The Mission Committee has purchased 20 copies of On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman for church members to read this summer. We will host a book discussion of Goffman’s compassionate chronicle of families caught inside a justice systemin the fall as part of our series of events on the topic of mass incarceration.
Alice Goffman is a sociologist who had an ethnography assignment for an undergraduate class a UPenn. She did not take it lightly. She started hanging out with an older African-American food service worker at the university and soon moved into an apartment in a poor, largely black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Her housemate was a young man whose family lived down the street, and who had a string of interactions with the police.
During the 6 years she lived in the neighborhood, Goffman became part of the fabric of the community – harassed by the police, witnessing police brutality, and participating in the often harrowing daily lives of her neighbors. On the Run grew out of her doctoral thesis at Princeton.
On the Run introduces us to a cast of young men and women caught up in a web of warrants, surveillance, and presumed guilt. Through her narrative we learn the relentless toll that excessive policing and presumption of criminality takes on individuals and their families.
On the Run gave me a framework to help me understand by Walter Scott ran from the police and was killed after being stopped for a broken taillight in North Charleston, SC in April. Presumed criminality makes a person feel hunted, and mental and physical energy are spent in not getting caught. Law enforcement are not in the community to keep peace and help people; Law enforcement is the enemy and the hunter.
While not denying the problems of the drug trade and its accompanying violence, Goffman shows readers that it is impossible too ignore the very real human costs of failed responses to the blighting of entire neighborhoods and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
Be prepared to engage these provocative and challenging ideas as you borrow and read a copy (and don’t forget to return it so someone else can read it).
Books can be found on the table in the Miller Gathering Hall.