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

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  343 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
Paul Butler was an ambitious federal prosecutor, a Harvard Law grad who gave up his corporate law salary to fight the good fight—until one day he was arrested on the street and charged with a crime he didn’t commit. The Volokh Conspiracy calls Butler’s account of his trial “the most riveting first chapter I have ever read.”

In a book Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree c
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by The New Press
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Feb 09, 2013 Kony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm judging this book against harsher standards than usual, because the author is smart, savvy, and has the resources to do better - and because skating by on thin evidence regarding these issues ends up reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

Despite its subtitle, this book is only peripherally about hip-hop, and it doesn't offer a theory of justice. In effect, it's a drawn-out law review article, written in accessible (non-legalistic) language, that combines anecdote with some token references to hip-
Aug 15, 2009 Bill rated it it was amazing
As a former student of Professor Paul Butler, I was not surprised to find his book refreshing in its candor, raw in its emotion, and revolutionary in its outlook. At bottom, Professor Butler's analysis is grounded in the radical notion that the government should respect people's right to be secure in their persons and property, a right formerly enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Even more fundamentally, he argues that we should re-embrace freedom in this country in ways that range from not incar ...more
Oct 21, 2013 Riah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone's who's read The New Jim Crow
Recommended to Riah by: Craig Werner
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Audacia Ray
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 ...more
May 26, 2010 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 ...more
Jul 15, 2009 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"? Not so much.

The book didn't say anything groundbreaking about how hip-hop culture relates to/reflects our current system. There was maybe one chapter dissecting hip-hop lyrics and a few page
May 20, 2011 Michael rated it liked it
Important topics.

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
Mar 04, 2016 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 ...more
Jul 22, 2009 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 ...more
John Bruning
Nov 16, 2013 John Bruning rated it liked it
Shelves: law
Sort of a strange, if not bipolar, take on the criminal justice system. Which is not to say that it isn't brilliant at times, but Butler seems to get hung up on some of the very things he sets out to critique. He presents the problems of the criminal court and prison systems extraordinarily well, with great discussions about snitching, jury nullification, and, especially, whether progressive lawyers should become prosecutors. But... he's still in such a pro-prosecution, tough-on-crime mindset th ...more
What happens when a prosecutor gets thrown headfirst into the throws of an unjust criminal justice system that he had helped to perpetuate? You get an insightful reevaluation of that system from one of the key players who knows it best!

As a former prosecutor, Prof. Butler examines mass incarceration and how the locking up of 'criminals' is in fact contributing to a more criminalized society. In addressing non-violent crimes, many of which stem from overly ambitious drug laws, Butler extols the v
Feb 13, 2015 Nicole rated it liked it
Recommended to Nicole by: Will Hunnicutt
This one came as a recommendation from Will. Overall, it made a lot of interesting points. The title is a bit misleading, as hip hop is really only featured in one chapter. But Butler does a great job of bringing together factual sources with well-formed opinions on the current criminal justice system and prospects for the future. One of the only things I've read that leans pretty Libertarian and *didn't* annoy me (or get strangely racist/xenophobic). Also, I was completely unaware that jury nul ...more
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
I just finished this. Was on my way to tampa so I thought I'd read something different from the areas I'm researching right now. First, I love Paul's writing voice. He's too the point, accessible, and there is definitely some snark and sarcasm. Great stuff. Second, most of what he had to say was great info and telling regarding the role of prosecutors in the criminal injustice system. Third, while many of his views were left and enlightened, I don't think he went far enough. And he admits as muc ...more
Oct 26, 2009 Miri rated it really liked it
This was a good book and Butler had some really good ideas for improving America's criminal justice system.

However, his theories were clearly incomplete. For instance, the jury nullification that he so worships is also responsible for a terrible murderer--O.J. Simpson--going free. But apparently, it's only bad when innocent African Americans are charged with a crime, not when terrible (African American) murderers go free. This is the sense I got from Butler's analysis of jury nullification.

Nathan Miller
Nov 20, 2010 Nathan Miller rated it liked it
Good read. Well-argued, as one might expect from a former hot-shot prosecutor. Nice to read an argument that the US is WAY overcriminalized from someone who used to be a part of the law-and-order crowd. Not much here is new. We imprison far far more people, for longer, than any other industrialized nation. Those people are disproportionately poor and black. Draconian drug laws selectively enforced are a big part of the reason for that. He goes into some stuff that I hadn't thought about before, ...more
Feb 25, 2012 Anthony rated it liked it
If you've ever given more than a moments thought to the ways in which our legal system is racially unjust, the arguments in this book won't come as much of a surprise. However, it is a nice and concise tour through some important areas where the justice system needs to be reformed, and it comes from the unique perspective of a former prosecutor who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Butler places his critique of criminal justice in America within the context of his experiences prosecuting poo ...more
Oct 11, 2014 Justin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: legal
The overarching points of the book are: (1) there are too many people in prison; (2) minorities are disproportionately incarcerated; (3) there is no principled reason to punish drug use so harshly; and (4) the criminal justice system should be limited to harm prevention. Although I am inclined to agree with the message, I very much did not like the messages or how he conveyed the message.

This book has a lot of rhetoric. Butler says stuff that sounds good but that isn't necessarily borne out by t
Craig Werner
Apr 13, 2013 Craig Werner rated it liked it
The title's misleading. There's nothing particularly closely connected to hip-hop in Butler's cogent critique of the legal system. The chapter which focus on hip-hop is probably the weakest in the book--yes, hip-hop addresses a variety of issues involving the impact of the justice system and incarceration on black communities, but the variety of musical voices doesn't really coalesce into a vision that goes much beyond the obvious of "the police and court systems are deeply biased and put a hell ...more
Nov 18, 2010 Caroline is currently reading it
So far I am really enjoying this book about America's criminal justice system. The author was Tom's criminal law prof at GWU. Also the author is friends with Henry Gates of Harvard Law and was one party to the accidental arresting/Beergate shebang.

Anyways Butler, a somewhat arrogant, but brilliant lawyer, was working for the DOJ as a criminal prosecutor in DC when one day he found himself on the other side of the courtroom. He went from prosecutor to defendant because of a lying, crazy neighbor.
Jun 17, 2010 Bryan rated it liked it
Paul Butler writes a persuasive critique of the criminal justice system, building on most of the sociological research out there and bringing his own experiences to play in a forceful way. He writes about a range of topics, including jury nullification, hop-hop, the war on drugs, and why progressives should not be prosecutors. Unfortunately, he almost lost be as a reader near the beginning of his book by getting the holding of a major case in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence wrong and taking the c ...more
Melissa Ooten
Jul 15, 2013 Melissa Ooten rated it liked it
It's a good week to be reading this book. I enjoyed it - the three stars mainly reflect that I didn't really hear a new argument here and his writing could be more engaging. Folks like Robin Kelley and Angela Davis write on similar topics but with much more eloquence. Having said that, these issues are important ones that I think a lot of white, middle-class folks know little to nothing about (or know about but don't care to think about) so it's good to get them out there in many different venue ...more
Jul 05, 2013 Naomi rated it it was amazing
Of all the books I've read addressing the need for reforming the American legal system, this is the one that speaks most clearly to me. Butler has the same statistics at his grasp, but he is also a master at arguing his case, and connecting it to contemporary social critique expressed in music. His work here is four-fold - to educate Americans about the failures of the legal system, to educate Americans as to what they can do to address those failures, to explain and give theoretical underpinnin ...more
Aug 03, 2012 Jerreed rated it really liked it
A very easy, light, and informative read.
A clear picture is painted by Butler of the problems that the justice system is now faced with. I do feel that he was very extreme in some cases of what needed to be done to change the system. His suggestions for change are very wide ranged from complex to simple ideas which I enjoyed. The fall of this book is the title and what it implies. I enjoyed every chapter of this book until the "hip-hop theory of justice" chapter. I felt it lacked the punch need
Nov 03, 2011 Janie rated it really liked it
I would pretty much recommend this book to anyone concerned about our IN-justice system. Smart, well written, information packed, often discouraging, yet, ultimately, with a dollop of hope and possibility, "Let's Get Free" presents cogent arguments for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system : from length of sentencing and over sentencing for non violent crimes, to the use and misuse of the snitch, to racial profiling, and so on. Butler's support of jury nullification was particularly ...more
Jul 20, 2014 Eva rated it it was amazing
Let’s Get Free is so down-to-earth and so enjoyable to read, seriously addressing problems without seeming angry or radical. My favorite part was every bit where he talked about his own experiences—from getting arrested to his experiences working in the prosecutor’s office. I was a bit skeptical of some of the technological solutions he suggested at the end of the book, but overall, I’m so glad I read it! He brings up some interesting theories about jury nullification and the projected sociologi ...more
Jul 31, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-shelves
14% of drug users are black - about the same percentage of Americans who are black - yet 56% of convicted drug users are black. How can that be? Something is wrong with the system. Is our goal to punish criminals or is our goal to make our communities and our society safer? The author argues convincingly that it should be the latter. He offers more than just the standard decriminalization of possession of small quantities of drugs, most of which I agree with, to accomplish this. A very thought-p ...more
Feb 03, 2017 Liana rated it really liked it
Kind of all over the place (jury nullification to gene therapy!), but fascinating and very readable.
Jul 25, 2015 Kendra rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this so much! But I didn't!

The hip-hop parts seemed unrelated to the rest of the book, the technology section was straight up bonkers, and in general, the different chapters felt unconnected. I respect Prof. Butler's expertise, and thought the jury nullification part was fascinating, but the rest of this book feels slapdash.
Carlee Smith
Jan 02, 2014 Carlee Smith rated it it was ok
I was not a big fan. This book was not very logical was was an arguement cluttered with too much emotions and past experiences from the author.
While this book was enjoyable, I wouldn't recommend it to any critical thinkers.
This is an unconventional and provocative view on dismantling our country’s addiction to mass incarceration. - Randolph N. Stone
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Goodreads Librari...: Author Disambiguation 3 12 Nov 08, 2016 09:22PM  
  • A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison
  • The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege
  • Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six
  • Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
  • Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex
  • When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
  • Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement
  • The Black Woman: An Anthology
  • My Country 'Tis of Thee
  • A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America
  • Punishment and Inequality in America
  • Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
  • Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
  • Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration
  • Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement
  • Die Nigger Die!
  • Race to Incarcerate
  • No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
Paul Delano Butler is an American lawyer, former prosecutor, and current law professor of George Washington University Law School. He is a leading criminal law scholar, particularly in the area of race and jury nullification.
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“Criminal justice" is what happens after a complicated series of events has gone bad. It is the end result of failure--the failure of a group of people that sometimes includes, but is never limited to, the accused person.” 2 likes
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