In 2017, Paul Butler published the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men. For Butler the chokehold is much more than a barbaric police tactic; it is also a powerful powerful metaphor for understanding how racial oppression functions in the US criminal justice system.
Butler describes a chokehold as “a process of coercing submission that is self-reinforcing. A chokehold justifies additional pressure on the body because a body does not come into compliance, but a body cannot come into compliance because of the vice grip that is on it.” That, he says, is the black experience in the United States.
Butler knows that experience all too well. He began his legal career as a criminal prosecutor, a job that he describes in this conversation as “basically just locking up black men.” Then, the tables turned and Butler found himself falsely accused of a misdemeanor assault. "After that experience I didn’t want to be a prosecutor any more," he writes. "I don’t think every cop lies in court but I know for sure that one did."
That experience put Butler on a journey very different than the one he began. Butler, now a Georgetown Law professor, has come to believe that the criminal justice system is not merely broken and in need of repair; rather, it is working exactly as it was designed, and thus needs to be completely reimagined.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Sula by Toni Morrison
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