America’s justice system is broken. Racial profiling, police brutality, and mass incarceration are rampant, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities of color. But what of the criminal courts, the places where primarily Black and Latino men are taken from the streets and processed into the prisons? The majority of Americans have remained in the dark for too long about this vital aspect of the system. Crook County breaks open the courthouse doors and enters the hallways, courtrooms, judges’ chambers, and attorneys’ offices to reveal a world of punishment determined by race, not offense.
After ten years and over 1,000 hours of working in and observing the largest criminal courthouse in the country, Chicago-Cook County, Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve takes readers inside to our so-called halls of justice to witness the types of everyday racial abuses that fester within the courts, often in plain sight. We watch as mostly Black and Latino defendants confront white professionals charged with classifying and deliberating their fates in the courtroom. Racial abuses and violations are encouraged and even seen as justified. Courthouse security guards cruelly mock and joke at the expense of a defendant’s family members. Public defenders make choices about which defendants they will try to “save” and which they will sacrifice. Judges fall asleep on the bench. Prosecutors hang out like frat boys in the judges’ chambers while the fates of defendants hang in the balance. These are just a few snapshots of the impossibly unprofessional behaviors of those tasked with the deadly serious job of facilitating justice in America.
Crook County’s powerful, and at times devastating, stories reveal a legal culture steeped in racial stigma—a pernicious legal world where courtroom actors live and breathe racism while simultaneously committing themselves to a colorblind ideal. This book urges all citizens to take a closer look at the way we do justice in America and to hold our arbiters of justice accountable to a high standard of equality.