Policing Black Men

With the eloquence of Ta-Nehisi Coates and the persuasive research of Michelle Alexander, a former federal prosecutor explains how the system really works, and how to disrupt it

“Former prosecutor Paul Butler believes that, in order to fight for justice, Americans must sometimes fight the power of the justice system.” —NPR, Tell Me More

Finalist for the 2018 National Council on Crime & Delinquency’s Media for a Just Society Awards
Nominated for the 49th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction)
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2017
A 2017 Washington Post Notable Book

Cops, politicians, and ordinary people are afraid of black men. The result is the Chokehold: laws and practices that treat every African American man like a thug. In this explosive new book, an African American former federal prosecutor shows that the system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to. Black men are always under watch, and police violence is widespread—all with the support of judges and politicians.

In his no-holds-barred style, Butler, whose scholarship has been featured on 60 Minutes, uses new data to demonstrate that white men commit the majority of violent crime in the United States. For example, a white woman is ten times more likely to be raped by a white male acquaintance than be the victim of a violent crime perpetrated by a black man. Butler also frankly discusses the problem of black on black violence and how to keep communities safer—without relying as much on police.

Chokehold powerfully demonstrates why current efforts to reform law enforcement will not create lasting change. Butler’s controversial recommendations about how to crash the system, and when it’s better for a black man to plead guilty—even if he’s innocent—are sure to be game-changers in the national debate about policing, criminal justice, and race relations.


“Butler doesn’t flinch from facts that many reformers prefer to avoid.”
“Powerful . . . deeply informed from a legal standpoint and yet in some ways still highly personal.”
The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Paul Butler illuminates the complexities that shape racial injustice in America with a sharp, critical, intersectional analysis that is honest and sobering. Chokehold deconstructs all of the forces that have created despair and violence in the criminal justice system but courageously posits solutions as well. An important read for anyone searching for a more just system.”
—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
“A wonderfully disturbing book that will upset everything you think you know about race and criminal justice in America—colorful and vibrant social theory rooted in revolutionary pragmatism.”
—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Tears We Cannot Stop
Chokehold speaks to the lived experiences of black men across the country who are targeted by a ‘justice’ system that is designed to punish them—and is far from ‘just’ in doing so.”
—Michael Render (aka Killer Mike of Run the Jewels), Grammy award–winning rapper and activist
“The most readable and provocative account of the consequences of the war on drugs since Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A searing look at the interactions of law enforcement and black men by a former prosecutor. . . . Smart, filled rightfully with righteous indignation, and demanding broad discussion and the widest audience.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Paul Butler’s book equips supporters of Black Lives Matter with one more important resource to curb racism in law enforcement.”
Study Breaks
“Insightful reading for all genders and generations. By engaging in courageous dialogue, Paul Butler illustrates how the system is broken on purpose, and why those who believe in justice can’t settle for shortsighted reform. With its well-researched, poignant answers to the most complicated questions of our day, Chokehold is a crucial read for those who want to stay woke and win.”
—Opal Tometi, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration
“Paul Butler tells the unvarnished truth about the criminal justice system. Butler confronts just about everyone—police, prosecutors, judges, black elites, liberals, and radicals. A must-read for those with a serious interest in criminal justice.”
—Judge Shira Scheindlin (ret.), presiding judge in Floyd v. City of New York challenging the city’s stop-and-frisk program
“Butler has hit his stride. This is a meditation, a sonnet, a legal brief, a poetry slam and a dissertation that represents the full bloom of his early thesis: The justice system does not work for blacks, particularly black men.”
The Washington Post

News and Reviews

Book Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Chokehold in the Guardian about how the US justice system is built to humiliate and oppress black men.

Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Atlanta Journal Constitution named Chokehold one of 2017’s “Notable Nonfiction Books on Race”

Books by Paul Butler

Let’s Get Free
A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice

Paul Butler

Goodreads Reviews