I spent part of my childhood living with my grandma just off Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. My school was on the same street as our house, but I still spent many a day trying to coax kids on my block to “play school” with me on my grandma’s huge concrete porch covered with that faux-grass carpet. For the few who would come, I would hand out little slips of paper and write math problems on a small chalkboard until someone would insist that we go play tag or hide- and-seek instead. Needless to say, I didn’t have that many friends! But I still have fond memories of growing up off Crenshaw surrounded by people who took a genuine interest in one another’s well-being and who, to this day, I can feel cheering me on as I continue to play school.
Some of my most vivid memories of growing up also involve the police. Looking out of the backseat window of the car as we passed the playground fence, boys lined up for police pat-downs; or hearing the nonstop rumble of police helicopters overhead, so close that the roof would shake while we all tried to ignore it. Business as usual. Later, as a young mom, anytime I went back to visit I would recall the frustration of trying to keep the kids asleep with the sound and light from the helicopter piercing the window’s thin pane. Like everyone who lives in a heavily policed neighborhood, I grew up with a keen sense of being watched. Family, friends, and neighbors – all of us caught up in a carceral web, in which other people’s safety and freedom are predicated on our containment.
Now, in the age of big data, many of us continue to be monitored and measured, but without the audible rumble of helicopters to which we can point. This doesn’t mean we no longer feel what it’s like to be a problem. We do. This book is my attempt to shine light in the other direction, to decode this subtle but no less hostile form of systemic bias, the New Jim Code.