Book Review: American Justice on Trial

By Mark Estes posted 10-11-2016 19:50


American Justice on Trial by Lisa Pearlman. Berkeley, CA : Regent Press, 2016.  520pp. 978-1-58790-369-4(paperback) $29.95. 978-1-58790-370-0 (e-book) $9.95.

Review by Sheila Corman, Reference Librarian, Alameda County Law Library


   In her new book, American Justice on Trial, retired Judge Lisa Pearlman once again brings us a fascinating history of the Oakland Black Panther movement and the trial of Huey Newton.

    Although much of the information was part of her last book, Skies the Limit, in this version she expands each of those chapters, while adding two chapters on how policing in Alameda County has changed in the last five decades. Judge Pearlman also discusses the continuing problems of bias in policing, militarization of police departments and the need to reform the criminal justice system.

     With everything that is going on in places like Ferguson, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina, there are many lessons to be learned from the late 1960s and the changes brought about by the Black Panther movement. This is especially true for younger people who may have little awareness of the events of that tragic and volatile period of time.

     The last two chapters are new and present the good and the bad of the last decades in policing and criminal justice. They discuss the times when community policing and public involvement helped solve problems and also when they didn’t... It also discusses the Rider years of the early 21st century when a group Oakland police officers went rogue using racial profiling in a negative manner and from which the city is still trying to recover. The racial profiling and distrust between police and Oakland citizens is still going on to this day as it is in many other communities as things like community policing falls out of favor, although it has been very successful in the past.

       For those people who read The Skies the Limit, this book will not provide much new information or understanding of the Panther years. For those who have never read about it or heard about it, it will open their eyes and help them see how much of what is going on now in this country is a reminder of those times. Hopefully, people can learn from it and use that knowledge to find a solution and greater racial equality and help eliminate the misuse of force by police.