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New Author Alice Goffman Explains Why Young Black Men Run From Cops

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On The Run, Alice Goffman’s important first book, is based on 6 years of observation of the interaction between Philadelphia police and a minority community.  Among other things, she helps explain why black men often run when they encounter cops.On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City has just been released in paperback, and Goffman shares powerful anecdotes, data she collected, and her observations recorded over a 6-year period in a Philadelphia neighborhood.

We note the history of police problems in Philly, from the unjust conviction of Mumia Abu Jamal to the assault on the MOVE community 30 years ago this month.  Goffman adds the War on Some Drugs and the bipartisan tough-on-crime policies that have put generations of African Americans at odds with law enforcement, and subject to arrest for the slightest reason–or none at all.  She tells how the cycle of warrants to incarceration to probation repeats itself, creating the context where running from the cops seems to be a reasonable option.

We talk about police intimidation and inducements to snitch, and the practice called “riding”, or protection children or relatives who are wanted by the police.  And your humble host notes that the cops who pressure people to inform are least likely to report fellow officers when they witness them breaking the law.

After quoting her account of a late night police raid at a house where Goffman was spending the night, she downplays the harsh treatment she received as she compared it to the daily abuses she witnessed.

Goffman is optimistic that recent events from Ferguson to Baltimore will lead to major changes, and argues that the increased awareness of the pitfalls of zero tolerance and mass incarceration are important inidcators.