Book: Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond by Marc Lamont Hill
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 2016
Source: Hardback from library
Summary: Journalist Marc Lamont Hill covers the vulnerable, stories about people who aren’t often talked about, unless the manner of their deaths are problematic and dramatic.
He argues that government should have a role in protecting the vulnerable. Instead, for the last few decades, the State is making life worse for the poor, for people of color, and other marginalized populations.
An obsession with free-market logic and culture has led the political class to craft policies that promote private interests over the public good. As a result, our schools, our criminal justice system, our military, our police departments, our public policy, and virtually every other entity engineered to protect life and enhance prosperity have been at least partially relocated to the private sector. At the same time, the private sector has kept its natural commitment to maximizing profits rather than investing in people. p. xviii
Thoughts: The most shocking thing, for me, came in a chapter about how our court system works:
This is not the system of fairness that the architects of American criminal justice envisioned, even if they were only imagining it for White male landowners. It is not even the system romanticized in popular culture, with its emphasis on the rights of the accused, arguments being played out before a jury of one’s peers, and judges guiding the process according to eternal principles of fairness. And it is certainly not the system dictated by the Fourteenth Amendment, with its demand for “equal protection of the laws.” Despite these lofty ideals, despite paeans to justice etched on the entryways of our courts, our current system is actually carried out in two places that ultimately compromise justice: first, in the mind of the prosecutor, and second, behind closed doors, where that same prosecutor and a defense lawyer (who is all too often an overworked and underpaid public defender) work out the details of a plea deal. Here they dispose of lives–especially the lives of the vulnerable–with astonishing alacrity. Amazing though it may seem, it is estimated that 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of state cases end up in some kind of deal. As Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in his Lafler v. Cooper majority opinion in 2012, “Ours is a system of pleas, not a system of trials.” p. 71-72
Over 90% of cases never go to trial?! Not exactly the fair trial in front of a jury of my peers that I was promised in Civics class. And, not how it’s shown on Law and Order. Instead, efficiency outweighs everything — the guilt or innocence of the person charged, the facts (and any public interest that would be gained from understanding what really happened), and the mercy that might be supplied by the judge on behalf of the State in some circumstances.
Appeal: This was a selection for our inter-racial book group that specializes on books about race in America. We had a terrific discussion and agreed that this would be an excellent companion book to one we read about year ago, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. There’s a film version of Just Mercy in production, expected to be release in January 2020.
Call to Action: If you believe, as Marc Lamont Hill and Bryan Stevenson do, that it’s time for an overhaul of our justice system at every level, then vote for people who will work on that. If you believe, as I do, that all of us are better off when more of us are living up to our potential, then vote for people who will improve public schools and the lives of the vulnerable. What is your plan to vote on November 6? My plan is to drive to my polling place at about 10am to catch a slow time between early morning voters and lunch-time voters.
After those people are elected, tell them why you voted for them and that you’re paying attention to the issues. Join an organization, or create one, to work on the issue in your community. If you live in the St. Louis area, I can connect you to people and organizations working on these things. If your issue happens to be reforming school discipline in West St. Louis County schools, then I’m the person and our organization can use your help!