"Whose Burden to Bear?: Privilege, Lawbreaking and Race"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
Criminal Law and Philosophy
Publication Type
Journal Article

Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform is a powerful indictment of how the basic structure of American institutions fail the seriously disadvantaged. Though motivated by what we collectively owe “ghetto” citizens, when exploring criminal law, Shelby instinctively turns his attention to what duties, if any, the disadvantaged have to obey the criminal law. This paper argues that our persistent focus on the obligations of the disadvantaged is a mistake. Instead, we should examine the duties of the advantaged to resist and repudiate the criminal law. First, because the systemic injustices of the criminal law secure unjust advantages for too many “ordinary” citizens, it renders their successes unjust spoils. Second, the criminal law chews through lives and communities in the ghetto in the name of the advantaged. Third, White citizens have a unique duty to reject the racist elements of the criminal justice system and repudiate its claims that the lives of racial minorities are worth less than their own. The paper then explores various ways that advantaged citizens can repudiate the criminal law in the service of greater equality.

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