Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York

Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York

by Carl Suddler


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A startling examination of the deliberate criminalization of black youths from the 1930s to today

A stark disparity exists between black and white youth experiences in the justice system today. Black youths are perceived to be older and less innocent than their white peers. When it comes to incarceration, race trumps class, and even as black youths articulate their own experiences with carceral authorities, many Americans remain surprised by the inequalities they continue to endure. In this revealing book, Carl Suddler brings to light a much longer history of the policies and strategies that tethered the lives of black youths to the justice system indefinitely.

The criminalization of black youth is inseparable from its racialized origins. In the mid-twentieth century, the United States justice system began to focus on punishment, rather than rehabilitation. By the time the federal government began to address the issue of juvenile delinquency, the juvenile justice system shifted its priorities from saving delinquent youth to purely controlling crime, and black teens bore the brunt of the transition.

In New York City, increased state surveillance of predominantly black communities compounded arrest rates during the post–World War II period, providing justification for tough-on-crime policies. Questionable police practices, like stop-and-frisk, combined with media sensationalism, cemented the belief that black youth were the primary cause for concern. Even before the War on Crime, the stakes were clear: race would continue to be the crucial determinant in American notions of crime and delinquency, and black youths condemned with a stigma of criminality would continue to confront the overwhelming power of the state.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781479806751
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,210,054
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Carl Suddler is Assistant Professor of History at Emory University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Introduction: "The Way I See It": Reframing Black Youth and Racial Injustice 1

1 "The Child Is Never Basically Bad": Creating Crime through Prevention 13

2 "Margie's Day": Youth, Race, and Uprisings in Wartime Harlem 39

3 "Every Generation Has Had the Habit of Going to the Devil": Constructions of a Postwar Delinquent 68

4 "Beware of the Cat on the Corner": Deconstructing a Cycle of Outrage 96

5 "In All Our Harlems": Policing Black Youths through the War on Crime 124

Afterword: "Without a Wrinkle in Today": An Ode to "Young Forever" 151

Acknowledgments 157

Manuscript Sources 163

Notes 165

Index 225

About the Author 235

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