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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 assigned to Detective John Skaggs the odds shifted Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the uintessential 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


10 thoughts on “Ghettoside A True Story of Murder in America

  1. says:

    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 inadeuate 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 wayJohn Skaggs from The TelegraphOne 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 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 Ira or Afghanistan It is no puzzle why a part of the Windy City is called Chi ra 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 “cliued 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 freuently 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 storyBryant 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 downThe 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 – 121815Publication dates 12715 – hardcover 102715 – Trade PaperEXTRA 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 2015Interviews 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 projectIn light of the recent spate of killings Greg Howard's 7816 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 reuires 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 deathAugust 10 2016 an alarming NY Times piece on a Justice Department study that looked into police bias Findings of Police Bias in Balti Validate What Many Have Long FeltThis 93016 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 10716 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 Silent121416 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 retaliation82817 NY Times Trump Reverses Restrictions on Military Hardware for Police by Adam Goldman – as if we need for people to feel even as if they are living in an occupied territory382018 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 Hayes32119 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. says:

    i grew up in a tiny village located in the smallest state in the us 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 youwe don't have a lot of gang activity around here not like in la anyway no one here hails cabs to perform drive bysthe 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 sessionsall 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 underratedeven the news reports from the height of the gang epidemic in la in the 90's at least from what i remember lacked nuance gangs bad cops worse but it's 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 la jill leovy has been chronicling murders in la 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 la 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 100000 people The following year was even worse Black men aged twenty to twenty four died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100000 people in 1993 forty times the national average and almost exactly the per capita rate of US soldiers deployed to Ira in the aftermath of the 2003 invasionnot only is leovy well ualified 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 la 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 balti 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 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 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 themthis 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 eually 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 notcome to my blog


  3. says:

    We love murderLet 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 televisionThis 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 interested in easy drug busts and flashy anti gang units even as it cuts the overtime of it’s already understaffed homicide unitsSo that takes a lot of the fun out of murderOne 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 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 programsComparisons 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 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. says:

    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. says:

    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 collouially 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 uestion 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 ubiuitous 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 important than the first is that the case got assigned to the indefatigable John Skaggs the uneuivocal 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 streetSkaggs 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 conseuence of lawlessness not a causeGangs 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 ponderLeovy 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 uite a bit different For one Leovy never tries for anything like Simon’s bursts of elouently profane sentences There are some incredibly memorable passages in Homicide and nothing uite euivalent 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 uenched 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


  6. says:

    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 diedBryant Tennelle Some time later Devin was uestioned and confessed pretty uickly 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 nobodyBeing 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 thatFrom 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 100000 population similar to the per capita rate of death for US soldiers deployed to Ira 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 motivesThis 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 Balti 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 Balti 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 altpolitical history perspective of Mike Davis’ City of uartz subtitle Excavating the Future in Los Angeles All crammed down into 330 exhausting pages On p 242 she observes that homicide rates amongst eually 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 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 themBy 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 201011 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 uite exhausting and the reader will feel like they have been through the wringer than once I give it up for Ghettoside It’s great stuff


  7. says:

    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 leadsI 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 euipmentAdditionally Leovy looks at the larger issue of why so many black men are being murdered in AmericaSociety'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 menThey 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 yearLeovy did research into what other communities around the world have had unusually high homicide rates and she looked at other minority groups such as immigrantsAmong 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 mineWhat 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 policingFavorite uotesMany 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 inadeuateHomicide 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 sceneVery few murders were covered in the media Television stations covered 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 daughterTake 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. says:

    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 uite 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 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 uotes from the bookIn 1993 black men in their early twenties in Los Angeles County died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100000 population similar to the per capita rate of death for US soldiers deployed to Ira in the aftermath of the 2003 invasionLegal 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 acuaintances 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 poisonHe 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 true to the spirit of the law—and in the long run effectiveLeovy 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 to the point it's a great read


  9. says:

    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 uagmire 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” Further 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 uestion 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. says:

    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 difficult the author on pages 8 and 11 Ghettoside deserves to share shelf space with A Good Month for Murder by Del uentin 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 suads 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 townsThe 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 aftermathThe 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