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Books and Other Resources About Race, Inequality, and Criminal Justice

Black Lives Matter graffiti art

June 5, 2020

The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while in police custody, has sparked worldwide outrage, protests and calls for systemic reform within the U.S. criminal justice system and its police departments.

No list of books and resources that addresses police brutality, inequality and injustice, and similar and important topics can ever be complete, so we thought we’d pick out just a few. If we’ve left out a book or resource you think is important, feel free to comment!


Book Cover: I CAN’T BREATHE: A KILLING ON BAY STREET

"I CAN’T BREATHE: A KILLING ON BAY STREET" by MATT TAIBBI

George Floyd repeatedly told police “I can’t breathe” in the minutes before his death. Those same three words were said by another black man prior to his death while in police custody. In 2014, 43-year-old Eric Garner died on a Staten Island, New York sidewalk after a police officer put him in what has been described as an illegal chokehold during an arrest for selling bootleg cigarettes. Garner’s death, also captured on video, fueled the Black Lives Matter movement that began one year earlier with the death of Trayvon Martin, and Taibbi’s book not only details Garner’s life, but also policing, mass incarceration, the underground economy, and racial disparity in law enforcement.

Book Cover: THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION

"THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION" by REV. DR. WILLIAM J. BARBER II AND JONATHON WILSON-HARTGROVE

(Note: Currently unavailable through MCPL)

Rev. Dr. William Barber Jr. shares his experiences and work in starting a social justice movement that came to be known as Moral Mondays, as well as his work with the Poor People’s Campaign that began in the late 1960s with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Barber shows how a broad-based campaign of diverse citizens can work together to push for racial, economic and environmental justice that benefits all Americans. An inspiring lesson about inclusive grassroots activism.

Book Cover: HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

"HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST" by IBRAM X. KENDI

Bestselling author and National Book Award winner Kendi weaves together a combination of ethics, history, law, and science – including the story of his own awakening to antiracism – in this 2019 memoir. Kendi also challenges us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it. (See also: “Stamped from the Beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America,” the book for which Kendi won the National Book Award.)

Book Cover: A COLONY IN A NATION

"A COLONY IN A NATION" by CHRISTOPHER HAYES

Author and television host Hayes argues the United States is fractured between a Nation that reveres and respects the law and a Colony in which fear and aggressive policing trumps civil rights. With great empathy, Hayes seeks to understand this systemic divide, examining its ties to racial inequality, the omnipresent threat of guns, and the dangerous and unfortunate results of choices made by fear.

Book Cover: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

"I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO"

Peck examines race in modern America through the lens of author James Baldwin and Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House.” Using Baldwin's original words and a flood of rich archival material, the film is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.

Book Cover: WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: A BLACK LIVES MATTER MEMOIR​

"WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: A BLACK LIVES MATTER MEMOIR​" by PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS

In just 7 years since its inception in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has positioned itself at the forefront of the push for equity and equality for African Americans. Cullors, one of BLM’s co-founders, explains the movement’s position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement’s activists while calling for essential political changes.

Book Cover: THINGS FALL APART

"THINGS FALL APART" by CHINUA ACHEBE

A literary classic, Achebe’s 1958 novel follows the life of protagonist Okonkwo as European colonialism spreads across the African continent and into Okonkwo’s home country of Nigeria. Part of a trilogy that also includes “No Longer at Ease” and “Arrow of God.”

Book Cover: THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD

"THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD" by ZORA NEALE HURSTON

It’s hard to believe Hurston’s novel was out of print for nearly 30 years, but harder to believe the biggest reason: People just weren’t ready to read about such a strong, black, female protagonist in the form of Janie Crawford. Also hard to believe: The novel was written in less than 2 months.

Book Cover: THE SELLOUT

"THE SELLOUT" by PAUL BEATTY

Here’s how the publisher describes Beatty’s 2015 satirical novel, winner of the Booker Prize: “It challenges the most sacred tenets of the U.S. Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality — the black Chinese restaurant.” I’ll just add that it taps into urban farming and a black man’s effort to reinstitute slavery and segregation. Again, it’s satire.

FILM AND TELEVISION

Book Cover: DO THE RIGHT THING

"DO THE RIGHT THING" by SPIKE LEE

Few filmmakers tackle issues of race as consistently and effectively as Spike Lee, and “Do the Right Thing” is one of his best and arguably his most influential. The events, issues, and perspectives raised in this 1989 film — which takes place over 1 day in a Brooklyn neighborhood — are still just as relevant 30 years later.

"ROOTS" by MARVIN J. CHOMSKY

The legendary 1977 television mini-series, based on the book by Alex Haley, traces an African American family’s history from the mid-18th century to the Reconstruction era. (SIDE NOTE: More than 40 years later, my mom still brings up the fact that she had to miss the last episode of “Roots” to give birth to her son.)


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