Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the Department of Sociology at UBC.

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

The War on Crime didn’t just send millions of Black young men to prison and return them home with felony convictions. It created a little known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Goffman moved into one such neighborhood in college and spent the next six years documenting the routine stops, searches, raids, and beatings that young men negotiate as they come of age. In what she calls “the fugitive life”, the fear of capture and confinement has come to permeate everyday activities, not just for young men on probation or running from a low level warrant, but for their partners, families, and law-abiding neighbors.

This fugitive life is the hidden counterpoint to mass incarceration, and the vivid picture Goffman paints is a grim one. But for the first time in four decades, policy analysts believe we have entered a unique reform moment where real change in drug laws and sentencing guidelines may be possible. How can we transform the criminal justice system from an occupying force into a source of public safety? How can we repair the damage the War on Crime has wrought in poor Black communities, and help people heal? What could an alternative system look like?

More on this topic:
Goffman, A. (2014). On the run: Fugitive life in an American city. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Available at UBC Library]

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