In the introduction to her book, Kristin Henning writes: “We live in a society that is uniquely afraid of Black children.” (P. xv.)

The Rage of Innocence shows just what that means for Black children – and the rest of us. In bleak chapters, Henning examines the criminalization of Black youth. A chapter contrasting the experiences of white and Black American adolescents sets the table. The next three chapters examine how “play,” clothing and hip-hop, and sexuality transform into markers of crime. A set of chapters examining policing-based activities follows, while the penultimate two chapters explore the “dehumanization” of Black children and Black families. Henning shows how the police and school “resource officers” treat the normal behaviors of childhood, when exhibited by Black children, as illegal activities while the same behaviors of white children are unnoticed – or rewarded. She starts almost every chapter with the story of a particular child or youth, and then embeds those stories in social science data and legal analysis that back up and illustrate her point. Growing up Black, she shows, means the constant and “excessive intrusion” by the police (xvii) into the lives of Black youth, and the criminalization even of giggling: “four twelve-year old Black and Latina girls were strip-searched” at their middle school for laughing, because they were seen as “’hyper’ and ‘giddy.’”

Naomi R. Cahn, Let Kids Be Kids (reviewing Kristin Henning, The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth) JOTWELL (2022).