Summary of on the Run by Alice Goffman
A “resource” that they do run into more than often is over policing in their neighborhood. As they are disproportionately targeted for arrest to fill quotas, this constant behavior and events deemed as a norm (even little children play a game about cops catching and being overly aggressive to Black boys), hinders their process at advancing within American society. Systematic oppression against a minority group slows and puts racial tension progress at a standstill, as they are continued victims of larger forces.
Readers following the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black teenager was shot to death by a white police officer, will find no shortage of similar examples in “On the Run.” “Fourteen times during my first eighteen months of near daily observation,” Goffman writes, “I watched the police punch, choke, kick, stomp on, or beat young men with their nightsticks.” In one case, Goffman witnessed four police officers chasing and strangling to death an unarmed man, who, it was reported later in the papers, supposedly died of heart failure. According to police officers she interviewed later, this type of violence “represents official (if unpublicized) policy, rather than a few cops taking things too far.” Police brutality was a chilling undercurrent of Goffman’s research, directed not just against men on the run but toward their families as well. In searching for suspects, the police frequently threaten and even brutalize family members into giving up information about their loved ones. Physical force and the destruction of property are often used against suspects’ family members, but police also employ interrogation tactics that involve “threats of arrest, eviction, and loss of child custody.” Constantly present, the police even stake out funerals and emergency rooms in their search for men with outstanding warrants. The pressure to arrest and incarcerate is indicative of the larger failure of the war on drugs, which seems to have resulted only in greater numbers of men in prison, rather than an end to either poverty or the drug trade. Still, Goffman recognizes the difficult position of law enforcement officials who are “essentially the only governmental body charged with addressing the significant social problems of able-bodied young men in the jobless ghetto, and with only the powers of intimidation and arrest to do so.”