#BookReview: Prison By Any Other Name by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law

Eye Opening Yet Flawed. From a standard sociological talking point side, this book is eye opening yet also perfectly in-line (almost within perfect lock-step, in fact) with current sociological understanding – or at least my own understanding of current sociological understanding. (And this, from a guy that *long ago* presented at a sociological conference as a college freshman – just to establish that I do in fact have a *modicum* of academic understanding here. 😉 ) In the forward, Michelle Alexander shows that despite the years, her own blinders and biases are still perfectly in place – but also sets the overall tone for the book. In short, this does for government controls outside the actual mass incarceration system what Alexander’s The New Jim Crow did for the mass incarceration system and what Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop did for the actual history of police militarization and brutality in the US. Indeed, ultimately this is a book that belongs in the same libraries and conversations as those two magnum opuses as a definitive text on the issue that every single person in America needs to read. Yes, it is *that* powerful, even for someone who has read both of the aforementioned books, who has been an activist for quite some time, and know knows more about these issues than many, perhaps most, people currently talking about them in media (either professional or social).

Its critical flaws are similar to Alexanders’ own: it has a near laser focus on race as the root cause. Where this book gains the extra star above Alexander’s book is that key word “near”. Schenwar and Law do a commendable job of listing other leading causes of these issues – chiefly, being poor no matter the color of your skin – even while most often listing race as the most common cause. At that point, I’m more willing to call six of one/ half a dozen of the other, it is so well balanced here.

But arguably the biggest flaw of the book is that even while constantly preaching about the perils of government control systems, it still manages to advocate for *more*… government control systems, simply targeting other people. Even as it preaches community and alternatives to police, prison, and the various systems described in the book, it still ultimately demands ever more government programs rather than the true community Schenwar and Law claim to want. Rather than praising Anarchy and demanding a complete overthrow of the very government systems that cause the very problems they so accurately describe, they ultimately choose to love Big Brother even while asking him to be a little bit nicer.

And just as this ending is the ultimate tragedy of Orwell’s 1984, so too it is the ultimate tragedy of this otherwise stupendous polemic. Recommended.

This review of Prison By Any Other Name by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law was originally written on June 16, 2020.

#BookReview: When They Come For You by David Kirby

Well Written. Flawed in Spots. Didn’t Live Up To Potential. This book was solid in a journalistic sense – it has quite a bibliography at the end, though it went a bit editorial at times. Does a good job of showing some of the numerous ways the US government at every level works to deny the rights of its citizens, and mostly does a good job of balancing criticism between “both” “major” US political parties. Cites the dramatically undercounted Washington Post numbers when making claims of how many people police have killed – that number counts for several years less than the number of people that are actually killed in any given year. Similarly misinformed regarding vaccines, but that one in particular shouldn’t be shocking given the author’s prior work. Overall a good primer for those who aren’t yet aware of the full breadth of the US government’s abuses, though independent research should be done after reading this book. Recommended.

This review of When They Come For You by David Kirby was originally published on May 25, 2019.

#BookReview: Our Enemies In Blue by Kristian Williams

Very Thorough Research. This book both predates and succeeds (and even cites) Radley Balko’s stronger work RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP: THE MILITARIZATION OF AMERICA’S POLICE FORCES. While it cites *volumes* more incidents than Balko’s work, and is thus very illuminating because of it, this book has a fatal flaw that is lacking in Balko’s work – namely, that it constantly comes at the issue of police brutality as a form of racial and/ or class warfare/ oppression. Its discussions of Anarchism and the optimal state of having no police force whatsoever is great (and lacking in Balko’s work), but that strength isn’t enough to overcome the flaw of being so hyper-biased throughout. Still, like Michelle Alexander’s THE NEW JIM CROW (which this book also cites), this book – initially written roughly 8 yrs before Balko’s, and updated 3 yrs after Balko’s – is a GREAT read for any who seek the truth that in America, police truly are the enemy of us all.

This review of Our Enemies In Blue by Kristian Williams was originally published on May 13, 2018.

Featured New Release of the Week: The Black and The Blue by Matthew Horace

This week we branch out into our first nonfiction book, again from NetGalley. Today, we’re looking at The Black and The Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace.

Now, this one was a bit interesting for me. You see, even up until the week before I started this site, I had been active in fighting police brutality for most of the last decade. Indeed, I was fighting police brutality before America had heard names like “Walter Scott”, “Michael Brown”, “Tamir Rice”, and numerous others. My story truly began with some cops illegally questioning me – a smart yet unpopular “weird” lower middle class white kid in the suburbs – without so much as a parent or school counselor, much less a lawyer, present. But my story really picked up when I began hearing names like “Kathryn Johnston” and “Jonathan Ayers”, then I was following online as some online acquaintances were harassed as they drove across America searching for liberty. They would found CopBlock.org soon after, and for the next several years I would be involved in that project locally, regionally, and even nationally at various levels. As recently as earlier this year, I finally created my own website to track all instances of people killed by police in America yet allow some basic reporting on the issue, something no other website did anywhere near the level I did.

So make no mistake about it, while I gave up that life completely when I came into this new world of book blogging and putting my efforts into books and publishing, I have a very strong and still quite recent history of doing everything I can to illuminate and bring awareness to the issue of police brutality in America.

Which is why coming into this book was so interesting for me. For someone like me to sit there and read the words of not just a cop, but someone who actively trained other cops for years, knowing all that I know? It was actually an interesting and at least somewhat pleasant experience.

Structure wise, this book probably wasn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked, and I indeed recommend the far superior book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police by Radley Balko, written over a year before #BlackLivesMatter became a thing, from that side. This book instead takes a personal look at a few instances from Horace’s own career as a cop, from his days on the streets of Baltimore to his ascendancy into the upper echelons of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms while also spending a good chunk of the book examining Chicago, Ferguson, and New Orleans in detail. There are a few grammar issues, mostly misplaced words similar to the clearly intended word.

Overall narrative wise, the book flows well and is an interesting and fairly easy read. The transitions are fairly seamless, and the sections allowing cops from all levels to discuss different topics worked well with the chapter they were placed with. The story was much more balanced than I expected from someone in Horace’s position, while still lacking in certain key areas to my tastes – but surely too much attention in certain areas for the tastes of someone more pro-cop than myself.

Overall this is in fact a book I recommend, just at the 3 star level and with recommending that Balko’s book be read as well. To me, it really does add a voice that can be missing from these conversations at times, and while Horace never does what is really needed, he does in fact seem like someone at least willing to hear all sides – even if he has his own preconceived notions that will not change regardless.

And the obligatory Goodreads/ Amazon review:

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