Black Rage Confronts the Law

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NYU Press, May 1, 1997 - Law - 306 pages
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In 1971, Paul Harris pioneered the modern version of the black rage defense when he successfully defended a young black man charged with armed bank robbery. Dubbed one of the most novel criminal defenses in American history by Vanity Fair, the black rage defense is enormously controversial, frequently dismissed as irresponsible, nothing less than a harbinger of anarchy. Consider the firestorm of protest that resulted when the defense for Colin Ferguson, the gunman who murdered numerous passengers on a New York commuter train, claimed it was considering a black rage defense.

In this thought-provoking book, Harris traces the origins of the black rage defense back through American history, recreating numerous dramatic trials along the way. For example, he recounts in vivid detail how Clarence Darrow, defense attorney in the famous Scopes Monkey trial, first introduced the notion of an environmental hardship defense in 1925 while defending a black family who shot into a drunken white mob that had encircled their home.

Emphasizing that the black rage defense must be enlisted responsibly and selectively, Harris skillfully distinguishes between applying an environmental defense and simply blaming society, in the abstract, for individual crimes. If Ferguson had invoked such a defense, in Harris's words, it would have sent a superficial, wrong-headed, blame-everything-on-racism message. Careful not to succumb to easy generalizations, Harris also addresses the possibilities of a white rage defense and the more recent phenomenon of cultural defenses. He illustrates how a person's environment can, and does, affect his or her life and actions, how even the most rational person can become criminally deranged, when bludgeoned into hopelessness by exploitation, racism, and relentless poverty.


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Black rage confronts the law

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Harris was a partner at a small, radical San Francisco law firm in 1971 when he was encouraged by a community activist to represent a young black accused of bank robbery who had grown up in poverty ... Read full review


The Black Rage Defense 1971
Its Myths and Rituals
The Case of James Johnson Jr
James Johnsons Workers Compensation Case
Racism Rage and Criminal Defenses
To Use or Not to Use the Black Rage Defense
Race Class and the Trials of Clarence Darrow
A Survey of Black Rage Cases
Urban War Zones
White RageDo Prisons Cause Crime?
The Cultural Defense and the Trials of Patrick Hoory Croy
Remake the World

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About the author (1997)

Paul Harris worked with the San Francisco Community Law Collective for sixteen years, during which time he was described as one of the best criminal defense lawyers in America. A past president of the National Lawyers Guild, he is Charles Garry Professor of Law at New College, a public-interest law school in San Francisco. He received his J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

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