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Race, Crime, and Incarceration in the United States


Black Children on Chain Gang, ca. 1900.
Race, crime, and incarceration have long been linked in the United States. This page explores its various manifestations including African American participation in organized crime and especially the rise of gangs and gang violence.  It also addresses African Americans and the prison system including its impact on black life, and the people and organizations engaged in challenging and changing that system. As with our pages on Black Lives Matter, Lynching in the United States, and Racial Violence in the United States, we are constantly updating and invite you to make suggestions on other examples that should be included. Please send them to suggestions [at] blackpast [dot] org. We especially invite you to write entries for this page.



Gangsters and Gangs, Old and New:

Casper Holstein

Stephanie St. Clair

Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson

The Blackstone Rangers

The Crips

The Bloods

Watts, California

Compton, California



George Jackson (The Soledad Brothers)

Attica Prison Riot, 1971

Mumia Abu Jamal


Challenging the Carceral State

Angela Davis

Elaine Brown

The Black Panther Party


We at believe that every black life matters including those that are lost through urban violence. Chicago today is the epicenter for that violence especially involving black men. We are linking below to the Chicago Sun Times “Homicide Watch Chicago” which shows photos of nearly every homicide victim in the city between 2013 and 2107

Homicide Watch Chicago



Bibliography: Major Works on Race, Crime, and the Carceral State

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010)

Paul Butler, Chokehold: Policing Black Men (New York: The New Press, 2017)

James Foreman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017)

Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (New York: Pantheon, 2016)

Related Pages:

Black Lives Matter

Lynchings in the United States Since 1865

Racial Violence in the United States Since 1860

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