Nearly 200 people were arrested in Baltimore at the height of the recent turmoil there. More than 80 have been released with no charges.
The way that police, city leaders and members of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods reacted may look pretty familiar to sociologist Alice Goffman. She lived in a Philadelphia neighborhood characterized by many of the ills that you'd encounter in Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri and plenty of other economically segregated cities.
What she found was a community transformed by the everyday threat of capture and confinement. She wrote about it in her book, "On The Run," and joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to discuss how it relates to recent conversations about disparities and police reform.
Police were doing the job assigned
"In a way they're doing what America has asked them to do," she said. "They've been making a huge number of arrests and the violence associated with those arrests in black communities has gone unchecked. This was the tough on crime era, this was where the United States was for 40 years. Lock them up and throw away the key. The whole country was behind this. So to get us out of this law and punishment... way of thinking and treating people, it's going to take a long time."
How America sets poor kids of color up for failure
"Right now, we're asking kids who live in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, who have the least amount of family resources, who are attending the country's worst schools, who are facing the toughest time in the labor market, who are living in neighborhoods where violence is an everyday problem, we're asking these kids to walk the thinnest possible line -- to basically never do anything wrong," she said in a recent TED Talk. "Why are we not providing support to young kids facing these challenges? Why are we offering only handcuffs, jail time and this fugitive existence? Can we imagine something better?"
The full TED Talk:
Why Hoffman started this projectHoffman realized how disruptive the justice system is in the lives of poor young people. She met young people who were arrested when they came to a hospital for medical care or to see their newborn baby. Police came into their workplaces to arrest them for low-level warrants based on technical violations related to their parole or probation.
"The people that I got to know in Philadelphia were African American young men who were facing just a huge amount of problems with the legal system: probation, parole, court fees, low-level warrants, court cases," she said. "The police are in this neighborhood of 6th Street that I spent time in to make arrests. The fear of being seized is so present for young people in this neighborhood particularly for young men. Boys at a very early age are learning to watch out for the cops and prepare to run."
Why one fight can trap a young person in the criminal justice system
How police treat different classes of people for similar crimes"The police aren't interested in white, middle class young people," she said. "They're certainly not interested in any of the students on Penn's campus where I was a college student or on Princeton's campus where I was a college student. If the police were stopping and searching those kids, if they were searching their pockets for drugs, if they were raiding their frat parties in the middle of the night, a lot of those kids would have felony convictions right now."
Hoffman explains a raid that happened in a home she was staying at