Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness
This instant New York Times bestseller offers “a firsthand, eye-opening story of a prosecutor that exposes the devastating criminal punishment system” (Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of How to Be an Antiracist) in this “compelling collection of engaging, well-written, keenly observed vignettes from [Laura Coates’s] years as a lawyer with the US Department of Justice” (The New York Times Book Review).
When Laura Coates joined the Department of Justice as a prosecutor, she wanted to advocate for the most vulnerable among us. But she quickly realized that even with the best intentions, “the pursuit of justice creates injustice.”
Coates’s experiences show that no matter how fair you try to fight, being Black, a woman, and a mother are identities often at odds in the justice system. She and her colleagues face seemingly impossible situations as they teeter between what is right and what is just.
On the front lines of our legal system, Coates saw how Black communities are policed differently; Black cases are prosecuted differently; Black defendants are judged differently. How the court system seems to be the one place where minorities are overrepresented, an unrelenting parade of Black and Brown defendants in numbers that belie their percentage in the population and overfill American prisons. She also witnessed how others in the system either abused power or were abused by it—for example, when an undocumented witness was arrested by ICE, when a white colleague taught Coates how to unfairly interrogate a young Black defendant, or when a judge victim-blamed a young sexual assault survivor based on her courtroom attire.
Through these “searing, eye-opening” (People) scenes from the courtroom, Laura Coates explores the tension between the idealism of the law and the reality of working within the parameters of our flawed legal system, exposing the chasm between what is right and what is lawful.
Praise for Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness
“A compelling collection of engaging, well-written, keenly observed vignettes from her years as a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. But Coates’s stories, instead of trying to aggrandize her as an attorney, have a different and more profound purpose: They illustrate the injustices of our criminal justice system, exploring the ambivalence and even guilt that Coates felt as a Black female federal prosecutor working within—and for—that system.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Just Pursuit stands out among a growing confessional literature regarding the role of Black prosecutors in a criminal legal system that disproportionally investigates, arrests, charges and imprisons African Americans. While most works in this genre read as elaborate apologias, Coates immediately strikes a different tone. With brutal honesty and descriptive precision, she reveals the complex moral universe in which prosecutors live but far too many refuse to confront….If more prosecutors thought like this, perhaps our criminal legal system would live up to its ideal of equal justice under law.”
—The Washington Post
“Laura Coates, author of ‘Just Pursuit,’ touches the heart as few other writers can. Her stories are not filled with anger or pity but with empathy for those caught in the legal-system web, both as victims and perpetrators.”
—The Seattle Times
"Searing, eyeopening stories of America’s broken criminal justice system."
“Coates’ book of reckoning arrives during a time when re-examination is crucial, for both society and ourselves.”
“Coates has written a searing and unsparing book masterfully examining the chasm between the ideals of law and the realities of its effects on communities of color across the U.S.”
"Through revelatory anecdotes and intimate personal moments, [Coates] exposes the tension between pursuing 'what is right and what is just' and the fraught realities of sweeping institutional change—a must-read for anyone interested in criminal justice reform."
"What we fear most—what we avoid—is actually the thing that will save us all. I am now convinced that no one knows that better than Laura Coates. Her Just Pursuit is a brilliant guided journey into discovering other’s humanity by becoming aware and comfortable with your own. Proximity is how we fix America’s ailing justice system by first taking a clear-eyed, magnified look at the court system—prosecutors, lawyers, and especially judges. Only someone with the required DNA to channel the souls of black folks, living and dead, could manage a feat that at once conjures anger, frustration, vulnerability, love, and hope. What will transform the system? Perhaps a Black woman with Black children in America. A thing to behold! A thing to read!"
—Don Lemon, CNN Anchor and author of This Is The Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism
"Just Pursuit is a firsthand, eye-opening story of a prosecutor that exposes the devastating criminal punishment system. Laura Coates bleeds for justice on the page."
—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist
"A searing and soul-searching book. At a time when the American justice system is being reexamined, Laura Coates forces readers to do their own self-examination."
—Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American and author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
“Laura Coates, one of our most brilliant observers of the law, has written a tour de force about a crucial aspect of our legal system. She has also pulled off a valiant reversal to achieve a higher, more poetic justice: a woman who once prosecuted Black folk now stands as their mighty defender. In stories both chilling and heartbreaking, Coates details in searing prose how justice is too often fugitive in a system supposedly meant to serve it. After reading the gripping Just Pursuit, no one can deny that color and cash weigh the scales of justice in favor of those who are neither Black nor poor. This wise and compelling volume is a must read!”
—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Entertaining Race: Performing Blackness in America
“Coates clearly demonstrates how our sense of justice is conditioned by who we are…Sobering reading and an eloquent case for reform for a more equitable distribution of justice.”
"A personal, heartfelt, eloquent, and sobering examination of the nexus of justice and humanity."