We Keep Us Safe (Hardcover)

Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities

By Zach Norris, Van Jones (Foreword by)

Beacon Press, 9780807029701, 208pp.

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

List Price: 24.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A groundbreaking new vision for public safety that overturns more than 200 years of fear-based discrimination, othering, and punishment

As the effects of aggressive policing and mass incarceration harm historically marginalized communities and tear families apart, how do we define safety? In a time when the most powerful institutions in the United States are embracing the repressive and racist systems that keep many communities struggling and in fear, we need to reimagine what safety means. Community leader and lawyer Zach Norris lays out a radical way to shift the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward growth and support systems for our families and communities. In order to truly be safe, we are going to have to dismantle our mentality of Us vs. Them. By bridging the divides and building relationships with one another, we can dedicate ourselves to strategic, smart investments--meaning resources directed toward our stability and well-being, like healthcare and housing, education and living-wage jobs. This is where real safety begins.

We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.

About the Author

Zach Norris is the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which creates campaigns related to civic engagement, violence prevention, juvenile justice, and police brutality, with a goal of shifting economic resources away from prisons and punishment and towards economic opportunity. He is also the cofounder of Restore Oakland and Justice for Families, both of which focus on the power of community action. He graduated from Harvard and took his law degree from New York University. Connect with him @ZachWNorris.

Praise For We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities

“An urgent call for safer, more inclusive communities for everyone . . . Highly illuminating account of the changes required to create a more democratic society for all.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Bright, talented, compassionate, strategic, and committed . . . Norris’s insights and story will be an enormously important contribution in the effort to advance human rights in this country.”
—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

We Keep Us Safe powerfully demonstrates that safety, freedom, and justice come from relationships, resources, and real accountability—not more punishment, police, and prisons.”
—Michelle Alexander

“Zach Norris’s powerful book offers an inspiring blueprint for justice beyond prisons and courts—and paints a picture of a brighter future for all of us.”
—Sally Kohn, author of The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity

We Keep Us Safe is a profoundly important contribution to our thinking about what safety is, what’s undermining it, and how to advance it. Norris draws on an amazing array of ideas and resources to show us that it is not walls and jails we need more of, but care, connection, and community.”
—Annie Leonard, executive director, Greenpeace US

“Zach’s words are a must-read for anyone who cares about a more just and more compassionate future. He shows us the world that might be possible when we lead with empathy, when we humanize rather than criminalize each other, and when we seek restoration rather than retribution. And perhaps most importantly, he gives us hope that it’s a world in which we might one day live.”
—Jennifer Siebel Newsom, First Partner of California, filmmaker, and founder of the Representation Project

“Zach Norris, executive director of Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for many years, has written a powerful book that is very much in the tradition of Baker’s radical humanitarianism. Many racial and social justice projects focus on what’s wrong with our current system of policing and prisons, Norris’ book focuses on alternatives: conflict resolution, prevention strategies and restorative justice. Rejecting fear-based, revenge-based models of ‘justice’, Norris’ work pays homage to an entire generation of activists who are not only clear about what they are against, but collectively creating a vision and a practice of what the future could look like. A must read.”
—Barbara Ransby, historian, longtime activist, and author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement