Laura's Reviews > The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America

The Presumption of Guilt by Charles J. Ogletree Jr.
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Jun 11, 2011

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bookshelves: law, politics
Recommended to Laura by: Loren Miller Bar Association
Read in June, 2011 , read count: 1

The Loren Miller Bar Association gave a copy to my boss at the Racial Justice Taskforce meeting the Temple of Justice hosted, and I borrowed it because I like Charles Ogletree. Think I’ve cited him a time or two.

Those who watch Washington judicial races know that This Thing happened last fall. There were some . . . graceless comments on race made at a meeting at the Supreme Court about the continued need for the Minority and Justice Commission, and Someone (theories vary on who) told the press. Nice write up in the Seattle Times. And The Stranger. One justice lost his seat. Somewhat paradoxically, that justice wrote the opinion that found racial profiling violated the state constitution, State v. Ladson, 138 Wn.2d 343 (1999), which was a gutsy thing to do given that the feds say it’s just fine under the Constitution of the United States.

The book’s basically a bulleted list of times where mostly upper middle class African American men were detained by the police on laughably thin grounds. Which is cringeworthy; it’s deeply offensive that we use race as a proxy for suspicious behavior. Arguably, Justice Sanders lost his seat, and I have this book, because he suggested that the reason there is a disproportionate number of African Americans are in prison is because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes; a theory that is demonstrably false. What *is* true is that when you focus your attention on someone, you notice the crimes they commit. This book is basically a list of all these people who got police attention focused on them when they had done nothing, pointing out that is an offense against their dignity and a blow against the myth of the inclusive society.

What’s disappointing about this book, at least for me is – yeah, I know that. I suspect anyone who would read this book knows that. And Justice Sanders wrote Ladson. His comments were graceless, but not, I think, motivated by personal racial animus. I have no doubt that if Justice Sanders believed there was a man in prison because of his race, he’d have delivered the habeas writ demanding release in person. The comments did, I suspect, follow from his libertarian philosophy, which has no room for things like unconscious prejudices or historical traumas.

This book is disappointing because it doesn’t unpack any of this. It documents a particular aspect of racial profiling that is hugely offensive, but it doesn’t get underneath and probe the whys of it or the hows of how to stop it.

It does, however, have one great line. “As Professor Gates’ counsel, I encouraged him to attend the beer summit.” And it has some nicely satisfying moments where the police pulled over Men With Power and suffered for it. If this book is aimed at and reaches people who had a passing interest in the events that led up to the beer summit and don’t realize racial profiling happens, it is probably a triumph.
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