Mar 05

Race and the Criminal Justice System: Political Prisoners, Resistance, and Mass Incarceration Part I


"From Ferguson to Staten Island, the #blacklivesmatter campaign has put the treatment of Black people in the criminal justice system front and center in public conversation. Police brutality and the unequal treatment of Black people in the criminal justice system have a long history in the United States; as do campaigns to challenge it. Join us for an exciting two-month conversation where we explore this bigger history of mass incarceration; the racial inequalities of policing, prosecution and sentencing; the long history of political prisoners; and the campaigns of resistance built by black communities and prisoners themselves from the civil rights era to today.

We are joined by six authors of important books that are must-reads for people interested in the long history of racial inequality and Black resistance in the criminal justice system: Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy); Dan Berger (Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era), Vikki Law (Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women) in March; Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California ); Laura Whitehorn (The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison, and Fighting for Those Left Behind) and Arun Kundnani (The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror)."

-- Jeanne Theoharris and Komozi Woodard


  • Dan Berger

    University of Washington Bothell

    Dan Berger is a historian of activism, Black Power, and the carceral state. His latest book is Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family's Journey, published by Basic Books. He is professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell and curator of the Washington Prison History Project, a digital archive of prisoner activism and policy. Follow him @dnbrgr or

  • Victoria Law

    Freelance journalist and writer

    Victoria Law is a freelance journalist and author. Her books include Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2009), Prison By Any Other Name:The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reform (New Press 2020), and Prisons Make Us Safer” and 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration (Beacon Press 2021). She frequently writes about the intersections between mass incarceration, gender and resistance.

    Victoria has over ten years of experience working with writers to shape and revise their works for publication. She is the co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press 2012) and has worked with other published authors to ensure that their ideas are clearly articulated in ways that engage a wide range of readers.

    From 2003 to 2020, she has edited Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison. She has also worked with incarcerated women to develop their writings for other publications.

  • Bryan Stevenson

    Equal Justice Initiative

    Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He's a professor of law at New York University Law School and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

    EJI won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued six times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, and has been awarded 14 honorary doctorate degrees.

    His new books, JUST MERCY (Spiegel and Grau Hardcover) follows the suspenseful battle to free Walter before the state executes him, while also stepping back to tell the profoundly moving stories of men, women, and even children, who found themselves at the mercy of a system often incapable of showing it.



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