ARRESTED JUSTICE: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. By Beth E. Richie. New York: New York University Press. 2012.
Ms. B., Tanya, and the New Jersey 4 (Vernice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson). Tamika Huston, Kelley Williams-Bolar, Tiawanda Moore, and Kemba Smith. Their tragic sufferings bear witness to “arrested justice” by making visible the obscene reality of what Beth E. Richie calls “the male violence matrix” (127) – the physical, sexual, and emotional assaults encountered by black women at the intimate, community, and state levels. A criminology, law, and justice scholar and anti-violence advocate, Richie documents not only their stories – the sort often obliterated or minimized – but also the unjust treatment, legislation, and increasingly decontextualized anti-violence struggles and analyses that have driven advocacy and reform.
The black women whose names appear above experienced a range of violence – from physical assaults at the hands of police officers and a homophobic stranger, intimidation and murder by male partners, and condemnation and systemic exclusion. Their stories are not theirs alone. They reveal a process of criminalization – whether because of their race and gender, class and sexuality, audacity to walk in “off-limits” public spaces, attempt to secure a better education for children, or decision to engage in community activism – that violates them yet again. Such denigration, alongside identity and the political milieu, influences the responses of the media, the state, and activist communities.
In the chapter “How We Won the Mainstream but Lost the Movement,” Richie persuasively charts how movement advocates, over time, excluded entire swaths of women and by extension forms of violence in their search for mainstream legitimacy and resources in the conservative political eras of the 1980s and 1990s – a time rife with attacks on the social safety net for marginalized groups. To be sure, shelters, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence laws were established with purposeful effect, but Richie asks us to question: for whom? And that begs the follow-up questions: who was left out and why? Richie answers her questions in part by exposing how the tendency to focus on “neutral” gender, intimate partner violence and attendant remedies often disparately impact, even bypass, black communities at the same time that they fail to capture the types of violence experienced by black women in a “ prison nation,” which “depends on the ability of leaders to create fear … to identify scapegoats … and to reclassify people as enemies of a stable society” (3). As Richie writes: This “loss of focus … seriously compromised the transgressive and transformative potential of the anti-violence movement’s radical social critique of power, various patriarchies, economic exploitation, and heterosexism” (91).
This book provokes outrage and affords insights, and it does this by centering black women, both through testimonies and black feminist frameworks that unmask, as well as develop strategies and praxis, for addressing the matrix of male violence. In doing so, Arrested Justice also presents a needed counterweight to male-focused studies and activist agendas on the carceral state, provides a stark reminder of the interlocking nature of oppression, and demands that we be formidably attuned to the explanations, rationalizations, and contexts in which social justice is forged.
Rhonda Y. Williams, Case Western Reserve University