From the time her son, Malik, could walk, Janae Williams taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him, “raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say,” if the police ever stopped him. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik have escaped jail if he’d run?
Unable to see her son or pay for his defense, Janae, a cafeteria worker, reluctantly allows Roger Whitford, a white human rights attorney, to represent Malik. With the help of an ambitious private attorney named Calvin Moore, Roger is determined to challenge the entire criminal justice system and expose its inherent racism—racism that threatens the very existence of America’s young black men.
Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics that burns to the very core of Janae herself. As she battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of her community.
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