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On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shifted. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder--one young black man slaying another--and a determined crew of detectives whose creed was to pursue justice at all costs for its forgotten victims. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America--why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.


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On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shifted. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder--one young black man slaying another--and a determined crew of detectives whose creed was to pursue justice at all costs for its forgotten victims. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of murder in America--why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.

30 review for Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from both bodily injury and death. It is at once oppressive and inadequate… This is a book about a very simple idea where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. There is a plague loose in the land. A dark, long-time Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from both bodily injury and death. It is at once oppressive and inadequate… This is a book about a very simple idea where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. There is a plague loose in the land. A dark, long-time resident that deals in sudden death, trimming the upper number in the life expectancy range with a meataxe. The truth is not easy. It is not the sort of uni-dimensional flat surface that some politicians and most mainstream media find so attractive. It is not good vs bad, although there is plenty of both to go around. It is not lazy versus industrious although there is a plentiful supply of both sorts of people. The truth is multifaceted, reflecting light from and to diverse directions. It is comprised of the accretions of time and experience, and is held in place by ignorance, greed, and expectation. But unless one can get a handle on the truth, appreciate its reality, its many facets, see past its PR, there can never be any hope of replacing it with a better truth, a less desperate truth, a less murderous truth. How’s this for a truth? Black men make up 6 % of the population, yet make up 40% of murder victims. Jill Leovy - from NPR Jill Leovy has been digging at the truth for a long time. She began as a crime reporter for the LA Times in 2002, and had a front row seat for the wave of homicide that washed over the southern parts of the city of angels. So many murders, yet so little reportage. Even to many of the cops involved, the victims were considered less than human, not worthy of much notice. Leovy decided that attention needed to be paid, beginning an on-line Homicide Report at the LA Times that provided the specifics of every homicide in the city, putting faces to the relentlessly growing numbers of murder victims. Leovy spent years embedded with LAPD homicide detectives and maintained close contact with the families of victims. Focusing on one particular killing, from 2007, she uses this as a narrative core around which she builds her description and analysis. It is an insightful, surprising, and enlightening view into a very dark reality. Forty years after the civil rights movement, impunity for the murder of black men remained America’s great, though mostly invisible, race problem. The institutions of criminal justice, so remorseless in other ways in an era of get-tough sentencing and “preventive” policing remained feeble when it came to answering for the lives of black murder victims. Few experts examine what was evident every day of John Skaggs’s working life: that the state’s inability to catch and punish even a bare majority of murderers in black enclaves such as Watts was itself a root cause of the violence, and that this was a terrible problem—perhaps the most terrible thing in contemporary American life. The system’s failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap. Leovy offers perspectives from both sides of the blue line. Her primary focus is on a detective who gets it. John Skaggs, a big Mic of a cop, with a brain to match his large frame. Understanding that as long as black lives were held cheap, the killing would continue, Skaggs made it his mission to make “black lives expensive.” Instead of blowing off the killing, he took it on himself to dig in, find ways, and take killers off the street. Leovy tells the story of Skaggs’ pursuit of truth and justice, if not exactly the American way. John Skaggs - from The Telegraph One of the many strengths of Leovy’s book is her use of historical context. How did this or that come to be? Where did it come from? What keeps it afloat? What are the forces that keep it from changing? Another is her consideration of why it is so difficult to prosecute violent crimes in lawless places, and why the police are so ready to employ tactics like stop and frisk, and neighborhood sweeps. And why there are some places the police prefer to avoid. This practice of using “proxy crimes” to substitute for more difficult and expensive investigations was widespread in American law enforcement. The legal scholar William J. Stuntz singled it out as a particularly damaging trend of recent decades. In California, proxy justice had transformed enforcement of parole and probation into a kind of shadow legal system sparing the state the trouble of expensive prosecutions. When effective law enforcement no longer applies in a place, local law steps in to fill the vacuum, whether that law is gang-based or a manifestation of a religious movement, as in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is no puzzle why a part of the Windy City is called Chi-raq. When your business dealings are illegal, you have no legal recourse. Many poor “underclass” men of Watts had little to live on except a couple hundred dollars a month in county General Relief. They “cliqued up” for all sorts of illegal enterprises, not just selling drugs and pimping but also fraudulent check schemes, tax cons, unlicensed car repair businesses, or hair braiding. Some bounced from hustle to hustle. They bartered goods, struck deals, and shared proceeds, all off the books. Violence substituted for contract litigation. Young men in Watts frequently compared their participation in so-called gang culture to the way white-collar businessmen sue customers, competitors, or suppliers in civil courts. They spoke of policing themselves, adjudicating their own disputes. Other people call the police when they need help, explained an East Coast Crip gang member. “We pick up the phone and call out homeboys.” There are other sources for what happens to innocent victims caught up in such sweeps. I recommend Matt Taibbi’s The Divide for that. But that is not what Leovy is attending to here, and it is indeed only one part of the larger story. Bryant Tennelle - from The Telegraph I was amazed by the level of detail Leovy brought to bear, informing the thrust of her argument. Not only police blotter data, but on the scene reportage, interviews with people affected by the crimes, and by the structure of life lived in what is, in a way, a walled-off community. Her information is not merely statistical, and analytical. It is personal. Her people are very much living, breathing individuals, not catalog entries. There are both residents and cops who are trying to cope with a huge challenge in a system that is not all that amenable to change. Change costs money, and we all know how much politicians love to boast about keeping costs down. The politics of policing is also given some attention. Why do cops work here rather than there? Why do detectives choose this assignment over that. Do they even have a choice? What motivates the uniformed police, the detectives? What do they hope to accomplish? What do they think they can accomplish. How do they go about their business? How are policing resources allocated? If I have any gripes about the book, it might be that Leovy traces a bit of a halo around Skaggs. He may be a bit too good to be real. But then again, he may not. What sort of world is it in which a portrayal of actual decency is considered suspect? Other cops are given attention as well. This is not all the Detective Skaggs show. Jill Leovy has written a must-read tour de force, a brilliant look into a deadly, intractable problem that not only plagues black urban areas, but that challenges the very rule of law itself. The next time you see local news in the daily tabloid or yellow-dog nightly coverage on the tube (If it bleeds, it leads) ascribing the death of a black man to gang violence, you might think twice about taking that at face value. The next time you see statistics on the number of deaths in a year for a given location, you might wonder how many of those were actually reported on, how many of those were truly investigated or how many times the local PD might blow it off as NHI, No Human Involved. You will learn something new here. You will see a reality that has been there for a long time, but that has been kept out of sight by a combination of indifferent law enforcement, inattentive media, and cheapskate politicians. Leovy offers the faceted lenses you need to gain a better focus on the reality. One of Skaggs’s colleagues picked up a word a Watts gang member used to describe his neighborhood: ghettoside. The term captured the situation nicely, mixing geography and status with the hustler’s poetic precision and perverse conceit. It was both a place and a predicament, and gave a name to that otherworldly seclusion that all violent black pockets of the country had in common—Athens, Willowbrook, parts of Long Beach, Watts. There was a sameness to these places and the policing that went on in them. John Skaggs was ghettoside all the way. Some people care. Black lives do matter. But it is important to find specific places where the notion can be applied to the levers and gears of reality to effect a desired result. Some people are trying to change things. Some people are trying to push down on the lever of prosecuting the killers of black men. But this is a huge mountain, and it will take a lot of pushing to make it move. Ghettoside could just as easily have been titled “Ghetto-cide,” and that really is what it is all about. Review posted – 12/18/15 Publication dates ---1/27/15 – hardcover ---10/27/15 – Trade Paper =============================EXTRA STUFF Ghettoside is named a 2015 notable non fiction book by the Washington Post Ghettoside is named to the NY Times 100 Notable Books list for 2015 Interviews -----The Daily Show - extended -----NPR - Weekend Edition - audio -----NPR – Fresh Air - with Dave Davies - audio -----PBS - Tavis Smiley - video -----New Republic - Dan Slater - print -----LA Weekly - Joe Donnelly – from 2008 re her Homicide Report project In light of the recent spate of killings, Greg Howard's 7/8/16 piece in the NY Times is worth reading - How Police See Us, and How They Train Us to See ThemIn a vacuum, it isn’t natural to pre-emptively shoot people to death, just as, in a vacuum, it isn’t natural to keep your gun trained on a person who has been rendered incapacitated and is bleeding out before you. This is specialized behavior, the sort expected from military forces entering unfamiliar war zones. Soldiers are trained to consider everyone and everything a potential threat, to neutralize any man, woman or child who could potentially cause them harm. The highest priorities are to protect themselves and to accomplish their mission, and that requires the trained dehumanization of the local population. In such an environment, the burden of not killing is lifted from the soldiers, and local people are tasked with the burden of not provoking death.August 10, 2016 - an alarming NY Times piece on a Justice Department study that looked into police bias - Findings of Police Bias in Baltimore Validate What Many Have Long Felt This 9/30/16 NY Times Op-ed piece by Matthew Desmond and Andrew Papachristo illustrates a particular element of what goes into police-community relations - Why Don’t You Just Call the Cops? This 10/7/16 NY Times report by Benjamin Mueller and Al Baker looks at how crime in a poor neighborhood, affecting minority people, is not given the same treatment as crimes against white people in middle-class areas. Also on how the unwillingness of witnesses to speak up contributes to a cycle of violence. Powerful, and depressing. - A Mother Is Shot Dead on a Playground, and a Sea of Witnesses Goes Silent 12/14/16 - NY Times - A Man Is Shot in the Back, and Only the Police Are Kept in the Dark - By James C. McKinley Jr., Ashley Southall and Al Baker - another tale of a murder unsolved because witnesses fear retaliation. 8/28/17 - NY Times - Trump Reverses Restrictions on Military Hardware for Police - by Adam Goldman – as if we need for people to feel even more as if they are living in an occupied territory 3/8/2018 - Buzzfeed - an in depth report on how secret NYPD files show that many NYC police guilty of serious crimes are left unpunished - dark stuff and not all that surprising - BUSTED - by Kendall Taggert and Mike Hayes 3/21/19 - The Daily Beast - Florida Cops Under Fire for Violent Incidents With Black Women - by Pilar Melendez - This is why people turn to non-police solutions to criminal problems

  2. 5 out of 5

    karen

    i grew up in a tiny village located in the smallest state in the u.s. whose residents were mostly elderly transplanted french canadians. it was a very docile environment. from there, i went directly to nyc for college, and despite what the warriors or west side story may have taught you we don't have a lot of gang activity around here. not like in l.a., anyway. no one here hails cabs to perform drive-bys. the bulk of my knowledge of west coast gang culture comes from rap music, the shield, and my i grew up in a tiny village located in the smallest state in the u.s. whose residents were mostly elderly transplanted french canadians. it was a very docile environment. from there, i went directly to nyc for college, and despite what the warriors or west side story may have taught you we don't have a lot of gang activity around here. not like in l.a., anyway. no one here hails cabs to perform drive-bys. the bulk of my knowledge of west coast gang culture comes from rap music, the shield, and my poorly-thought-out decision to get many 40's with my ex and watch a double feature of menace II society and boyz n the hood. those two movies are forever wedded in my mind, to the point where i can't remember which is which, causing me some vague white anxiety that admitting this makes me come across as racist, until i remember that the following week, we did another mini-marathon of heat and casino, and in my mind that is also one long, confusing movie. we probably should have had less alcohol during these sessions. all of this to say that i found this book to be an incredibly informative and thorough examination of a phenomenon i have never personally witnessed, and one which has been dramatized and even glamorized on the big and small screens to such an extent that the real, human element of it gets glossed over. as leovy states in this book: Somehow, mainstream America had managed to make a fetish of South Central murders and yet still ignore them. The principal aspect of the plague - agony - was constantly underrated. even the news reports from the height of the gang epidemic in l.a. in the 90's, at least from what i remember, lacked nuance: gangs = bad. cops = worse. but it's more complicated than that, obviously, and this book explores the particulars with exhaustive precision, covering the social, economic, and historical factors that caused and perpetuated gang culture in l.a. jill leovy has been chronicling murders in l.a. for the los angeles times since 2007 as part of a blog called the homicide report. every. single. murder. speaking of the project, leovy says, "The Web offered what the paper did not: unlimited space." space which was necessary, as the murder rate in l.a. during "the big years" was astronomical. In 1992, black men in their twenties in Los Angeles County, for example, were killed at a rate thirty times the national average: 304 deaths per 100,000 people. The following year was even worse. Black men aged twenty to twenty-four died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100,000 people in 1993 - forty times the national average and almost exactly the per capita rate of U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. not only is leovy well-qualified to speak on this material, she is also an extremely good writer. this is not a dry recounting of statistics and exhortations. like the best true crime writing, hers is a gripping tale of a single case, from start to finish, which also branches out into accounts of other crimes being handled by the same detectives at the same time, contextualizing this one incident within the broader framework of what one l.a. detective called "the monster," which refers not only to the homicides resulting from gangs, but also the larger scope of that which surrounds gang violence - the system, the public's perception, the lack of media coverage - the entire cycle. what david simon did for baltimore with the wire, leovy does for south central: in this book, we follow a single case - the murder of the son of a black LAPD homicide detective; an unaffiliated eighteen-year-old boy, from every angle. there are contributions from the detectives, the lawyers, the victim's family, friends, witnesses, suspects, and people unconnected to the crime who are nonetheless involved by virtue of the way "the monster" has permeated their lives. oddly enough, for her being a journalist, the media angle is not really a focus, except to state how few of the murders, excepting high-profile ones, were given coverage. the first several chapters are foundational, and it took a little while for me to get into it. however, her writing is very strong, and the beginning parts are necessary to understand the climate in which the story takes place, and to introduce the key players, and once it coheres into a more flowing narrative structure, it's unstoppable. she just goes full-throttle, covering the frustration of an underfunded police force instructed to focus on preventative measures over actually solving murders and a population historically accustomed to police indifference who instead rely on self-policing in terms of administering "justice" within their neighborhoods, the difficulties detectives face in getting witnesses to testify while simultaneously being told by the same people that they don't care about black-on-black crime. the whole situation is a mess. and yet, within all the bureaucracy and distrust, there are individuals who emerge to rise above all the obstacles, to do their jobs with steely determination and actually do solve the crimes. not because they are heroic - the most effective detectives in this story are more driven than personable; they are machines of tireless investigative prowess, succeeding despite all of the systemic flaws. no one is cuddly here, but damn, are they efficient and stubborn within such brutal realities as the ever-rising number of open cases as murders beget retaliation-murders, the lack of manpower, money, and training, and the insurmountable chasm between the police and communities who have legitimate reasons to mistrust them. this book is both engrossing and important. it is absorbing enough that it reads like fiction, but unfortunately, it is all too real. although the murder rate has decreased significantly since "the big years," the problem has not gone away, and some of the reasons leovy cites for the decrease are equally distressing. if you have any interest at all in crime, police procedurals, the legal system, racial history, or are in any way a human being, you should read this book. the interrogation scenes and the trial parts alone are worth it, even if you are immune to human suffering or see the situation as an isolated, localized phenomenon. because it absolutely is not. come to my blog!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    We love murder. Let me clarify that statement. We love murder as entertainment when the victim is some poor innocent blonde woman that our hero detectives avenge with a little help from the geeks in the crime lab, and the whole thing is wrapped up in an hour. Or about 45 minutes with commercials if it’s on network television. This book is non-fiction so it certainly doesn’t have the appeal of a tidy TV solution, and it digs into the whole sociology of a community where murder is common and the pol We love murder. Let me clarify that statement. We love murder as entertainment when the victim is some poor innocent blonde woman that our hero detectives avenge with a little help from the geeks in the crime lab, and the whole thing is wrapped up in an hour. Or about 45 minutes with commercials if it’s on network television. This book is non-fiction so it certainly doesn’t have the appeal of a tidy TV solution, and it digs into the whole sociology of a community where murder is common and the police as an institution seems more interested in easy drug busts and flashy anti-gang units even as it cuts the overtime of it’s already understaffed homicide units. So that takes a lot of the fun out of murder. One of those homicides was Bryant Tennelle, a young man who got shot for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a cruel twist, Bryant was the son of a LAPD detective who was one of the rare cops to live where he policed. Part of the book follows the efforts of another relentless detective named John Skaggs to solve the case. Reporter Jill Leovy spent years covering and researching homicides in LA, and she doesn’t just tell us the story of that one murder. The elephant in the room regarding murder in America is that the majority of it is made up of black men killing black men. She tackles the issues head on, and offers reasons and possible solutions to it. What history shows is that in areas where a poor community feels repressed and vulnerable, when major crimes go unpunished while the citizens feel harassed by the force failing to protect them, it breeds murder. In LA the police resources were dedicated mainly to crime prevention, not crime investigation and homicide clearance rates had fallen to abysmal levels. Leovy’s findings show that this has created the worst kind of Catch-22 situation where the emphasis on the wrong kind of policing has the black citizens feeling harassed even as they think the cops don’t care about solving murders so they don’t cooperate. The cops get frustrated by the lack of cooperation and put even less effort into solving black murders. Rinse and repeat. The good news is that Leovy actually thinks the situation could be greatly improved if the cops put more resources into catching killers. She uses Skaggs’ investigation of Tennelle’s death to show how a seemingly random shooting can be solved. Not with any kind of Sherlock Holmes deduction or CSI labs, but by simply showing up, listening, and giving a damn about all the people involved like the victim’s family and witnesses. Per her final chapter the situation has improved in south LA which she credits to better police policies and social programs. Comparisons to David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets are inevitable and fair because Leovy does cover a lot of the same ground as far as following around detectives and showing what actual police work is like. It also hits a lot of the same themes that Simon’s The Wire did about institutions presenting a good face rather than doing meaningful work. This plays on more of the sociological angles than Simon’s works, but it lacks his style and humor so I still think Homicide is a better read. Leovy also puts John Skaggs on a pedestal which gets to be a little tiresome after a while. However, it’s still an important book that takes a hard look at a very real problem.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X

    Good reason to read it: superb writing. The characters though are so hackneyed. There is Supercop, the ordinary, world-weary father of teenagers who just wants to do his best. The police team who mostly don't care at all, it's only one Black shootin' another. The forensics guy who thinks he can do better than computers (he can). The victim - a boy with a shining face full of the possibilities of life, bleeding to death on the pavement from a bullet in his head, "I'm so tired, " he says, and dies Good reason to read it: superb writing. The characters though are so hackneyed. There is Supercop, the ordinary, world-weary father of teenagers who just wants to do his best. The police team who mostly don't care at all, it's only one Black shootin' another. The forensics guy who thinks he can do better than computers (he can). The victim - a boy with a shining face full of the possibilities of life, bleeding to death on the pavement from a bullet in his head, "I'm so tired, " he says, and dies. Another victim, his grieving mother, out of shape, unkempt through misery and unable to move on. The prostitute girlfriend who wants to do better. The gang-victim who gives the police the information everyone but the cops know. The hard men in prison planning revenge on snitches and being spied on by the prison guards. The killer, a victim himself of the ghetto, who is 17 and felt immortal and just wanted to have friends, be in a gang, and so murdered to make himself popular. Haven't you heard of all of them before a million times? Could you switch on the tv without coming across a show based on these very characters? So nothing extraordinary here except the writing, and that's why the book gets four stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    If it’s sadness you’re after, we have it right here by the bucketful One 16 year old kid named Devin Davis on May 11 2007 walked round the corner from St Andrews Place onto 80th Street, Los Angeles, and closed his eyes and pointed a gun towards two other black kids. One of the shots hit one of them in the head, an 18 year old named Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA detective, and he died. (Bryant Tennelle) Some time later Devin was questioned and confessed pretty quickly. It turned out th If it’s sadness you’re after, we have it right here by the bucketful One 16 year old kid named Devin Davis on May 11 2007 walked round the corner from St Andrews Place onto 80th Street, Los Angeles, and closed his eyes and pointed a gun towards two other black kids. One of the shots hit one of them in the head, an 18 year old named Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA detective, and he died. (Bryant Tennelle) Some time later Devin was questioned and confessed pretty quickly. It turned out that he hadn’t realised he’d killed anyone until much later. He thought what he was doing was throwing a few rounds at some rival gangsters, maybe hit one in the arm if the guy was unlucky. He said I ain’t never think I’d hurt somebody. I ain’t never did want to hurt nobody in this world. I always just wanted to be a person everyone was just cool with. Everybody just liking me! I never did want to ever ever ever ever ever my whole life, never wanted to hurt nobody! Being a person others would be cool with meant not being a punk. Not being a punk meant that if somebody for instance suggested making a few rival Crips bangers run like rabbits, Devon would say yes. I got out of the car, closed my eyes, and I just started doing it, I don’t know why! I was scared! I didn’t want nobody thinking of me as no bitch or nothing’…I just wanted to have friends! That’s all I wanted. I didn’t think you had to do all that. From pages 34 and 40: In 1993, black men in their early twenties in Los Angeles County died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100,000 population, similar to the per capita rate of death for US soldiers deployed to Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion…. The smallest ghettoside spat seemed to escalate to violence as if, absent law, people were left with no other means of bringing a dispute to a close. Debts and competition over goods and women – especially women – drove many killings. But insults, snitching, drunken antics, and the classic – unwanted party guests – were also common homicide motives. This book comes at you like Jill Leovy has discovered this major ghastly secret at the heart of American life : black on black homicide. Jill doesn’t herself believe this is hold the front page news, but her book often reads as if it does. In fact, she knows she hasn’t discovered this information (just check out the amazing bibliography at the back) but maybe she thinks she has RE-discovered it. And that has to be a good thing. In the two years which followed the murder of Bryant Tennelle, 546 black men and boys were killed in South Los Angeles. I remember the flurry of great black American movies at the beginning of the 1990s, which all dealt with this very issue, front and centre : Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City, Jungle Fever. Those movies still ring in my head today, so powerful were they. At the very same time came David Simon’s brilliant book Homicide, which, as it’s all about Baltimore, was also all about black on black homicide. After which came the all time great tv show Homicide: Life on the Street, 1993 to 1999. There was this one episode which really got to me (well, there were a lot that did). A black woman is in the police station waiting room and another black woman comes in. They get to talking, in fact the first one needs someone to talk to. That morning she found out her son had been killed. The second one is immediately sympathetic, she knows what being a black mother in Baltimore means. But then, little details of the first woman’s son emerge, and where and how he was killed, and the atmosphere begins to freeze. The second woman is down at the station because her son has just been arrested for this very murder. And after Homicide came The Wire, so it’s not like this is unexamined territory. We kind of know this stuff already. But that’s the problem right there. It’s become accepted as background radiation, something that happens there and not here, too massive and too disturbing to think about. Jill Leovy’s fast, bold and blunt prose takes the whole subject head-on. Again. In many ways this is David Simon’s book Part Two. JL was “embedded” with a homicide unit, followed some cases in detail, got to know some of the detectives very well, and here are her findings. You also get the procedural stuff you might get in a Richard Price novel (one of the three biggies, Freedomland, Clockers and Lush Life). And mixed in with that you get the alt.political-history perspective of Mike Davis’ City of Quartz (subtitle : Excavating the Future in Los Angeles). All crammed down into 330 exhausting pages. On p 242 she observes that homicide rates amongst equally poor new immigrants from Central America are way, way lower than those for LA blacks. Poverty in itself does not make men shoot each other. But : In the year 2000, decades after the courts struck down restrictive covenants, black people in LA were no more likely to have white neighbours than they had been in 1970. … Indices of racial segregation are strong homicide predictors. Homicide thrives on intimacy, communal interactions, barter, and a shared sense of private rules. The intimacy part was also why homicide was so stubbornly intraracial. You had to be involved with people to want to kill them. By contrast, America’s lonely, atomized upper-middle-class white suburbs were not homicidal. Their highly mobile occupants were not much involved with each other. (In passing : one really surprising thing about Ghettoside was the absence of drugs as a big motivator in violent crime. ) In the last few pages JL reports that homicide rates are now declining (as of 2010/11) but are, of course, still sky-high by comparison with the rest of the population of the USA. Although Jill Leovy’s cast of thousands, most of whom come with a pungent three-line pen portrait, and hectic circumstance (who did what to who when and who said it went down way different than that) and how the police departments got reorganised and how thir office stationary budgets were affected and how the careers of her favourite murder cops went is quite exhausting and the reader will feel like they have been through the wringer more than once, I give it up for Ghettoside. It’s great stuff.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is an important book. Despite overall crime rates falling nationally, black homicide rates remain stubbornly high. And this is only the most lethal of problems facing inner-city neighborhoods. Failing schools. Concentrated poverty. Mass incarceration. All these things work together to create a world apart, known colloquially as the ghetto. It’s a touchy subject that touches on just about every third rail in American life. To even begin a discussion you have to avoid getting tripped up on ra This is an important book. Despite overall crime rates falling nationally, black homicide rates remain stubbornly high. And this is only the most lethal of problems facing inner-city neighborhoods. Failing schools. Concentrated poverty. Mass incarceration. All these things work together to create a world apart, known colloquially as the ghetto. It’s a touchy subject that touches on just about every third rail in American life. To even begin a discussion you have to avoid getting tripped up on race, class, and privilege. If you’re writing about this and haven’t deeply offended someone, you probably haven’t published. Despite this daunting reality, Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside is not the first book to tackle Gordian knot of the inner city. The genius of Ghettoside, though, is that it is – for lack of a better word – entertaining to read. It is an important sociological tract, but recognizing Mary Poppins’ sound advice, Leovy gives you the medicine with sugar. She delivers a powerful portrait of a failing neighborhood through the vessel of a true crime story. She draws you in with a murder mystery, and by the time you realize Leovy has something broader on her mind, she already has you by the lapels. The murder in question is of 18 year-old Bryant Tennelle, who died with a root beer in his hand, and the wrong hat upon his head. His murder was typical of South LA – a gangland hit that accidentally targeted a young man who wasn’t a banger. He was, in other words, caught in that ubiquitous crossfire mentioned so often by local news anchors all over the country. Only two things separated Tennelle’s violent fate from that of so many others. First, Tennelle’s father was a detective in Los Angeles’s “elite” Robbery-Homicide Division. (This division is tasked with solving high profile crimes. In LA, not only do they treat victims differently, they tell you, upfront, they treat victims differently). The second factor, more important than the first, is that the case got assigned to the indefatigable John Skaggs, the unequivocal hero of Leovy’s tale. Tennelle’s murder is the unifying event of Ghettoside. It gives Leovy a narrative hook. She does all the thing you’d expect were this a typical episode of 48 Hours or Dateline. She looks at Bryant’s life, explores the crime that took his life, and then follows the detectives as they track down leads. The tropes are familiar; the setting is not. It is not easy developing suspects when the tapestry of death and retaliation are woven tighter than an eight-hundred thread count sheet. It is not easy getting someone to say something, when the “don’t snitch” ethos permeates into every corner of the street. Skaggs is the lead character in this drama, which is filled with personalities ranging from exasperated police superiors to a prostitute looking to get out. Is John Skaggs really as good as Leovy makes him out to be? I don’t know. Is anyone? It’s worth noting that Leovy is willing to give Skaggs the benefit of the doubt every time. Even his flaws are presented as virtue. Still, it cannot be denied that he tackled a hard case that many observers thought might never be solved. Leovy uses the Tennelle investigation as a springboard to discuss other, broader topics. Her chief concern is for what is inartfully called “black on black crime.” What this term really refers to is gang crime: Gangs could seem pointlessly self-destructive, but the reason they existed was no mystery. Boys and men always tend to group together for protection. They seek advantage in numbers. Unchecked by a state monopoly on violence, such groupings fight, commit crimes, and ascend to factional dominance as conditions permit. Fundamentally, gangs are a consequence of lawlessness, not a cause. Gangs, in Leovy’s description, fill a vacuum. It’s a fascinating argument, whether or not you fully buy it. I tend to think that she doesn’t give gangs enough credit as organized criminal entities (often with cartel ties), but she certainly invites you to indulge in a paradigmatic shift in your thinking. (At one point she posits that violence is higher among people who are immobile and economically interdependent. It's an interesting viewpoint. I ran it past a social-minded urban planner I know, and he heartily disagreed. Still, the idea made for a great conversation starter for a conversation that needs to be started). And that’s one of Leovy’s great strengths: giving you things to ponder. Leovy is a Los Angeles Times reporter and the creator of their crime blog. Covering that kind of beat has to be difficult. Somehow, though, she has managed to maintain her humanity, and this book is a testament to her empathetic abilities. There is a marvelous little section, for instance, when she muses about the deleterious mental health issues faced by gang members. We have this image – often cultivated by members themselves, who are rapping all over YouTube – of the hardened gang banger content to pimp and sling until his early grave. Leovy excavates this front, to find young men suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. It’s a poignant insight, and one that makes sense when you imagine what the typical gang member has seen and done. Leovy’s talent as a writer is in her ability to synthesize a powerful nonfiction drama with an important sociological case study. Her prose is simple, engaging, and incisive. Ghettoside invites obvious comparison to David Simon’s classic Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The two, however, are quite a bit different. For one, Leovy never tries for anything like Simon’s bursts of eloquently profane sentences. There are some incredibly memorable passages in Homicide, and nothing quite equivalent here. In a larger sense, Simon’s Homicide is a masterpiece of futility. It leaves you feeling hopeless. He follows homicide detectives for a year, and then leaves. Cases are left unresolved. The bad guys still run the streets. The detectives keep clearing cases that don’t end in convictions. It is a snapshot of an un-pretty moment. Ghettoside takes a longer view. It follows Tennelle’s case right to the end. Things are resolved. The brain’s thirst for a story with a beginning, middle, and end is quenched. I know this sounds a bit patronizing, like I’m saying Ghettoside is a dumbed-down version of Homicide for people with a low tolerance for intellectual complexity and dissonance. That’s not my intent. Rather, I think this is a major selling point. This is a book with meaningful things to say. It is a book that asks you to broaden your viewpoint to absorb the lives in a part of town you’ve probably never visited. And it does this without hitting you over the head or delivering a one-sided lecture. Leovy is not here to give us all the solutions, or frankly even a roadmap. That’s not really her point. Broadly speaking, the stages in problem-solving are understanding there is a problem; defining a solution; and implementing that fix. We are living in an interesting moment, when a lot of the issues Leovy talks about are making the nightly news. The complexity of these issues, fraught with issues of race and poverty, does not translate well to a two-minute piece about police shootings or protesters. Instead of a thoughtful conversation, we get a lot of strong, kneejerk reactions. Based on a lot of these reactions, I fear that a lot of people don’t realize there’s a crisis. There is. Read about it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Wow. This is an incredible book about murder in South Los Angeles. Jill Leovy was on the police beat for the LA Times, and she spent 10 years following homicide detectives and reporting on different murder cases. Ghettoside goes in-depth into one case in particular, the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA police detective. You could say Bryant was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that he was killed because he was wearing the wrong Wow. This is an incredible book about murder in South Los Angeles. Jill Leovy was on the police beat for the LA Times, and she spent 10 years following homicide detectives and reporting on different murder cases. Ghettoside goes in-depth into one case in particular, the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA police detective. You could say Bryant was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that he was killed because he was wearing the wrong colored hat. Solving this messy case fell to Detective John Skaggs, who was tenacious about tracking down leads. I found this book fascinating for several reasons. First, Leovy really gets into what cops do every day, how they handle leads, how they interview suspects, how they work together, how they keep track of all those cases. She does it respectfully, but she also points out the flaws in the system. How overloaded officers are with cases. How sometimes the orders given aren't always best for the neighborhood. How there are never enough hours or enough money for equipment. Additionally, Leovy looks at the larger issue of why so many black men are being murdered in America. Society's efforts to combat this mostly black-on-black murder epidemic were inept, fragmented, underfunded, contorted by a variety of ideological, political, and racial sensitivities. When homicide did get attention, the focus seemed to be on spectacles — mass shootings, celebrity murders — a step removed from the people who were doing most of the dying: black men. They were the nation's number one crime victims. They were the people hurt most badly and most often, just 6 percent of the country's population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered. People talked a lot about crime in America, but they tended to gloss over this aspect — that a plurality of those killed were not women, children, infants, elders, nor victims of workplace or school shootings. Rather, they were legions of America's black men, many of them unemployed and criminally involved. They were murdered every day, in every city, their bodies stacking up by the thousands, year after year. Leovy did research into what other communities around the world have had unusually high homicide rates, and she looked at other minority groups, such as immigrants. Among the lessons to be drawn was that poverty does not necessarily engender homicide ... Despite their relative poverty, recent immigrants tend to have lower homicide rates than resident Hispanics and their descendants born in the United States. This is because homicide flares among people who are trapped and economically interdependent, not among people who are highly mobile ... Homicide thrives on intimacy, communal interactions, barter, and a shared sense of private rules. The intimacy part was also why homicide was so stubbornly intraracial. You had to be involved with people to want to kill them. You had to share space in a small, isolated world. (emphasis mine) What also struck me about this book was how personally many of the officers take criticism that they don't care about the community, that they don't care about black lives, that they don't care about the victims. Leovy shows time after time that there are many officers who do care, and they work as best they can to solve insurmountable problems. The book has some good discussions on the different ways police can serve a community, and how to try and gain the trust and support of residents. At a time when incidents of police brutality have often been on the news, it was nice to read about so many detectives who cared deeply about the victims, their families and the community. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in criminal justice or policing. Favorite Quotes "Many critics today complain that the criminal justice system is heavy-handed and unfair to minorities. We hear a great deal about capital punishment, excessively punitive drug laws, supposed misuse of eyewitness evidence, troublingly high levels of black male incarceration, and so forth. So to assert that black Americans suffer from too little application of the law, not too much, seems at odds with common perception. But the perceived harshness of American criminal justice and its fundamental weakness are in reality two sides of a coin, the former a kind of poor compensation for the latter. Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from bodily injury and death. It is at once oppressive and inadequate." "Homicide grief may be a kind of living death. Survivors slog on, diminished, disfigured by loss and incomprehension. For many family members, the nightmare begins with experiences most Americans associate only with war: the sudden, violent death of a loved one on the street outside your home. Parents and siblings are often first on the scene." "Very few murders were covered in the media. Television stations covered more than the papers, but without any particular consistency, and many, many deaths received no mention by any media outlet, especially if the victims were black. It rankled deeply. The lack of media coverage seemed to convey that black-on-black homicide was 'small potatoes' in the eyes of the world, said a father who lost a daughter." "Take a bunch of teenage boys from the whitest, safest suburb in America and plunk them down in a place where their friends are murdered and they are constantly attacked and threatened. Signal that no one cares, and fail to solve murders. Limit their options for escape. Then see what happens."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    This is a masterpiece. If this doesn't win the National Book Award and a ton of other awards, then literary awards are really and truly bankrupt. I was a fan of Leovy's Homicide Blog (the original name for The Homicide Report), in so far as someone can be a "fan" of a project to catalog every homicide in LA county. Still, it felt like important work, and this book continues in its steps. The point of the Homicide Report was to bring attention -- in whatever way possible -- to every homicide, reg This is a masterpiece. If this doesn't win the National Book Award and a ton of other awards, then literary awards are really and truly bankrupt. I was a fan of Leovy's Homicide Blog (the original name for The Homicide Report), in so far as someone can be a "fan" of a project to catalog every homicide in LA county. Still, it felt like important work, and this book continues in its steps. The point of the Homicide Report was to bring attention -- in whatever way possible -- to every homicide, regardless of circumstance. To say that every murder is a tragedy and that every life matters. This book makes it plain why that's so important to do. If you don't, the signal is quite clear: some lives--specifically those of black people--don't matter. In fact, the point of this book could be summed roughly by saying that the low "clearance rate" -- that's the percentage of murders that get solved -- sends the clear message that black lives don't matter, which then leads to insanely high murder rates among African Americans. The book posits that if more murders were solved, less murders would be committed, that the main problem that inner-city blacks faced was that they lived in an area where the state had lost its monopoly on violence. Kind of a radical idea, really. A few key quotes from the book: "In 1993, black men in their early twenties in Los Angeles County died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100,000 population, similar to the per capita rate of death for U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion." "Legal scholar Randall Kennedy was a lonely voice among his peers when he asserted that “the principal injury suffered by African-Americans in relation to criminal matters is not overenforcement but underenforcement of the laws.”" "The killing of a human being anywhere is like a rock thrown in a pond. Bitter waves emanate outward, washing over an ever-wider circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, finally lapping against those distant from the impact point, friends of friends, old classmates, all, to some measure, sickened by the taint of this news—murder, so awful, so unbelievable—no degree of separation big enough to neutralize its poison." "He believed in his heart that violence comes first—that law is built on the state’s response to violence—and that responding was better than preventing. It was more true to the spirit of the law—and in the long run, more effective." Leovy does a tremendous job not just making this a book that catalogs abstract misery, but rather the story of specific people, specific tragedies. Specifically, it's the story of the death of Bryant Tennelle, the son of LAPD detective Wally Tennelle, and all of the people involved. From the kids (and they were kids, really) who shot him, to the detectives and prosecutors who sought justice. Through this one case, as well as others like it, she sheds light on "The Monster," the plague of horrible violence that holds so many its grip. Whatever, TLDR: you should read this book. It's important, sure, but more to the point, it's a great read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Trudi

    This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous So This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous South Central Los Angeles. This isn't an outsider elbowing her way into the quagmire of violence, but rather an LA citizen that deeply cares about the "plague of murders" devastating LA County's young black men and the tragic toll it has taken on those who loved them. While the narrative arc for the book is to cover in-depth one particular homicide -- that of 18 year old African American Bryant Tennelle (son of Wallace Tennelle, a highly respected detective with the Los Angeles police), Leovy does a great job balancing the intimate details of this case with a larger encompassing analysis of race relations in America and the rise of Los Angeles gangs and black on black homicidal violence. The statistics she presents are both shocking and depressing; for example, African-American males make up “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.” Furthermore, in the wake of improving national crime statistics (even for LA County), homicide remains the No. 1 cause of death for African-­American males ages 15 to 34. So Leovy wants to try and put some of this numbing tragedy into a meaningful context -- how have the lives of young black men become so cheap? Why has this bloody pattern of black on black violence become so commonplace? And what needs to be done to end this plague once and for all? Leovy doesn't have the answers, but I appreciate her attempts to tackle the at times, controversial and painful issues, and shed light on a problem that's difficult to know, understand and talk about. Again I will reiterate: this is not a perfect book. There are a lot of names and shifting points of view that, as a reader, it's easy to get lost or frustrated. But at its best, this book will make you think, consider, and question. It will make you want to understand. It will bring you to a place of empathy away from preconceived notions and prejudices, and that's a powerful thing. If you think you might read this book, I highly recommend checking out the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made In America, which provides an excellent overview of what's been called the longest running civil war in the history of America. Like Leovy wants to do with her book, this unflinching documentary humanizes what's been a very dehumanizing reality for the black citizens of South Los Angeles.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    "This book is about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic . . . To [veteran police investigator] John Skaggs, the nation's collective shrug toward homicide was incomprehensible. He sensed also that public indifference made his job more difficult." -- the author, on pages 8 and 11 Ghettoside deserves to share shelf space with A Good Month for Murder by Del Quentin Wilber and (one of my all-time favori "This book is about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic . . . To [veteran police investigator] John Skaggs, the nation's collective shrug toward homicide was incomprehensible. He sensed also that public indifference made his job more difficult." -- the author, on pages 8 and 11 Ghettoside deserves to share shelf space with A Good Month for Murder by Del Quentin Wilber and (one of my all-time favorite books) Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. Likely one of the collective strengths of these works comes from something that the authors have in common, other than their 'riding shotgun' with homicide detective squads - all three were penned by former newspaper writers who initially covered the crime beat in their respective urban communities. And I'm not talking about online correspondents, but the actual sort of now old-school print journalism involving lots of field work, phone calls, sources, etc. These folks know the rhythms of their towns. The main narrative of the book is a respected detective's investigation (Skaggs, mentioned above) into the shooting death of a teenager, with the unexpected 'hooks' being that 1.) said victim's father is a fellow detective in good standing from the same agency and 2.) the teen victim was a relatively good kid with no gang affiliation. The case is followed from night of occurrence to trial aftermath. The one difference with Ghettoside is that author Leovy doesn't just simply stick with a standard true crime-style entry, but also turns to sociology and a bit of criticism (especially with common-held misconceptions about race and crime) when examining murders in the seemingly always-troubled area of South-Central Los Angeles. Refreshingly, the only thing that is really black and white about the book are the police vehicles pictured on the cover. All types of persons involved - police officers, suspects, witnesses, bystanders, families - seem to exist (and, most importantly, try to survive) in a true and realistic shades of grey area, as there are very few here who could be tagged with simple labels like 'hero' or 'villain' since this is not a Hollywood production. However, there are certainly and sadly no shortage of victims in any sense, which is perhaps the most sobering aspect of all.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    Important. Devastating. Brilliant. Compelling. This book educates on the literal lack of reporting of murders occurring in South Central Los Angeles (what?!...not on the news at all?) and then brings every aspect of the neighborhoods, the police, the families, the victims, and the life cycle into the reporting to form a cohesive, well-written book that asks the right questions and glimpses the possible answers. The author shows compassion to the plight of the community and the dire need to break Important. Devastating. Brilliant. Compelling. This book educates on the literal lack of reporting of murders occurring in South Central Los Angeles (what?!...not on the news at all?) and then brings every aspect of the neighborhoods, the police, the families, the victims, and the life cycle into the reporting to form a cohesive, well-written book that asks the right questions and glimpses the possible answers. The author shows compassion to the plight of the community and the dire need to break the cycle of violence. She humanizes everyone, including the perpetrators, often terrified young men and boys, who grow up scared and are forced into gang life for protection. She heaps much deserved attention on the homicide dectectives and on the heartbroken family members left behind in the wake of this senseless violence. This book will break your heart. It should be required reading. It’s my Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City of this year. I will recommend this on audio to everyone. I wish I were better equip to review it but weeks after finishing it, it’s still raw. 5 stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    Genna

    I struggled a lot with this one. I went into it very interested in the subject and was excited, and it just did not live up to my expectations. First, the same message is sent about 10 million times, in the same format every time. With that, the author mentions many cases that follow the same pattern. I think it would have been more effective to stick with the Tennelle case while focusing on the human interest element of the story. I felt bombarded with cases and could not keep them straight and I struggled a lot with this one. I went into it very interested in the subject and was excited, and it just did not live up to my expectations. First, the same message is sent about 10 million times, in the same format every time. With that, the author mentions many cases that follow the same pattern. I think it would have been more effective to stick with the Tennelle case while focusing on the human interest element of the story. I felt bombarded with cases and could not keep them straight and I couldn't keep up with all the detective names that were thrown in either. I think with some serious editing, this could have been a great book to read if you were in a criminology or sociology course. That being said, I skimmed entire chapters and still got the message the author was aiming for.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 4* of five It took me, the guy who reads a book in a day, quite a while to finish this one. GHETTOSIDE is a vivid, eye-opening, matter-of-fact indictment of generations worth of neglect, oppression, and indifference on the part of the larger republic towards African-Americans, and men in particular. My review isn't a sweet little nosegay. It's a jeremiad. Rating: 4* of five It took me, the guy who reads a book in a day, quite a while to finish this one. GHETTOSIDE is a vivid, eye-opening, matter-of-fact indictment of generations worth of neglect, oppression, and indifference on the part of the larger republic towards African-Americans, and men in particular. My review isn't a sweet little nosegay. It's a jeremiad.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Snotchocheez

    When I saw that my friend Julie was reading this 2015 ARC with an iconic aerial view of a LAPD patrol car on the cover, it made me wonder, yet again, what the heck was going on back in the 'hood. All reports I'd heard regarding violent crime in the City of Angels since I left it a decade ago seemed to indicate that violent crime was on the rapid decline. I pretty much had to see if Ms. Leovy could provide added insight to refute what I'd heard about the decline of murder and other violent crime When I saw that my friend Julie was reading this 2015 ARC with an iconic aerial view of a LAPD patrol car on the cover, it made me wonder, yet again, what the heck was going on back in the 'hood. All reports I'd heard regarding violent crime in the City of Angels since I left it a decade ago seemed to indicate that violent crime was on the rapid decline. I pretty much had to see if Ms. Leovy could provide added insight to refute what I'd heard about the decline of murder and other violent crime in Los Angeles in the Aughts. It's a bit disingenuous to say that I'm intimately familiar with LA. While I (eleven years removed from it) can tell you where most anything is in LA, and for my first 37 years lived between 3-7 miles of "South LA" (optimistically renamed from South Central to try to remove the stigma decades of violence had wrought) but other than alternative-route jaunts to LAX which coursed through South Central, field trips when young to Simon Rodia's found-object sculpture Watts Towers, or hasty tours of shame to find the house the SLA holed up with Patty Hearst, or to see the havoc the Watts Riots or '92 LA Riots wrought, my knowledge of the soul of South Central is paltry. I might as well have lived 700 miles away. I knew enough to know it was a section of LA you'd just as soon avoid than hang out for any length of time. Thanks to Ms. Leovy's employer, the LA Times, (not to mention several movies glorifying the gangs there) I knew of the epidemic of violence in South Central (at its height in the late '80s through the '90s) but only in the aggregate, and far removed from my relatively insulated barrio enclaves scant miles to the east. Only when a particularly bloody weekend that resulted in multiple murders would the violence receive any attention from mass media. And, evidently, the "monster", or specter of gang violence, hasn't dropped nearly as fast as the rest of LA. It's still alive and thriving, unfortunately. Jill Leovy's eye-opening Ghettoside is an ambitious work that tries to bridge the information gap between South Central's problems and the ignorance of them of the rest of the populace by presenting an up-close look at one particular murder in 2007, providing a human dimension to a problem has been widely dismissed, lost in propaganistic positive law enforcement statistics or otherwise marginalized by a ho-hum "it's just another black guy killing a black guy" attitude. As good as the central "story of murder in America" is (which primarily focuses on the murder of a son of, ironically, a LAPD homicide detective, mowed down for wearing a Houston Astros ball cap), the best part by far is the first section, wherein Ms. Leovy theorizes how the problems of South Central fomented. She doesn't simply go for the easy target (the LAPD, long reviled, and justly so) but digs deeper to the roots, back to the days of the Jim Crow South, when black-on-black violence was all but ignored, if not condoned: an insitutionalized attitude that has migrated along with the Southern Blacks to LA. While she provides no answers to the problem, just providing a conduit toward awareness and discussion of the problem is a good start toward effecting change, not just in LA, but any other urban center similarly afflicted by gang violence. The book is not perfect. (The particular facts of the central murder story are intertwined with several other murders that occur around the same time and place; good to know that this story does not exist in a vacuum and is hardly unique, but she gums up the works at times by intertwining several other unrelated murders. Also, at times I felt she was much too easy on the LAPD in general, perhaps due in small part to her not wanting to "bite the hand that feeds (her)", keeping her sources friendly for her ongoing day job, Metro crime beat reporter for the LA Times.) Still, an important read for anyone interested in the dynamics behind inner-city violence, in LA or anywhere else.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Leovy's thesis is powerful: We owe inner city African-Americans better crime solving - the victims of black on black violence (particularly murder) deserve to have perpetrators caught. In contrast to much received wisdom, Leovy - who was "embedded" with an LAPD homicide squad - makes a passionate (and often convincing) case that what black inner city neighborhoods need most from the police is more policing: for murderers to be caught, for victims not to be written off as somehow less than innoce Leovy's thesis is powerful: We owe inner city African-Americans better crime solving - the victims of black on black violence (particularly murder) deserve to have perpetrators caught. In contrast to much received wisdom, Leovy - who was "embedded" with an LAPD homicide squad - makes a passionate (and often convincing) case that what black inner city neighborhoods need most from the police is more policing: for murderers to be caught, for victims not to be written off as somehow less than innocent because they are gang-tangential or live in a bad neighborhood or hung with some less than perfect friends, for the rule of law to mean the same thing in Black Inner-City America as it does in White (or, she notes, immigrant or Hispanic or mixed) America. It's a provocative, almost radical, approach in a year when incident after incident might suggest that Black America needs less interaction with the police to feel safe, not more. But there's not really as much contradiction as appears on the surface - Leovy's bottom line is that fundamentally Black Lives Matter, and that those who take black lives should be pursued as seriously and as singlemindedly as those who take white lives. As a lawyer, I find a certain gut appeal to the idea that lawlessness breeds lawlessness: that since Reconstruction (and well, obviously, actually, before) American society has made crimes against black people, including crimes against black people by black people, a sort of legal no man's land where the law technically is applicable but the legal system, including policing, simply chooses not to function, and now our inner cities have such relatively high rates of murder (a veritable epidemic during the "bad old days" of 10-20 years ago) because when people in whatever place or era don't have an effective legal system they end up settling all kinds of petty disputes with violence. Is Leovy right? I'd probably have to read a lot more history and sociology books to know. But she's convincing, and she's also, for the most part, a master storyteller; her central story of the hero black cop's kid who is murdered for wearing the wrong thing on the wrong day, the dogged white officer who solves it, and the brave brave witnesses (a mixed-race prostitute and drug dealer in a wheelchair from his own brush with death among others ) who give evidence despite the enormous risk to themselves in a place where the state can't keep them safe from retaliation is compulsively readable. (Not all the book is as page-turning - there are a few too many side characters at times and I felt the conclusion was perhaps unnecessarily dragged out). And yet, there's a fly in the ointment here. There are at least half a dozen references in Leovy's work to "officer related shootings". We hear of a man beaten cripplingly badly by officers. There is one brief scene when the sympathetic mother of a victim is ordered out of her house in her pajamas , clutching a baby, because of a search for the wrong person. But Leovy doesn't engage with any of these incidents. They are not germane to the particular point she is doggedly making, and yet, at this moment of all moments, they irritate, like a very painful grain of sand. The hero (white Republican) cop and his cohorts in the homicide bureaus that we get to know all appear to treat their "constituents" with great humanity. But even though it wasn't Leovy's project, I don't think any one can read this book in 2015 and ignore the other side of the inner-city policing coin. How do those two narratives fit together? Obviously the "answer" isn't less police or more police, but one would imagine, more of the right kind of police, and less of the wrong kind. I think Leovy's book would have been richer if she had wrestled with some of these complexities.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is a superb journalistic work on detective investigations of homicide in Los Angeles in the Watts (South Central) area. It gives an intensely human angle. It is centred on the streets and its’ people. We see how hard the detectives can pursue a case and the years it can take to train and make a good detective. They have to be on the streets and understand the lingo and the code of the inhabitants. They must probe and interview potential witnesses, family members, accomplices over and over ag This is a superb journalistic work on detective investigations of homicide in Los Angeles in the Watts (South Central) area. It gives an intensely human angle. It is centred on the streets and its’ people. We see how hard the detectives can pursue a case and the years it can take to train and make a good detective. They have to be on the streets and understand the lingo and the code of the inhabitants. They must probe and interview potential witnesses, family members, accomplices over and over again to attain the truth. After years of practise they are sometimes able to call out a lie in order to seek the reality. The overtime they put in is enormous. We are also given a profound understanding of crime – of how homicide and its high rate gnaw away at the civil relationships in a community. Of how a parallel system of justice (namely gangs) takes over and makes a cloud over entire neighborhoods – over witnesses (even jury members), of how young African American men are forced into a gang just to be able to walk the streets in relative safety. The detectives are understaffed and overwhelmed by the number of homicides that go unsolved (this book is based roughly on the first ten years of our current century). When there is an overemphasis on petty crimes and misdemeanors (like marijuana possession) but major crimes (like homicides) remain unresolved it gives the feeling of civil society in disarray – and thugs take over and assert themselves. In many ways this book is an excellent companion to The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Page 242 (my book) Indices of residential segregation are strong homicide predictors. Homicide thrives on intimacy, communal interactions, barter, and a shared sense of private rules. The intimacy part was also why homicide was so stubbornly intraracial. You had to be involved with people to want to kill them. You had to share space in a small, isolated world. This is one of the best books I have read on crime. There is a strong street feel and we come to a much greater understanding of why this is happening – and how it can be stopped (or at least the rate of homicides lessened). Actually there is good news in that the homicide rate has dropped significantly since 2010 in Los Angeles. However the rate of homicide is proportionately much higher among young African American males than any other group. We experience the victims of these crimes and how their families are forever altered. They live on and endure this unexpected death for the rest of their lives. We also see how dedicated the detectives are – how their lives are subsumed by their work. The author spent many years preparing and writing this book (this is not “my one month with the homicide detectives”). Also she never interposes herself into the narrative. It all gives us an elegant and outstanding book on homicide – the victims and the detectives trying to solve it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    In Ghettoside, the author asserts that black on black murder among young men, is so rampant in areas like South LA because the justice system has failed the people in these communities by under-enforcing the law. This creates a lack of trust in police, contributes to vigilante style justice, and subsequently discourages witnesses from coming forward, etc. Besides being a broad narrative that focuses on the police and murder investigations in marginalized black communities, Ghettoside also focuse In Ghettoside, the author asserts that black on black murder among young men, is so rampant in areas like South LA because the justice system has failed the people in these communities by under-enforcing the law. This creates a lack of trust in police, contributes to vigilante style justice, and subsequently discourages witnesses from coming forward, etc. Besides being a broad narrative that focuses on the police and murder investigations in marginalized black communities, Ghettoside also focuses on a specific case in which a young man, a murder detective's son, was gunned down while walking down the street, and the attempt by various South LA cops to bring his killer to justice. I agree with the author's theory and think this is an important topic to shed more light on, but this book fell short for me in a couple of ways: First, it was really bogged down with police jargon and way too much detail about the inner workings of various police bureaus in South LA. There is also a lot of biographical information about many of the detectives involved in this case and their career arcs, and it started to get a little confusing, to the point I had a hard time remembering who was who. Secondly, (and I don't know if this counts as a spoiler) the author makes the conclusion that if all South LA murders were investigated and pursued the way the featured case was, then there would be no unsolved murders. However, I can't help but wonder if one of the main reasons this case received so much attention was due to the higher profile circumstances and victim. There's no doubt that these detectives do thankless work, and that the individuals profiled here are going above and beyond to bring justice to people that the system often ignores, but this was not as engrossing of a read as I expected and I felt like the subject matter could have been done more justice. No pun intended!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Malia

    This is not the easiest book to read, but it was very engaging from start to finish. It shed light on how and why black men are killed in America (she focuses on LA, where they are killed in hugely disproportionate numbers) and how the police confronts the crimes. I found it to be really interesting and very sad as well. The author has done meticulous research and it is well worth reading if you want to understand better the side of the victims, the police and the flaws inherent in the system. R This is not the easiest book to read, but it was very engaging from start to finish. It shed light on how and why black men are killed in America (she focuses on LA, where they are killed in hugely disproportionate numbers) and how the police confronts the crimes. I found it to be really interesting and very sad as well. The author has done meticulous research and it is well worth reading if you want to understand better the side of the victims, the police and the flaws inherent in the system. Recommended! Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    New review - Just re-read this. Still a great book that reveals even more on a second reading. In particular read with (before, after or during) Between the World and Me. Note while the first time I read this was a Netgalley ARC, my re-read was of my personal (brought) hardcover edition. Older review: Disclaimer: ARC read courtesy of Netgalley. This book will undoubtedly be compared to David Simon’s Homicide. This is a good and a bad thing. A good thing because if the comparison might get more pe New review - Just re-read this. Still a great book that reveals even more on a second reading. In particular read with (before, after or during) Between the World and Me. Note while the first time I read this was a Netgalley ARC, my re-read was of my personal (brought) hardcover edition. Older review: Disclaimer: ARC read courtesy of Netgalley. This book will undoubtedly be compared to David Simon’s Homicide. This is a good and a bad thing. A good thing because if the comparison might get more people to read the book; a bad thing because Leovy’s book has, at its heart, a slightly different point and analysis. Both books deal with murder in light of race and class, but Leovy focuses on the reasons as well as the response to black on black crime, murder, in Los Angeles in particular, but in tough inner city neighborhoods in general. At first, it would appear that Leovy does this though the use of one case. This is something that most readers have seen in dozens, if not more, books. But Leovy places the murder in time and sequence. She grounds it in the violence and life that occurs in the South Side neighborhood by listing and detailing in various degrees the murders that occur around and at the same time. The detailing allows for the recitation to become more than a simple list, but the reality that was a deeper and darker problem than the loss for one family. Leovy does focus on the murder of one young man, but in addition to his murder, other murders are followed as are the detectives who work in the South Side. It is though such a variety of not at all diverse lenses that Leovy is able to examine not only the causes of the violence but how the cycle functions and how it feeds and contributes to stereotypes and misconceptions in police (and of the police). She considers why the residents don’t “snitch” or what to help the police, and what happens when they do. She shows what the police think of this and how the police that work such districts are in many ways trapped between what they want to do, what is right to do, and what their superiors in other, richer, areas tell them (or train them) to do. In many ways it is the above part of the novel that makes for the more affecting reading; at least once you have processed the death toll. It isn’t that the loss of anyone is worse less than someone else – a truth that Leovy makes abundantly clear in the course of the book – but that such losses take tolls in ways we don’t always see or aren’t always aware. The Monster, as Leovy refers to the cycle, does take its harshest and largest toll on young black men, but there is another toll and the aftershocks of that cost reverberate far further than one section of one city. In Leovy’s eyes, and it is difficult if not impossible to argue with such a well thought and developed thesis, the Monster feeds the flight of police from the city as well as the conflicted police view of the citizens that live in the neighborhood. It burns out the police officers who not only have to fight the cycle and their own feelings but to struggle for every bit of time and money. The behavior of police, in part caused by budget concerns as well as reaction to behavior, in turn feeds the behavior of the residents who while looking for the police to remove the source of fear also fear and distrust police because of past experience with the Monster. It is the discussions about “snitching” that will stick with most readers who live in cities. It is impossible not to live in big city and hear debates about and politicians commenting on the anti-snitching mentality. (There was a vendor who for awhile sold “Stop Snitching” shirts right outside city hall here in Philly). Leovy’s detailed analysis of it transcends the simple residents are frightened for their lives. It is difficult read her passages about snitching and not to start how necessary it is to change how such issues are handled. Leovy’s book really is a must read for anyone, quite frankly because it is a book you should read before discussing inner city violence, a violence that effects us all.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kristy K

    3.5 Stars A look into murder and policing in LA’s roughest areas. It’s written by a journalist who spent years sharing an office with some LAPD homicide detectives. She focuses on one particular murder case using it as a jumping point to discuss the other issues at large such as gangs, black on black violence, inadequate policing, and overworked homicide detectives. A great book focusing on the sociological aspects of crime.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Fairly recently, I recall reading, “Another Day in the Death of America,” by Gary Younge, about the deaths of ten young men, and children, killed by guns during twenty four hours. Like the young men in this book, the majority of those victims, and those doing the killing, were black. ‘Black on black’ crime, as author Jill Leovy terms this murder epidemic, is something which is dangerously accepted by both those who live in the areas of such high crime rates, where guns, feuds, and gangs, prolife Fairly recently, I recall reading, “Another Day in the Death of America,” by Gary Younge, about the deaths of ten young men, and children, killed by guns during twenty four hours. Like the young men in this book, the majority of those victims, and those doing the killing, were black. ‘Black on black’ crime, as author Jill Leovy terms this murder epidemic, is something which is dangerously accepted by both those who live in the areas of such high crime rates, where guns, feuds, and gangs, proliferate; and by the public, who show a damning indifference to the deaths that occur in other neighbourhoods. Leovy mentions many deaths, crimes and shootings, in her work. However, much of it revolves around the murder of a young man, only eighteen, called Bryant Tennelle (as the mother of two sons, aged 21 and 14, reading the ages of these victims broke my heart). Bryant was pushing his bike down a road, walking with a friend, when he was the victim of a random shooting. He was not a member of a gang. Indeed, he was the son of a, much respected, homicide detective. His death left his father questioning the choices he had made – from the neighbourhood he lived in, to the friends his son kept. However, the honest answer was that this was, like so many, a murder of chance. Walking down the wrong road, at the wrong time; perhaps wearing an item of clothing the wrong colour, or just being terribly, tragically, unlucky… In this book, I did feel that I understood better, the reasons why such crimes happened so often. Sadly, the victims are on both side of a weapon – the young, thirteen year old boy, who died on the pavement, while not a single policeman even bent to comfort him, and the young shooter, who, desperate to seem as though he was not a coward, committed a crime which saw him heading for a life behind bars. There is little comfort in these pages, although Leovy does much to show that many detectives do care about the communities they work in. There is much about Detective John Skaggs, who worked, not only on the Tennelle case, but on many others. Ceaselessly, desperately, trying to solve the endless murders that arrived at his door, while the entire police force are hampered by overtime bans and lack of resources. Although this book does not offer answers, it does offer a sympathetic and intelligent explanation and represents both sides well – both the families affected by the murders of so many young men, and children, and those who endeavour to give them some kind of justice. However, this shockingly segregated society, and the number of guns on the streets, give little hope that anything will improve any time soon…

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    So in the minority on this one. (Should note, I finally abandoned at about page 170 to pursue other reading material.) Unfortunately, I did not like Leovy's style of story telling. She took way too long to get into the main story and much of the initial 100 pages is repetitive. I found the biographical chapters of the various detectives involved to be trite and overly scripted. The underlying premise, that in various black communities, an ineffective policing leads to a vigilante style of justice So in the minority on this one. (Should note, I finally abandoned at about page 170 to pursue other reading material.) Unfortunately, I did not like Leovy's style of story telling. She took way too long to get into the main story and much of the initial 100 pages is repetitive. I found the biographical chapters of the various detectives involved to be trite and overly scripted. The underlying premise, that in various black communities, an ineffective policing leads to a vigilante style of justice, is interesting. This idea that black lives don't matter is a topic that I think deserves time and attention. I just wasn't feeling it in this book. I read a lot of true crime and true crime within the context of a bigger story, and this didn't measure up to my expectations. I think part of the problem is the author starts by telling us how the police and society have marginalized black men in particular, yet she then spends the first third of the book describing these great detectives who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect black men. There was a disconnect for me. I also found it odd that she went out of our way to tell us what a good boy the victim was. Black, white, good, or bad. Should we be less concerned with his murder if he were a gang member? Isn't that part of the problem? Making value judgements about someone's worth based on some personal/cultural litmus? Anyway, Just Mercy covers a similar topic, but somehow manages to succeed where this book fails. I don't know. It just seemed to me as if Leovy was too detached from the story itself and also from the plight of the people she is writing about. Given her credentials, this is surprising, but the way I felt. Again, in the minority here, so if you enjoy reading about social inequality, this book may well be worth your time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    a much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version: Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-American men have been "the nation's number one crime victims," only six percent of the population, but a staggering "40 percent of those murdered." Her book focuses on the area of Los Angeles formerly known as South Central; more specifically, she zooms in on the Watts area, and part of her thesis is that more often than not, "the idea that murders o a much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version: Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-American men have been "the nation's number one crime victims," only six percent of the population, but a staggering "40 percent of those murdered." Her book focuses on the area of Los Angeles formerly known as South Central; more specifically, she zooms in on the Watts area, and part of her thesis is that more often than not, "the idea that murders of blacks somehow didn't count." "Black-on-black" murders in Watts are rarely reported since the media prefers to focus on "the spectacles" -- "mass shootings, celebrity murders" etc.; in the recent past, the police would even report these kinds of killings as "NHI - No Human Involved." Ms. Leovy's book reveals that despite popular opinion, the victims in this neighborhood weren't just druggies, gang members or people from dysfunctional families -- a number of innocent people from good families, with no history of breaking the law or gang membership also found themselves too often caught up in the violence that plagues this area. She believes that for the most part, the LAPD failed in its job to keep these people safe; she cites a number of factors that underscore her idea that the scarcity of resources (including policemen that actually care about the people in the community they're supposed to watch over) that should be afforded to these neighborhoods and to the law-abiding people who live there is, in fact, one of the factors that actually helped to perpetuate the violence, leading to the rise in gang-administered "justice." As she notes, "The system's failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap," and the failure of the system to "respond vigorously to violent injury and death" paved the way for homicide to become "endemic." Ghettoside has indeed been an eye-opener of a book, and while I don't agree with everything Ms. Leovy says here (most especially the idea of more policing,especially after recent events) the biggest idea that every reader of this book ought to come away with is that discounting or ignoring the violent deaths of African-Americans -- just because they're living in troubled communities and because they're not white -- under any circumstances is just wrong and should absolutely not be tolerated. Discounting or ignoring the problems that affect lives in these communities is even worse. Obviously, this is not a new problem that is limited to the neighborhoods in South Central in modern times; this attitude of black lives having less value than white lives has been perpetuated (especially in the context of the criminal justice system) from the beginning of our nation's history. That's the real problem -- an even bigger one is how to solve it. Addendum: Ferguson police are proving me right: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/20... Or how about San Francisco: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/S-...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Many years in the making, this recounting of the deaths of young black men in the neighborhood of South Los Angeles has the intellectual and emotional impact of a rubber mallet struck hard against the head. It is sickening, anger-inducing, and confounding, like listening to the litany of femicides in Book Four of Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece, 2666 . Only the facts elicit this reaction, for Leovy’s writing is dispassionate, cool and clear, which is the only way we could get through this horrif Many years in the making, this recounting of the deaths of young black men in the neighborhood of South Los Angeles has the intellectual and emotional impact of a rubber mallet struck hard against the head. It is sickening, anger-inducing, and confounding, like listening to the litany of femicides in Book Four of Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece, 2666 . Only the facts elicit this reaction, for Leovy’s writing is dispassionate, cool and clear, which is the only way we could get through this horrifying accounting. Murder rates in South Los Angeles are vastly higher than the rest of the country, a huge proportion of which are deaths of young black males. What strikes the reader first is how few of these cases are solved, or even investigated exhaustively. Police investigators are stymied by the lack of public involvement in their attempts to question witnesses and are both overwhelmed by the numbers of murders and inured to black-on-black violence. They may be sloppy in their collection of evidence, ignore hints given by bystanders, or even fail to get the names right. Unless it touches one of their own, the case may never be solved. The community can hardly “step up” to give evidence if it means their family will be targeted next by the perpetrators. This inability to cooperate with the police creates a cycle of misunderstandings and inaction and an environment of hostility that perpetuates itself. Only the persistent and timely application of the law—conviction of murders—will break the cycle. Leovy focuses on one case in particular: the death of the son of a police detective. She follows the case through the investigation, interrogation of witnesses and suspects, trial and sentencing. The whole story is riveting reading. There are so many ways cases in our legal system fail to result in a conviction. That this one particular case did not fail is testament to the work of a group of dedicated officers who sought justice and actually found it. Leovy occasionally calls our attention away from that particular case to look at concurrent conditions and investigations in the same or other parts of the city, giving us perspective. What strikes the reader is the utter senseless and capricious nature of the murders. Families with young men play a waiting game, constantly aware of the danger surrounding them. It is an inhospitable, intolerable, and hostile environment in which to live. Which brings us to Leovy’s closing statements. Perhaps she led us there, writing her case and its solution like a trial lawyer leading to the big reveal: the black-centeredness of the south side of Los Angeles cannot be so ghettoized if it is to survive. Leovy points out the ways that Los Angeles living is appealing—rampant tropical flowers and warm sunshine among them. And many folks resent being chased from their homes (or rent-controlled apartments). There is also the economic reality of not having the funds to move house. But if I was mother to a young black man, I would move away from there as early as I could. Not only does the violence ruin the boy, it kills the man. Leovy conclusions suggest that crime, especially violent crime, must be adjudicated "with ceaseless vigor and determination" in order for people to feel confident the justice system is working for them. Anything less serves no one. She points out that murder rates have fallen in South Los Angeles since the time she began her writing. Demographic change is one driver: "the city’s black population is fast disappearing…as the city’s black residents scatter to the exurbs. To some extent, their high homicide rate travel with them. But the change has also coincided with—at long last—a dramatic easing of the residential hyper-segregation that set the conditions for sky-high inner-city murder rates. As black people finally begin to integrate into more mobile and mixed communities, the Monster is in retreat."Not soon enough for thousands of dead black men. "Explicitly confronting the reality of how murder happens in American is the first step toward deciding that it is not acceptable, and that for too long black men have lived inadequately protected by the laws of their own country."I first heard about this book on the NYTimes podcast, which can be downloaded for free on iTunes.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Judith E

    A sad sociological study of the Watts neighborhood in southeastern Los Angeles in the early 21st century, and the disproportionate murder rate of black men (aka “The Monster”). The attitude that black men’s lives did not deserve the time and work it took to get justice was embraced by many law enforcement personnel and the public’s perception of the Watt’s neighborhood was simplistic and inaccurate. Ms. Leovy chooses to focus on a few extremely dedicated, savvy, smart, and compassionate homicide A sad sociological study of the Watts neighborhood in southeastern Los Angeles in the early 21st century, and the disproportionate murder rate of black men (aka “The Monster”). The attitude that black men’s lives did not deserve the time and work it took to get justice was embraced by many law enforcement personnel and the public’s perception of the Watt’s neighborhood was simplistic and inaccurate. Ms. Leovy chooses to focus on a few extremely dedicated, savvy, smart, and compassionate homicide detectives that are convinced justice must be brought in order to provide long term protection to the residents. Analysis of these detectives’ mind set and thought processes give us hope and should be examples for all law enforcement and judicial systems. Unlike their counterparts, these detectives knew every victim had a face. The author cites lawless societies through time and throughout the world in which members turned to violence because of the lack of police power and justice. She professes that a justice-less community perpetuates violence in its void. She provides the reader with a thorough understanding of the history of Watts, the strong community within the area, and the desperate stories of families begging for protection . I was somewhat confused identifying the nuances of LAPD’s divisions, their locations, and their promotion protocol, although these specifics are not necessary to the overall message. Also, reading this on my Kindle, I did not realize there were footnotes until the very end, as they were not noted in the Table of Contents nor throughout the book (this could be user error, although I double checked settings). This again did not effect the reading experience. A solid 5 star work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Edan

    This is a masterpiece. Informative, nuanced, compassionate, efficiently told, entertaining, heartbreaking. Every American should read this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This is an interesting and informative book about a serious problem that goes ignored by most of American society: the extraordinary number of young black men who are murdered every year, most often by other young black men. (Despite the title – the book is set in Los Angeles – this isn’t just a big-city or inner-city problem; the same thing happens even in rural areas.) The author embedded in a “ghettoside” investigative division for several years, and the book focuses primarily on the murder o This is an interesting and informative book about a serious problem that goes ignored by most of American society: the extraordinary number of young black men who are murdered every year, most often by other young black men. (Despite the title – the book is set in Los Angeles – this isn’t just a big-city or inner-city problem; the same thing happens even in rural areas.) The author embedded in a “ghettoside” investigative division for several years, and the book focuses primarily on the murder of one 18-year-old boy and the subsequent investigation and trial. Describing this book requires a discussion of the strange disconnect between its thesis and its focus. Leovy’s main argument is that high rates of violence are caused by the state’s failure to respond to violence: most black-on-black murders, let alone assaults and other violent crimes, in the poor neighborhoods of L.A. aren’t solved, creating impunity (which enables violent people) and leading to a situation in which people police themselves (through gangs and revenge murders). Violent crime against African-Americans has historically not been taken very seriously, and the more crimes are left unsolved, the more similar crimes will be committed. But this book is told from the point-of-view of homicide detectives, all 6-8 of whom are featured in this book are hardworking, passionate about their jobs, and extremely capable. And the murder that forms the backbone of the book is at no risk of being swept under the rug, because not only is the victim a good kid, he’s the son of another LAPD detective. Apathy, victim-blaming, and incompetence never enter the picture, in this case or any others depicted; strained resources and lack of departmental support do (an eye-opener for me – I’d have expected murders to be the top priority for any police department), but rarely to the extent of jeopardizing an investigation. The investigation stories, the difficulty of finding witnesses and getting them to talk when faced with the threat of retribution, the evidence-gathering and interrogation techniques used in the real world – all of this is fascinating, certainly. And it shows that drive-by murders can be solved, with skill, persistence, and an understanding of the place involved. But it doesn’t show much about the causes of violence, or how a “typical” detective might mismanage a ghettoside case, or how much solving cases affects the murder rate. But while the arguments don’t quite connect to the narrative, both individually are good. Leovy provides historical and sociological support for her arguments, and lots of human interest in the narrative. She has an engaging, very readable journalistic style, and brings to life all of the people involved in the cases without losing sight of the larger picture (the enormous number of black men and boys who are killed in L.A.). This is definitely worth a read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    Sometimes I read a book full of alarming statistics, but it fails to move me. Then other times I read a book like this one, when the author weaves statistics and research into a story, when the writing is vivid and the details compelling, when I feel like I've learned something in a way that matters, and when that knowledge has, on some level, changed how I think. Jill Leovy is a gifted writer. She puts words together in a way that paints a portrait of images and emotion. I didn't just read the Sometimes I read a book full of alarming statistics, but it fails to move me. Then other times I read a book like this one, when the author weaves statistics and research into a story, when the writing is vivid and the details compelling, when I feel like I've learned something in a way that matters, and when that knowledge has, on some level, changed how I think. Jill Leovy is a gifted writer. She puts words together in a way that paints a portrait of images and emotion. I didn't just read the words, I felt the anger and desperation of the people caught in this cycle of violence. Perhaps more importantly, Leovy's writing shines a new light on an old situation. Being a white girl from middle class suburbs, I've never had much interaction with gangs or extreme poverty - with any race. And though I read a lot on crime and sociology, I have never come across a book that so expertly dissects the cause and effect of gang violence and black-on-black murders. This book reads like the best crime novel. We have two hero cops, going far beyond anyone's expectations while risking ridicule from their coworkers. We have the victims, innocent kids caught in the crossfire. And we have the killers, not much more than kids themselves, struggling to survive in a kind of inner city Wild West, with no one and nothing to rely on beyond their own code of ethics. Ghettoside is a powerful statement on our indifference and assumptions. It's an unflinching look at racism and survival. It's a compelling piece of writing that needs to be read by every person, everywhere.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    The thesis of this book is simple: the reason areas like south Los Angeles have so much gang-related violence is that law enforcement doesn't place a high priority on solving the murders that do occur. The city therefore sends the message that murder in these areas will go unpunished and, by extension, that the lives of those murdered, be they gang members or others, don't matter. This lack of justice creates a vacuum that the residents then fill with their own form of justice. Leovy restates th The thesis of this book is simple: the reason areas like south Los Angeles have so much gang-related violence is that law enforcement doesn't place a high priority on solving the murders that do occur. The city therefore sends the message that murder in these areas will go unpunished and, by extension, that the lives of those murdered, be they gang members or others, don't matter. This lack of justice creates a vacuum that the residents then fill with their own form of justice. Leovy restates this (very convincing) thesis over and over, well past the "I get it" point, which would be my one complaint about this book. Fortunately, her thesis is bolstered by riveting tales of the dedicated homicide detectives of south LA. The tale of one murder in particular (of a police officer's son who was in the wrong place at the wrong time), and of the dogged detective assigned to the case, makes up the bulk of the book, and Leovy's portrayal of the relevant people and events is both suspenseful and very moving. The reader comes away with a keen sense of what life is like in this violence-ridden area, both for the residents and for the law-enforcement officers assigned to serve them, and a strong idea of what needs to happen to create lasting change. If you've ever wondered why gang violence seems to persist despite its clearly devastating consequences for all involved, this is the book for you. Like all good reporting, Ghettoside teaches its readers a lot while being so absorbing those readers will have trouble putting it down. I received this ARC via a First Reads giveaway here on Goodreads.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    "By the late twentieth century, the criminal justice system was no longer very corrupt. Many police and prosecutors were sincere and professional, and legal outcomes were relatively color-blind." And 40 pages later, Leovy's hero cop is interrogating a black juvenile with no parent, lawyer, or Miranda rights. This book drove me to near madness. If you are looking for a book about how well-intentioned, earnest, (mostly) white police detectives struggle to help the "desperate" black residents of Sout "By the late twentieth century, the criminal justice system was no longer very corrupt. Many police and prosecutors were sincere and professional, and legal outcomes were relatively color-blind." And 40 pages later, Leovy's hero cop is interrogating a black juvenile with no parent, lawyer, or Miranda rights. This book drove me to near madness. If you are looking for a book about how well-intentioned, earnest, (mostly) white police detectives struggle to help the "desperate" black residents of South Los Angeles, this is the book for you. Seriously, could someone run a word search in this text and let me know how many times the word "desperate" is used to describe the misguided souls who are relegated to a life of aimless poverty South of the Ten and who insist on making it nearly impossible for the tall white men to save them? The author makes an argument for more policing of black neighborhoods that, in the absence of strong state power and "trapped in lawlessness," turn to their own "medieval vengeance cultures." Written by a journalist, this book feels desperately under-researched. The author quotes the same handful of social scientists throughout the book, relying heavily on anthropological work from the 1930s. It appears that the author interviewed only police detectives. The quotes from residents of South Los Angeles seem to be filtered through the mouths of the detectives. Perhaps that is why the reader is left with the impression that black residents harbor either an inexplicable resistance toward working with police or an inescapable fear that talking to police will lead to inevitable harm or murder. Murders of black people BY police merit only a few sentences with the unanalyzed conclusion that those homicides are justifiable. Constant harassment of black people by police is characterized as the only acceptable method of solid police work. The author is clear that not all detectives work diligently like the angels she extols, while simultaneously placing an enormous amount of blame on black people for mistrusting police and failing to play their part in furthering criminal justice. Reading this book just after Between the World and Me and simultaneously with Roots was a huge mistake. Turn to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow for actual research about the effects of state power on black people and families. n.b. I struggled with whether to include this, and I didn't at first, but it's plaguing me so indulge me. Throughout this book the phrase "South of the Ten" is used as shorthand for something dangerous or unsavory (and maybe it is for police officers). For readers who have never been to Los Angeles, South of the Ten is an enormous swath of land that includes historically black neighborhoods such as Compton, Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, Ladera Heights, View Park/Windsor Hills, Inglewood, and even the dreaded Watts. In View Park/Windsor Hills, don't miss La Louisianne where you can eat po' boys and listen to jazz nightly. In Compton, explore Magic Johnson Park with it's man-made lake and hundreds of birds that you can't see from the car. In Leimert Park, enjoy Sunday's lively swap meet and drum circles. In Inglewood, see a show at the Forum, historical home of the Lakers, and the venue Prince occupied for several weeks in 2011. And in Watts, see the Watts Towers, sculptures made mostly of scrap metal and found objects. South of the Ten has so much to offer.

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