2 out of 4 stars
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“Black lives matter.” This slogan has become a reverberating cry in the last few months. In Cracker Jacked, Lawrence Sterling III shares his own story of how he experienced racial profiling from 2008 to 2013. His story is not new, but that does not make it less sad.
The book opens dramatically on August 6, 2008: Lawrence is being arrested by the police based on his wife’s report that he has been AWOL from the Navy for the last six months. He spends the next seven months in the Navy brig in Kitsap, Washington. Of the six charges slapped on him, only the AWOL charge sticks; he gets an honorable discharge in March 2009. Unfortunately, his unhappy memories of his life in the Navy cause him severe stress, and he has bouts of violent temper now and then.
Lawrence tries to get over his woes by learning new skills. However, come June 2010, he again has an unpleasant encounter with the police. He is charged with traffic and other violations, which he summarizes as DWB (driving while Black). He is arrested and even sustains a dog bite in the process. The armed police officers claim the siccing of the canine, Nikki, on him is warranted by his violent behavior. Will his misfortunes ever end?
Lawrence’s story is told in a conversational and lively tone, and the reader seems to be hearing it while sharing a few beers with him. Lawrence shifts from present to past tense in his narration, but the shifts are natural and are not that bothersome. He also injects snippets from his past to allow the reader to get to know him better.
The book is well-organized, and it is a breeze to follow along. Lawrence figures in at least three controversial court cases, and he is able to present each objectively. He includes copies of relevant documents that give credence to his assertions. The book also shows photos of some of the personalities involved (including two of Nikki), but the reader sees only a tiny picture of a very young Lawrence. A more recent photo of the author would be welcome in a later edition of the book.
I am Asian, and I can imagine Lawrence’s exasperation over his experiences. He also mentions other Black people who were treated unfairly. These include Oscar Grant who was wrongfully killed by the police on New Year’s Day of 2009; his story is immortalized in the movie Fruitvale Station. Another victim is 89-year-old Jesse Porter bitten by Nikki in the old man’s own backyard in 2011. The cases featured in the book mostly resulted in monetary awards to the victims or their families. However, would money ever replace those lives or opportunities lost forever?
I was horrified by these true stories of injustices committed by the authorities sworn to uphold the law. It has been many decades since "Jim Crow" practices were supposedly eradicated. Were they?
I want to give the perfect rating to this book, but certain flaws stay my hand. Lawrence has to get editing help to catch the wayward sentences. Misspellings and capitalization errors are particularly rampant. I am likewise not happy with the extended discussion of Lawrence’s sex life and the accompanying vulgar words. Two of the fifteen chapters are used to detail his carnal pursuits, which I find irrelevant to the central theme. The book, in its present form, gets 2 out of 4 stars from me.
My recommendation goes to every mature citizen of the world who yearns for equality for all. I think many of us are guilty of exclusion in some way. May this book encourage us to be more mindful of the way we treat everyone who is different from us. Let us all proclaim, “All lives matter!” More importantly, let us believe and live so.
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