Cover Image: The Rage of Innocence

The Rage of Innocence

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Member Reviews

Rage of Innocence is timely and deft, expertly summarizing the relationship between American law enforcement and young Black men. Kristin Henning pulls no punches as she examines the history of law enforcement in the US and its historical problems with people of color. A must read for any US citizen who is confused and angry about race relations in American policing.
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“To thrive, Black youth must learn to resist and transcend harmful and racial ideas and stereotypes that seek to limit them.”

Thank you to Kristin Henning, NetGalley, and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for the opportunity to read this book. It releases on September 28th, 2021.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Racism, Police Brutality, Violence, Murder, Suicide

The Rage of Innocence by Kristin Henning is a book that goes into the criminalization of Black youth that stems from systemic racism. Kristin Henning is the Blume Professor of Law and Director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative at Georgetown Law and is probably the most qualified person to discuss this subject. In this book, she speaks from experience representing youth in our justice system. This book covers criminalizing Black Adolescent Play, Clothing, Music, and Sexuality. But she also goes into police in schools, the effects of childhood trauma, dehumanization, and what our country can do to change.

“Without free and unburdened play, Black youth are at a constant disadvantage–physically, mentally, socially, and academically. Because Black youth are under the constant surveillance of the police and other adults who expect them to be criminal, play becomes a source of anxiety instead of rest and relaxation.”

Emmett Till, George Stinney, Tamir Rice, Kalief Browder, The Central Park 5, Trayvon Martin, Ma’Khia Bryant…and this list goes on. We see these names on the news and more often than not, they are criminalized by the media to justify the way they are treated, incarcerated, and/or killed. The truth is…they are children! Take George Stinney. He was 14 years old when he was executed. He is one of the youngest to be tried, convicted, and executed in this country. They had to have him sit on a bible because he was too small for the chair.

She argues what is needed for Black children to thrive. For instance, free play, access to mental health, police-free schools, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. But we also need to be accepting of Black youth and their culture. Rappers and hip hop are often more condemned and vilified than other types of music, even when pop and country artists have just as much, if not more problematic lyrics and insinuations. Then there is Black hair and clothing. Black hair actually has deep roots culturally and historically. But we often see headlines where teachers have colored the fade on a child’s head with a sharpie or made to cut their dreadlocks before a wrestling match. If you have more interest in Black hair and its history, I highly recommend Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri.

This book is full of examples to back up the arguments. But let me tell you, it is full of irrefutable statistics. In fact, her list of sources takes up the last 30% of the book. If you have any doubt about the harm and trauma inflicted on our Black youth, I highly recommend giving this book a chance. I have learned so much and will use that knowledge when it comes time to vote for policies that will help. We need to tell our Black youth that they matter and they are worthy. I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.
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Henning did an amazing job in her exploration of the racial disparities of how white and black youths are treated by the criminal justice system. Many of the stories and anecdotes shared angered me and offered proof of the many ways out criminal justice system is flawed. Overall, her writing was very easy to read and palatable for those not well versed in the legal system. I look forward to reading more of her research in the future.
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As director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law, Henning is in an excellent position to write about the treatment of black youth in the criminal justice system. She does so with a judicious blend of anecdote and data, allowing this heavy book to nonetheless feel well-paced and highly readable even to the legal novice. Thoroughly researched and smartly laid out, The Rage of Innocence is a must-read for anyone who wishes to be educated on the racial disparities in our society. I will certainly be recommending it to everyone I know.
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