Lets Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice


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Since he didn't, the last half of the book feels anti-climactic. Oct 21, Riah rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Recommended to Riah by: I read this book as a follow up after being disappointed by the final chapter of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander highlights the problem, but doesn't have a solution other than "now the rest of you figure it out," which bugged me.

Butler, on the other hand, assumes that you know enough to be troubled by the racial injustice inherent in our criminal justice system, and sets out to present ways to change it along with some analysis I read this book as a follow up after being disappointed by the final chapter of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Butler, on the other hand, assumes that you know enough to be troubled by the racial injustice inherent in our criminal justice system, and sets out to present ways to change it along with some analysis of it's problems, from a more inside perspective.

His argument is that mass incarceration isn't just racist, it also is counterproductive, in that it perpetuates and increases crime by sending too many non-violent offenders though the prison system. The most interesting piece of his strategy is strategic jury nullification, where jurors are legally able to return a not guilty verdict for a person they believe to be guilty, if they see the law as unjust or the prosecution as unfair.

This is an important right we have as American citizens, that very few people know about. Definitely worth reading if you're the type of person who knows the system's broken and wants actual ideas on how to fix it. Also, the first chapter, about his own arrest and trial is fascinating. And weirdly, given the title, the chapter on Hip Hop is the weakest. Butler comes across as smarter and more coherent when he sticks to law and politics, rather than culture. But the book's definitely worth reading, especially for anyone who's read the New Jim Crow.

Apr 27, Audacia Ray rated it liked it Shelves: A really smart, engaging, easy to read and thought-provoking book. I wavered between 3 and 4 stars because it's a little uneven, especially toward the end. Though it isn't presented as such, the book really reads like a collection of essays because of its scattered-ness. The opening anecdote of the book, about the author ruthlessly prosecuting a prostitute with plenty of derogatory slang , made me cringe. Other than the opening passage, Butler mostly focuses on the impact of poverty and policin A really smart, engaging, easy to read and thought-provoking book.

Other than the opening passage, Butler mostly focuses on the impact of poverty and policing especially with regards to drugs on black and Latino men. He doesn't come back to discussing prostitution - which may be just as well. That said, I most recommend two chapters. Power to the People," discusses the practice of juror nullification, something I didn't know about before reading the book. Jurors may choose not to punish someone who appears guilty - which means that jurors have the power to reduce incarceration rates for non-violent offenses. Just one juror on a panel can create a hung jury, and for many low level crimes, the prosecutor will not seek to re-try the case.

More about juror nullification here: I also highly recommend the last chapter, "The Beautiful Struggle: May 26, Johnathan rated it did not like it. Despite having an interesting premise a former black AUSA giving his take on the criminal justice system from a hip-hop perspective , this book was extremely disappointing.

Rather than writing a thoughtful critique of our current policies using hip-hop as a springboard, Butler merely rambles throughout the book, reciting facts that have been already been presented and in more compelling ways. He fancies himself a public intellectual, but to do so more is required than merely interspersing a f Despite having an interesting premise a former black AUSA giving his take on the criminal justice system from a hip-hop perspective , this book was extremely disappointing.

He fancies himself a public intellectual, but to do so more is required than merely interspersing a few slang words. Also, while I agree with his critique that good people often should not become prosecutors, I was disappointed that his analysis was so stale and unoriginal. It would've been great if he used his considerable experiences as an AUSA to present a more complex and complicated and ultimately more realistic portrayal of that aspect of criminal justice enforcement.

Jul 15, Caitlin rated it it was ok. I would strongly recommend this book as an introduction to criminal justice issues. The book is thoughtful and is an effective indictment of the current system. It explains why being "tough on crime" has not worked and proposes ways the average citizen can push for justice. But a " hip-hop theory of justice"? There was maybe one chapter dissecting hip-hop lyrics and a few page I would strongly recommend this book as an introduction to criminal justice issues.

There was maybe one chapter dissecting hip-hop lyrics and a few pages on the Stop Snitching movement. Those sections were admittedly insightful, but they were such a small portion of the book and did not go far enough. I suppose I was just hoping for a deeper exploration of the relationship between the hip-hop community and crime.

This book was more of a broad overview of criminal justice theory. May 20, Michael rated it liked it.

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Former Prosecutor Pens A Hip-Hop Theory Of Justice

But the author seemed to try too hard to reject conventional academic style. I'm not sure how I feel about his approach--stylistically--to addressing academic issues. Perhaps academics bury their points or obfuscate their points via the traditional approach to academic writing organization, style, analysis. Perhaps we need a fresh way to address issues that the creators of the academic writing norm haven't experienced. But, as of right now, I'm not comfortable with a new style Important topics. But, as of right now, I'm not comfortable with a new style--and this writing came off as contrived, and the work as a whole rather shallow.

That being said, keep bringing hip hop into scholarship! Mar 04, janet rated it it was ok. I would give this to people who need to be convinced that the US incarceration is out of hand and I think they could deal with his argument. He is a law and order guy at heart. However, it won't teach you much about hip-hop. I really like the suggestions he makes about paying kids to finish high school who would otherwise drop out and "The West End Project" an example of Project Safe Neighborhoods - it is like an AA intervention on the community level with mothers highlighted - so cool!

See link I would give this to people who need to be convinced that the US incarceration is out of hand and I think they could deal with his argument. Jul 27, Joshua rated it really liked it. I sort of wish I had read this years ago published because much of the information was more relevant to the early s. However, most of the ideas and theories are very useful.

Notably the use of jury nullification. A process by which jurors refuse to convict a non-violent drug offender, regardless of the evidence against them, in protest of America's mass incarceration. Butler notes that there are no laws forbidding jury nullification and it can be an excellent for of civil disobedience I sort of wish I had read this years ago published because much of the information was more relevant to the early s.

Butler notes that there are no laws forbidding jury nullification and it can be an excellent for of civil disobedience. Black and Latino people are far more likely to be arrested, convicted, and serve jail time than whites for drug use even though there is no disparity between drug usage by different races. That police can legally lie to suspects. And that America has more prisoners than any nation on Earth. Butler advocates for shorter sentences, but that politicians on both sides of the aisle are afraid to do this out of fear that they will be perceived as "soft on crime.

Butler notes that putting people in jail unnecessarily actually increases violent crime. Most people don't go into jail as violent criminals, but when they return they do. In all, a great book with some great ideas and things to think about. But how to actually get his ideas into action in a society that is so reluctant to face its counterproductive attitude toward crime is another question. Jun 06, Marina rated it liked it Shelves: What this book lacks in detail and thoroughness it sacrificed for accessibility and ease-of-read, and this seemed intentional, not lazy.

Definitely presented some new ideas I hadn't seen before, and had a great discussion of jury nullification. I also liked that towards the end he presented theoretical solutions and practical, immediate ways to ameliorate the impact of the prison industrial complex but here's the thing - he doesn't actually touch on the prison industrial complex - maybe that wo What this book lacks in detail and thoroughness it sacrificed for accessibility and ease-of-read, and this seemed intentional, not lazy.

I also liked that towards the end he presented theoretical solutions and practical, immediate ways to ameliorate the impact of the prison industrial complex but here's the thing - he doesn't actually touch on the prison industrial complex - maybe that would have made the book more complex? But it seemed like a big oversight to not mention how private corporations invest in and influence prisons and jail systems. Overall, he's not too far from the lock-em-up mentality he tries to push back against, and could've benefitted from at least asking whether prison abolition were possible, even if he disagreed.

I think he could've also added more about class difference in conviction, in other words, systemic roads to jail rather than the personal irresponsibility narrative only. On the whole, I would still recommend it as a short, thought-provoking read even if I somewhat disagree with a lot of his points about prison reform like fMRIs as lie-detectors, across-the-board gene therapy, and extreme prisoner surveillance. Dec 02, Amanda Cramer rated it really liked it. This was a pretty good book, I really enjoyed reading it. I kept pushing through and the ending was very strong. I especially enjoyed his take on prisons and how they are today vs.

I would recommend This was a pretty good book, I really enjoyed reading it. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about our society and justice system. Minus half a star for losing me briefly in the middle of the book lol Oct 20, Misty rated it liked it Shelves: I had much higher hopes for this. It took me awhile to get through because the author referred to a woman as a whore so I put it down for a couple weeks but finally finished it this morning.

There were a lot of interesting points, but this just wasn't the strongest book I've read lately.

Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice by Paul Butler

Jul 22, Catherine rated it really liked it. After college, my first job was as an Americorps volunteer working for an organization that served kids who were part of the Juvenile Justice system in Baltimore City. Kids who were coming out of lock-up were generally assigned to our program as a "wrap-around" service and part of their "reintegration" into their communities. As caseworkers we monitored the kids, checking in on them at school and sometimes going to their homes to drag them into school , meeting with teachers and parents to crea After college, my first job was as an Americorps volunteer working for an organization that served kids who were part of the Juvenile Justice system in Baltimore City.

As caseworkers we monitored the kids, checking in on them at school and sometimes going to their homes to drag them into school , meeting with teachers and parents to create viable plans to put them on the path to success. Part of what made the program unique is that instead of having the kids come to us, we brought our services to them. We'd spend most of our time in their neighborhoods, in their homes, and worked to set up the kids AND their families with medical services and social services, job services, etc. Part of my job involved working closely with Probation Officers that more often than not, had no idea who their charges were much less what they were up to on a daily basis, so if a kid had a monthly review of their progress in drug court, we were often called to the stand instead of the PO.


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It was not unusual for a prosecutor to ask me to "think again about whether or not so-and-so was really being successful" now that he or she wasn't locked up anymore. If my answer was "yes! More than once I felt like saying "Hey, we're on the same side here, right? This kid is holding up his end of the deal, shouldn't we be encouraging him to continue instead of making him feel like it's still not good enough?

Paul Butler is a former prosecutor who understands this. While his experience is mostly with adults, the frustration with a system that is too "black and white" with little leeway for any extenuating circumstances, is palpable in his book. And his argument that this broken system is leading our country down a path that leaves us LESS safe is convincing. Basically, he argues that the justice system is focused too much on locking up criminals, period, even when their crimes do not necessarily justify a hard jail sentence at least in theory.

Putting these minor criminals in jail, giving them access to violent criminals, jail-house gangs, etc. In other words, jail breeders more crime, not less. You were once a federal prosecutor. So I don't think it'll surprise many people that among the other things you encourage people to do is do your jury duty.

Why is that important? Because jurors have all this power. I was a prosecutor in D. And these were mostly African-American jurors. And the reason was because they didn't want to send another black man to jail. And when I started trying cases, I found that to be exactly the case. It's called jury nullification. It's a strategy that's been used to get rid of laws like the slavery law.

So in the book I suggest a strategic way. I call for these Martin Luther King jurors to selectively nullify to protest this war on drugs. It's an interesting book because there are other ways in which you essentially urge people as a matter of conscience not to participate with the police. Just say no to the police. Don't be a professional snitch. You say don't accept money for cooperating with the police. But you also say, as you just mentioned, if you're a juror in a non-violent drug case, vote not guilty. And there are critics who've taken issue with it.

They may be very sympathetic with your desire to see fewer black men, particularly, and black people in general, incarcerated because of the destructive effect on communities, but they also make the point of who are you to say that that's a non-violent crime. If you have people in some communities, there have been stories about people, you know, firer bombing people's houses just because they asked drug dealers to move from their front porch. I mean, so who are you to say that's a non-violent crime?

What I'm interested in Michele, is something that works and things are getting worse not better.


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  • They're more people locked up now than there were in like in the 90s, when you and I started talking about this stuff, and drugs are ever present. So what I'm looking for is a way to really get the dope boys off the street corners. That's what makes people feel unsafe. And we've got better ways to do that than locking up everybody because the result in places like D. You know, you're saying that things are getting worse and not better.

    It is true that the United States has one of highest incarceration rates in the world and the highest according to peer economies - if you look at places in Europe with similar economies and sort of social structures, democratic governments and so forth. On the other hand, the level of violence in most places around the country is far lower than it was. The murder rate is far lower than it was even 10 years ago. In New York and Washington, the homicide rate is on track to be the lowest it's been in 30 years. So how can you say it's getting worse?

    Well, New York has actually reduced their prison population and at the same time reduced its crime rate. It turns out that there's this tipping point with locking people up where when too many people are locked up, that actually increases crimes. So in jurisdictions that have safely reduced the prison population, they've seen their crime rate go down. So we got to be strategic about this. It's about being smart on crime, rather than just this tough on crime nonsense. Talk to me a little bit more, if you would, in the couple of minutes that we have left about why you feel incarceration is so bad.

    And what, exactly, about incarceration, in your view, makes it so destructive that you have to take what I think some people would say extreme steps in order to stop the rate of increase.

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    Education as the Practice of Freedom Harvest in Translation. A Philosophy of Nature. Review "Useful analyses and original suggestions regarding the debate about how best to incarcerate fewer people. The New Press June 1, Language: Related Video Shorts 0 Upload your video. The dramatic true story of a forgotten moment in American History. Readers call it gripping, like they were sitting on the train themselves. The page-turning true story of mental illness and mass murder at a military hospital. Written by the Air Force cop who ended the killing spree.

    The Classic Slave Narratives. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Read reviews that mention criminal justice justice system jury nullification paul butler mass incarceration hip hop federal prosecutor jim crow get free new jim theory of justice read this book lets get many people problems with the criminal must read law prosecutors social community.

    There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. I love Paul Butler and greatly respect his work as an attorney, but this is a subpar piece of writing; and I'm surprised that he wrote it, given how outstanding he is in all other parts of his legal career. Citations are too few and far-between to make it good legal writing; large swaths of the book are conclusions presented as arguments, only sometimes having any support whatsoever, and oftentimes the support given is purely anecdotal; and the book overall is a strange combination of nonfiction and memoir.

    I wish his editor encouraged him to pick between the two. As a piece of writing, it's just very hard to get through--and that's coming from a reader who very much enjoys reading texts in this field. This is a good example of the exact antithesis of a page-turner, which is unfortunate because, again, the topics are so important. I did learn a thing or two from the book, but few if any of the arguments Butler makes are particularly novel. The chapter that comes closest to presenting something new is that on the connection between criminal justice and hip-hop culture; though that part begins with an exciting few pages, the argument does not come across as fully developed.

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    I think he could have gone deeper on that thesis. It's odd that he made that argument the thesis--and title--of his book, too, given that it occupies such a small space in the book itself. If you're looking for something good on the problems of the criminal justice system, I'd try Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" instead or other beautifully written and formidably reasoned texts like James Forman Jr.

    Day has given a detailed review of Butler's book. That helps a lot, because I'm having trouble knowing where to start in expressing appreciation for it. What I want to know is why there are so few reviews? It should have a wide audience. So why did I give it only four stars rather than five? Because I take issue with the statement on page , "Punishment should be the point of criminal justice, but it should be limited by the impact it has on the entire community. As an enthusiast for the Restorative Practices movement, I believe, and I infer that he really believes as well, that punishment may serve a goal of individual and social justice, but is not a goal in itself.

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    That takes us right back to the damage done by the focus on retribution, inflicting pain for pain, which has led us to the "Get tough on crime" thing in the first place. As he so aptly points out, getting "tough on crime" is nothing of the sort. It's "getting tough on criminals," which, as he points out, has the effect of increasing crime. On page 19 he says, "There is a tipping point at which crime increases if too many people are incarcerated.

    The United States is past this point. If we lock up fewer people, we will be safer. I recall a friend of mine - a former state administrator of probation - saying at the time, "Just watch. The rate of imprisonment will go up now that private ownership has to fill the beds. I was interested that he noted that these devices are produced by private enterprise.

    Given the importance of economics in our culture, perhaps this will be an opportunity to increase the involvement of private enterprise in a positive way - sort of the equivalent of green industry. I learned so much from this book, some of which hit me like, "Of course, I knew that. Here I'd like just to list the points, referring you to his pages This does not include the costs of police and the courts. Again, in the class of "Of course, I should have known that," see pages "Like other politicians, prosecutors pander to voters. In the majority of jurisdictions, this means promising to get tough on crime, which translates to locking more people up.

    There are few risks to being overaggressive - even when prosecutors cross the line. Since , approximately people who received death sentences were later found to be innocent. In all these cases, prosecutors were responsible for these wrongful convictions. The number of prosecutors who have been disciplined for these egregious miscarriages of Justice?

    By contrast, the line prosecutor who goes against the "get tough" ethos too forcefully not only risks losing her job but also risks causing her boss to lose his. But what was really new to me was the option of Jury Nullification. The jury is saying that the law is unfair, either generally or in this particular case.

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