Review: Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rios's dissertation work-turned-book is a fantastic and powerful read that feels like a perfect counterpart to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Over several years, Rios situates himself among a group of Latino and Black young men in Oakland, California to learn from their vantage what life is like when society deems you a problem or menace. From his observations, interviews, and analysis, Rios highlights the many ways in which young people of color are stuck between living in challenging spaces that demand one kind of conformity while a predominantly white (and racist) culture demands conformity in another. These two demands are at odds with one another, leaving youth men determining what is the rational choice to pursue based on their situation (rather than the "rational" assumptions people not in their position believe is "right"). Rios doesn't ignore that, at times, harmful ways the young men act but he doesn't chalk it up to lazy thinking by labeling them innately bad or "super-criminals" and the like. Instead, he situates their actions and reactions in a complex web where one is often needed to perform hyper-masculinity in the hopes of a larger strategy of self-protection. In doing so, he illustrates that the youths at times know they are crossing lines but do so, at times, with some awareness (and inner turmoil) about doing so. Beyond learning about the young men through Rios, he also captures the complex systems that actively monitor, police, and limit their decisions from the time they are young children until they are legal-aged adults. The antagonistic relationship the community has towards youth becomes its of self-perpetuating production line of troubled youth and leave them with little options for growth and development in productive ways. With little social supports and programs besides those that are punitive or problem-based (e.g. drug abuse), many of the youths interviewed have little resources to draw upon to avoid the punishment that lies in waiting for them throughout their childhood.

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