The Torture Letters

This week marks a year since the murder of George Floyd, which sparked thousands of protests around the world against police brutality and racial injustice. The Torture Letters examines the history and scale of police violence in Chicago, including "racist fears of 'the other'" embedded in its roots.

The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence

Ralph, Laurence. Chicago, 2020
242p bibl index, 9780226490533 $75.00, 9780226650098 $19.00, 9780226729800

The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence book cover

Ralph (Princeton Univ.), an anthropologist, explores the history and meaning of the torture inflicted on African American suspects by the Chicago police. Utilizing a series of open letters addressed to politicians, victims, and other Chicagoans, he argues that torture is a manifestation of a system of policing that normalizes and rationalizes the use of force against marginalized members of the community. Ralph describes this system as a “torture tree,” rooted in racist fears of “the other,” that produces a foliage of abuse and mistreatment. Police harassment, intimidation, and shootings are all leaves of this tree. Hence, simply compensating victims of police violence and condemning a few “bad apples” cannot sufficiently combat the issue. Ralph implores readers to address the problem from the roots and the branches, challenging the ideology and institutional power underlying social injustice in Chicago. The clear willingness of authorities and the public to abide mistreatment, even torture, lends this argument considerable force. While the open letter format occasionally seems strained, this approach allows the author to express his righteous anger and to make his appeal for change more directly to a wider audience.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.
P. C. Kennedy, York College of Pennsylvania
Interdisciplinary Subjects: African and African American Studies
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Sociology
Choice Issue: Oct 2020

Enjoy this week’s review? Check out other reviews of African and African American Studies titles: