Fortunately, I heard Kennedy interviewed on Fresh Air and found what he had to say fascinating, so I gave the book a try. This is a man with a plan -- a plan to reduce killing in mostly Black communities. He could have been numbed by several decades of trying to find solutions; instead he's outraged. Here's how he introduces what our society is up against:
Working to curb gang violence alongside Boston police, he discovered that if you could understand that gang members are rational within the terms of their setting, you could come up with rational measures that quickly cut the number of homicides, even while all the attendant horrors of poverty and inner city powerlessness still ruled in Black and brown communities. But he also learned that most intervention didn't continue to work because the three intersecting "communities" living within the agony -- law enforcement (culturally if not literally white), "ghetto" dwellers, and the street thugs -- had contradictory and destructive ideas about the others' realities. You could make short term gains, but the structures of power, poverty and policing made for back sliding into violence and misery.
That last insight is what this book is best at -- Kennedy describes for law enforcement and society at large how police methods and policing look to people on the wrong end of it. Here's lots more -- pay attention.
When this is what law enforcement looks like in poor communities, you can't end violence. Nothing works.
Kennedy maintains vigorously that the police don't want it this way, that the cops turn numb and cynical because they know the "war on drugs" they are required to carry on is a fruitless politically convenient fraud that doesn't make life better for anyone. He insists they are not racist bullies -- they just look like a racist occupying army from the 'burbs to people in the afflicted communities.
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, explicitly responded on NPR to Kennedy. For all his good will, she says he is still not getting it.
when their children play outside; where police hang posters hoping to get leads on crimes. A gang injunction forbidding certain individuals to congregate covers the neighborhood.
I've seen the cops treat residents respectfully --and I've seen them swarm like an invading force. I know most of us just want to be safe and unmolested as we go about our lives. I don't have any answers. But I'm gratefully to both Kennedy and Alexander for demanding that we not turn away from something very bad that goes on under our noses.