Watching the Detectives

“Two officers, outfitted with combat boots and large guns, enter the room. The cops place their guns on the table, pointed at her. The woman is 22, tiny, and terrified.” The woman was then threatened with criminal charges if she failed to give the police some information that implicated men from around her neighborhood. It was not an uncommon scene. But there was one difference. This time the woman was watching the police. Sociologist Alice Goffman spent years living in a Philadelphia neighborhood in an effort to learn how the American penal system is reshaping lives in neighborhoods where most residents and poor and black.

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