Less than 2 percent of some 4000 adults prosecuted for participating in the bloodiest ghetto revolt of this generation served any time in jail as a result of their conviction and sentencing. Why? Why, in contrast, did the majority of those arrested following a brief and minor confrontation with police in a different city receive far harsher treatment than ordinarily meted out for comparable offenses in "normal" times? What do these incidents tell us about the nature of legal repression in the American state?
No coherent theory of political repression in the liberal state exists today. Neither the liberal view of repression as "anomaly" nor the radical view of repression as "fascist core" appears to come to grips with the distinctive characteristics of legal repression in the liberal state.
This book attempts to arrive at a more adequate understanding of these "distinctive characteristics" by means of a detailed analysis of the legal response to the most serious violent challenge to the existing political order since the Great Depression—the black ghetto revolts between 1964 and 1968.
Using police and court records, and extensive interviews with judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and detention officials, Professor Balbus provides a complete reconstruction of the response of the criminal courts of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago to the "civil disorders" that occurred in these cities. What emerges is a disturbing picture of the relationship between court systems and participants and the local political environments in which they operate.