Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No Justice: One White Police Officer, One Black Family, and How One Bullet Ripped Us Apart


I received a digital copy of this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 Stars

This was a tough one for me to read, for many reasons - similar to those I discussed in a previous review of the book The Day Sonny Died. In fact, I finished both of these books within a day or so of one another and was not eager to review them because they were truly draining. They were exhausting because it was so easy for me to see one of my students in the place of either young man, fictional or flesh and blood. While the young men in each story had a very different journey in how they came to be where they were, both are still situations any of my babies might find themselves in later in life. As a special education teacher in a behavior skills classroom, the majority of my students are young black males (grades 3-5). This over-identification of young black males in special education is a whole other issue that is as exhausting to deal with as the topics for either of these books. But I know I can not give up and can not let that exhaustion get to me because when put simply, their lives depend on it.

The gross miscarriage of justice in Tolan's story should infuriate everyone. Unfortunately, it won't and until something changes, incidents like this will keep happening. The shooting of unarmed black men by police officers has to end. I am not here for or interested in any "But what about..." arguments. This is an issue in our country. It is by no means the only issue we face today, but it is of great significance and the subject of the book.

Robbie Tolan nearly died in his own driveway, accused of stealing his own car. Just let that sink in for a moment.

In the early morning hours on New Year's, Robbie and his cousin had returned to Robbie's home where an officer approached the two young men, accusing Tolan of stealing the car he had driven. This ended up being a mistake on the officer's end, having mistyped the license plate number. Yet there was no double confirmation of the plate. The second officer to come on the scene did not help, and in the confusion and chaos of Tolan's parents coming out of the house to see what was going on, being told to get back, one officer roughly pushing Tolan's mother, Tolan reacted with angry words and apparently the officer feared for his life because Tolan received a bullet in his chest for trying to defend his mother.

Grim reminders that this is not the first time a scene like this has played out in America are scattered throughout the book. Before each chapter, Tolan recounts previous cases where both boys and men were not as lucky as he - though it sounds weird describing someone being shot as lucky. Yet I think Tolan recognizes that he was. He could have died just as countless others have before him. Even so, living was just as hard. Not only did the family fight for ten years to get any kind of justice, but the physical, mental, and emotional damage was at times overwhelming for everyone.

"I was able to make sure to keep any impulse responses, you know, like being the stereotype of the angry black man, out of the public eye, and my frustrations were only meted out in privacy" (34%).

This quote stuck out for me especially; he shouldn't have to not be angry. He was unjustly shot by a police officer, FFS. Yet, he's not allowed to be angry in public because he is black, and that would in turn impact the public image of him and potentially harm his case. How is that even fair? Tolan is allowed to be angry, without it framing his story in a negative way.

I do not recall hearing about this case, but I am glad that I was able to read about Tolan's journey and how he has slowly but surely put his life back together. What he and his family had to go through during the entire ordeal is beyond words. This should not be the experience of any citizen in our country, period.


  1. This is a truly shocking story and I find it difficult to understand how there can still be such glaring race division in the 21st century. I read Jill Leovy's reportage book Ghettoside on a similar subject and it was very disturbing to see the differences in both policing and expectations of policing between black and white communities.


    1. It really is and I feel so helpless in how to solve this. Our country has gone so far back with this "administration", I fear what things will look like should the worst-case scenario happen and Trumplethinskin gets re-elected.

      I have had Ghettoside in my sights for a while and go back and forth on whether I will read it or not. Books like are tough, because they are cultural studies in a way, but also true crime and I am not a fan of the true crime and all the horrible details. After looking over your review, big surprise, I added it back to my TBR. Thank you!

  2. Looks like you've been reading some really good topics. I just hope they're not bringing you down too much, cause books about these things can get you down sometimes. At least they do for me... but I still keep reading them.
    Have I recommended you All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson yet?

    1. I am the same way and I do find I have to take a break after a bit and return to my beloved Anglo-Saxons/Plantagenets/Tudors to recharge. It is heavy reading, but important.

      You had not yet recommended it to but I looked it up just now and added it to my to-read list. Thank you!!


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