"Well, now, wouldn't you rather live on such a plantation than to be free, William? . . ."

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