Ghettoside : a true story of murder in America

by Jill Leovy

Paperback, 2015




New York : Spiegel & Grau, [2015]


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 Los Angeles 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 new lens into the great subject of murder in America -- why it happens and how the plague of killings might yet be stopped.… (more)

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LibraryThing member joyceBl
The author's premise of Ghettoside is that" where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic." She states that the reason for the long standing plague of black homicides is the lack of effective criminal justice. Further, the failure to stand up for black people when they are hurt or killed by others has left ample room for vigilantism; when people do not believe justice will be done, they take matters into their own hands. Black Men make up just 6% of the country's population but nearly 40% of those murdered.
Jill Leovy tells a compelling story of murder in South Central LA; In Los Angeles, during the last decade, most black men who were murdered were murdered by other black men and boys; six out of every ten killers of black men went unpunished. She details the deaths of one young man, the the son of a LA detective who had insisted on living in the community in which he worked, insisted on not giving up on the people he served.
She reveals the attitude of some of the police officers who see black-on-black killings as unimportant. And tells us of some superb detectives who work around the clock, with persistence and courage, to solve the murders.

The book occasionally drops down to mundane details that often seem disconnected, as if she wanted to fit all the information she knew into the book, but didn't have a cohesive reason to include many of the snippets of information. However, the main story line of the death of Bryant Tennelle and the detectives' efforts to bring the murderer to justice, and the author's support of her premise makes this a good read.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is about the murder of a police officer's son in South Central Los Angeles and the investigation into his death. It's also about that part of Los Angeles, where the murder rate remains high and the victims are disproportionately young African American men, how these murders receive less resources than murders in other parts of the city and less attention than other policing strategies that are more visible and play better with voters. Leovy spend years embedded with the detectives of the 77th Street Division and her familiarity with and respect for the detectives and the residents of the area are apparent throughout this book.

Ghettoside would be a good companion book to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Leovy posits that the high murder rate is caused by the failure of the authorities to call murderers to justice. Crime is deterred not by the severity of the potential punishment, but by the certainty an offender will be called to account. With just a third of murders leading to an arrest, the solve rate is dramatically lower than in other parts of the city. Police resources are concentrated on popular prevention initiatives, which leave residents feeling both targeted and unprotected. The detectives who work these cases are largely rookies and will leave the area for better positions before they are fully effective. Still, there are a few cops who have decided to remain, buying their own office supplies and working long hours in order to serve a community they value.

Leovy's book concerns one area in one city, but what she learns and takes from her experiences are important and should influence how we police our communities in every part of the country.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This book was outstanding, an incredibly well-written, intelligent, thoughtful and very human look into murder, particularly in the South/Southeast/Watts neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Leovy's deft use of statistics, sociology, history and black American migration and justice (or lack thereof) after slavery made for a broad and comprehensive view of a very, very big problem in the United States, i.e., black-on-black murder and for decades, no one doing much about it. I liked that the book did not place blame on any one race, system or entity, because at the end of the day, there is plenty to share across a wide scope of humanity. Living near some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country (Chicago), a lot of this hit very close to home and brought up questions many people wonder about, how the media, police and witnesses seem to do nothing when a victim is black, yet when the victim is white, the media obsesses about a murder for months on end, and the crimes generally get solved. Leovy shed much light on how the problems arise and continue, yet ultimately we are left with a little hope as the book focuses on a few (one in particular) cases that do go right, are prosecuted with tenacity and slowly, the murder numbers are declining. This book was a great education to me and one of the more relevant topics in non fiction. The author did a stellar job and I felt like I was living with the detectives, attorneys and citizens of the neighborhoods. Highly, highly recommended. I keep thinking anyone inclined to pass judgments on what happens, or should be done "ghettoside" really ought to read this book first.… (more)
LibraryThing member LovingLit
This book being so new, I was surprised to see it just sitting there on the library shelf waiting to be plucked off by anyone. I was the lucky so and so who managed to nab it, and I did the library patrons a favour by returning it within a few days, so someone else could have the privilege.

When you hear about the 'gang problem' in LA, you might think like I used to. That people in certain neighbourhoods just live a certain way, that whole families are dysfunctional and that there is no hope. But this book goes behind the few headlines of any media reports that ever tried to explore what is going on in South Central LA. It all tales place in the late 2000s and the focus is on one precinct's homicide detective team. These guys are the good guys. They care about solving crimes, the gang-related drive-by shootings, that no one else seems to care about. And this is the main point from the book: that if more of these murders were solved, the murder rate would diminish. The idea being that it is the lack of tangible justice in the gang areas that promotes vigilante justice. This justice is not to be confused with street drug busts, gun confiscations or police harassment of gang members, it is the solving of murders.

This is a sad read, even with the good guy homicide detectives on the cases- they are overwhelmed and under-resourced, on a day to day basis they are faced with dead kids (aged 13- adulthood), grieving families and terrified witnesses. But the good that they can do is emphasised, and it gives us hope. I got the feeling that the uniformed LAPD officers got off lightly in this book. A few times their 'culture' and attitude towards gangs and certain neighbourhoods was mentioned, and then left alone. Maybe that is a whole new book. Overall, this book was fascinating and it unfolded beautifully and cleverly.
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LibraryThing member Darcia
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.
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LibraryThing member BLBera
In [Ghettoside], Jill Leovy was written an important, timely book that looks at the murders of black men in Los Angeles. Meticulously researched, the book is framed around the murder of Bryant Tennelle. However, his story is one of many, as Leovy makes clear, frequently listing names of victims:
"Irvin Carter, a disabled man in his sixties, died the following day after being slashed by a man walking with a knife in East Rancho Dominguez. And the next day, thirty-six-year-old Keith Hardy died at St. Francis Hospital after someone shot him many times in Compton. Christopher Rice, twenty-two -- also shot in Compton -- was also transported to St. Francis. He died four days after Hardy. The next day, June 10, Rodney Love, fifteen, was shot and killed on the street in the Seventy-Seventh Street Division a block away from where Bryant Tennelle was shot. His mother ran outside just in time to watch her only child die as she dialed 911 over and over and got a busy signal."

Leovy argues that every murder must be treated as important and all efforts must be made to show that Black Lives Matter, that law enforcement is the only way to definitively make the streets safe for black men: "But anyone who tracks homicide in LA County and elsewhere still can't escape the obvious: black men remain disproportionately victimized. Solving this problem deserves every honest effort. People may disagree about the remedies -- particularly the balance between preventive and responsive measures -- but they should not disagree about the problem's urgency."

This is an important book. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
“She ain't a [prostitute] no more....She's some daddy's baby” or “'NHI – No Human Involved,' the cops used to say. It was only the newest shorthand for the idea that murders of blacks somehow didn't count.”

Which attitude would you want the officers investigating the murder of someone you love to have?

This nonfiction story of murder of black, mostly men in LA is eyeopening. It explains why ALL of us should care, why we shouldn't take the attitude that if one gangbanger kills another gangbanger, who cares? It follows the story of the murder of a homicide detective's son, but that is only a part of the story. There are seemingly endless recounts of murders of lower profile people, those who don't even merit a paragraph in the local paper.

It also explains why the poor black communities take the law into their own hands, the rich history of the US legal system marginalizing them at best. And, very much connected to that, why solving murders of those same people is difficult, even when it is attempted, and how often those attempts are superficial.

Occasionally the author's prose got a bit too flowery or sentimental, but mostly this was a clearly written look at why ignoring the violence problem and the underlying issues not only does a severe injustice to the people of those communities but affects all of us who think we are not connected to such problems.

The statistics are getting better. The statistics are still unacceptable.

This is one of those books that I didn't just read, but I marked and notated. It made me look at a problem from a perspective I had not considered before, and I am grateful for that.

I was given an advance reader's copy of this book for review, and the quote may be different in the published edition.
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LibraryThing member ehousewright
I hope that this book will be on reading lists for … well, everyone. Those who fund and oversee local police forces, those who need to be reminded that police are not always (but unfortunately are sometimes) quota driven, trigger happy or unfeeling, those who want to become police officers, and those who interact with them. High school, college, book groups-- everyone. This book describes, in detail, the complexities of the job when there are not enough supplies, not enough time, and complications arising from racial or cultural neighborhood issues. I read this at the same time as the second Mark Zuckerberg book club selection, Stephen Pinker’s The End of Power, and it was a powerful combination. Ms. Leovy has done the micro research that Pinker describes as part of his bigger picture, and she has done an amazing job at portraying accurately a few cases within the larger context of policing in South Central Los Angeles. It is worse than you can possibly imagine and the sheer heartbreak of the families affected (and all who live there are affected) over and over by senseless violence is astonishing. Her message is clear—care about these people, the police as well as the victims, treat the racial inequities as urgent issues and do something about it.… (more)
LibraryThing member actress133
Extremely captivating story, as suspenseful as any fiction work. Leovy has turned out one of the best non-fiction reads I've come across in a while!
LibraryThing member Maya47Bob46
We are all thinking this January 2015 about relationship between the minority – in particular, black – communities and the police. Ghettoside by Los Angeles reporter, Jill Leovy, is a timely addition to the conversation.

The homicide rate in Los Angeles, in Watts and in South Central in particular, consists of young black men killing other young black men. The clearance rate for these murders is very low. Because of the difficulties in finding witnesses willing to testify and a culture that put a low premium on their lives, many police resorted to arresting those they knew were guilty of murder but against whom they had insufficient evidence, of “proxy crimes.” These crimes included public drinking, possession of drugs, and parole violations. These arrests did get killers off the streets, but they were often viewed as harassment.

Ghettoside is the story of two murders and of John Skaggs, the white police detective who solved both. Skaggs was the detective who actually cared and he and his partners preserved until both cases resulted in convictions. Leovy chose as victims the son of a black police detective and a tenth grader son of a single mother home health care worker. Neither were gang affiliated. One would expect effort to solve the case concerning a fellow police officer, but given the culture of the L.A. police at the time, not the other. Skaggs worked through police budget cuts and the lack of resources his entire career. He and his first partner and later those they trained cared. They cared about the families, the victims and the witnesses. They solved homicides. Leovy gives us a small glimpse into what makes Skaggs tick, but I never learned enough to understand why he was different, why he was driven to solve these crimes that few others cared about.

The unfolding of the investigations reads like a mystery story. Some may get confused about the multiple characters, but I found it no more confusing than reading Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie. I did find that Leovy’s digressions into the roots of both black on black crime and white indifference distracting and, in the end, superficial. Leovy is not an historian or sociologist and the strength of this book is her reporting on the crimes and the investigations. She began a blog for the Los Angeles Times called the “Homicide Report” in 2007. The report chronicles every homicide in the city to the current day. Every city should have a similar blog.

Ghettoside ends with a quote from William J. Stuntz. Stuntz was a Harvard Law School Professor who studied the criminal justice system and died much too young. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kids of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” This also sums up Ghettoside.

I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member Bricker
Eye opening and thought provoking. I really enjoyed this book. I remember seeing the riots when I was a kid and the occasional South Central Cops episode, but as a white person from the East Coast, the plight of young, black men in dangerous Los Angeles neighborhoods isn't something I think about often. Great detail and story telling, as well as being pretty open minded and fair to both police and troubled youths.… (more)
LibraryThing member emr093
This is a very well researched book! The author proves her points: America suffers from a plague, which is the phenomenon of black on black murders. Also, the lax enforcement of laws and punishment for the crimes makes the life of a black man "cheap". She does not simply state these points, although she repeats them numerous times, but she documents the actual case of a murder doggedly pursued by an uncommonly devoted L.A. detective.… (more)
LibraryThing member loraineo
5 stars. Jill Leovy gives a well balanced account of the gang violence In LA, with the deeply powerful trauma felt by the victim's families. Describes in detail the determination of one homicide detective, John Skaggs. Homicide is the number one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15-34 and solving these crimes should be a priority in any police force.… (more)
LibraryThing member someonessister
Ghettocide, which was written by award winning reporter Jill Leovy, is the true story of gang related murder in the South Los Angeles neighborhood known as Watts. The murders were committed by black gang members and almost all of the victims were young black males many of whom were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although the book touches on details of several other murders, it mostly focuses on the killing of one young man who was the son of a Los Angeles detective and the brilliant police work of another detective who was determined to solve what seemed to be an unsolvable case. Throughout the book the author does a masterful job of telling the story while at the same time exploring and explaining the epidemic and the numerous obstacles faced by law enforcement in their efforts to solve cases and prevent future crimes.
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LibraryThing member AudrieClifford
I hate it when I dislike a book that I'm obligated to write a review of because I received it as a gift with that understanding. I did not enjoy reading GETTOSIDE. I found it terribly boring to read the same thing (or a slight variation) time after time.I recognize that the constant repetition was to emphasize that there had been murder after murder after murder, but the point was well made long before the author quit telling us.
Most of it was well-written, but there were a few sentences that had me going,"Huh???" The description of the trial was well done, and a lot of respect is due to the author for the amount of research that went into the story
Write for us again, Jill Leovy, only next time, spare us the unnecessary repetition.
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LibraryThing member satxreader
Great read. If you have any preconceived ideas about black-on-black homicides, gang culture, police brutality or harassment, you are almost guaranteed to have some of those ideas challenged in this book, and perhaps even changed. There's not much I can add to the previous reviews since I agree with all the positive ones. This is a story that should be recommended reading, especially in the "white-cop/black-crime", "professional-race-baiter" climate of the day.

I received a free copy of this book with the expectation of an honest review.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Firstly, credentials: author Jill Leovy wrote a daily crime column called The Homicide Report for the LA Times.

This is a true crime story. True, and a crime, that so many black lives are lost for no reason other than racism, poverty and easy access to cheap guns.

Leovy writes primarily about homicide detectives, who are most surely a breed apart from police who patrol the South Central streets. The priority of the homicide detectives is to find out and gain confessions for the myriad senseless (though does any killing really make any sense) murders. Although the residents say, "Everybody knows", most witnesses are petrified to identify and testify, with very good reason - fear for their lives and the safety of their families.

The primary case here is a tragic story of a homicide detective who believes in his neighborhood and in staying to help keep it as a good place for all to live. But when his son is murdered, Detective Tennelle berates himself for his decision.

John Skaggs is the detective assigned to the case. By befriending a brave witness, he changes her life and those of the defendants.

Quotes, from the author: "Police had long functioned in the US preoccupied with control and prevention, obsessed with nuisance crime, and lax when it came to answering for black lives."

And from scholar William Stuntz: "Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kind that do the most harm."

This book belongs on the same exalted shelf as "The New Jim Crow" and On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. All three are essential to understanding why "Black Lives Matter" is a most valid battle cry in the war against indifference and evil outcomes.
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LibraryThing member arelenriel
This was a really excellent books for those interested in sociological or cultural/racial issues.
LibraryThing member Capybara_99
Ghettoside is the story of homicide and homicide detectives, and most of what is connected to those topics, centered in the black areas of Los Angeles circa ten years ago. It is an amazing portrait of that world.

Jill Leovy is (or was, I don't know) a Los Angeles Times reporter on this beat for awhile. Her work on a map charting all the murders in Los Angles for a year for a map on the LA Times website is something I still remember. she tells the story simply. The prose is that of a newspaper reporters, straight-forward and plain, and focused on individuals. I read an advanced copy provided through Early Reviewers, and at least that version did not have many notes supporting the reporting. She often does that thing nonfiction writers like to do of telling you what the people she is describing are thinking, and the reader is left unsure how she knows this. But nothing she writes is likely to strike the reader as overreaching; instead her plain prose and careful storytelling works to create a cumulative portrait that I just found devastating to read about by the time I was a little past halfway through.

Things have gotten a little better in LA since the time of the murder she centers on in this book, at least in terms of the numbers of people murdered in the county, and the number of Black men and boys. But the lessons from her book are not dated, and in these days of questions about policing in Black American neighborhoods, and crime in those neighborhoods, the book is essential.
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LibraryThing member ollie1976
Ghettoside takes a unique look at a societal problem by focusing on a particular case in Los Angeles. As a fan of true crime books, I like the approach that Jill Leovy does in telling the story behind and during the case. It is said that these type of cases continue to happen to happen. There isn't a lot of heavy, over the top, descriptions about police procedure and law which makes it easy for everyone to read. I enjoyed it.… (more)
LibraryThing member jsalmeron
Black lives matter. It's an interesting experiment for anybody, regardless of color, to read that three letter sentence and explore the first thought that came to mind. I am a privileged, forty something year old white female. This book was given to me in the Early Reviewers give-away and I am thrilled to offer my thoughts on it. Given today's climate, this book couldn't have come out at a more timely date. Although it is non-fiction, it reads like fiction with story-telling and facts intertwined that are both riveting and interesting. I compare Levoy's writing style to somebody like Ann Rule, who not only lures readers in with suspense and information given at the right moments but also is able to provide a well written window that allows us a vivid picture where the stories take place. It's an important book. it is a raw look into real black lives and the problems they face and the culture of violence and murder in our country. "How is this MY problem" you might ask yourself. A simple change of mind set might eventually be the missing piece to this puzzle. Black Live Do Matter. Get a glimpse into their world and it will be clear that many, many factors have not been in the right places for far too long.… (more)
LibraryThing member adamfbelcher
Really interesting book, looking at both the methodology and the struggles of trying to be a cop in LA. It also shines a light on how racial prejudice has allowed some police officers to effectively ignore crimes. A good read and recommended.
LibraryThing member Carolee888
This is an important book to read and to learn from. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is a gritty and searing look into crime in the black ghettos of Los Angeles in the deadly years of the 1990s and early 2000s. Besides skillfully employing loads of statistics, this book brings home the many reasons why people from the ghetto want to get out. There is the world of law and rules outside and there is a whole set complex ones inside the ghetto. What is it like living there? Raising your children there? Can you really teach them to avoid being shot? If something horrible happens, who do you trust to help you?

This book is also a set of profiles of several exceptional homicide detectives. Doing the job right is recognizing every murder victim deserves to have his/her crime solved. The author follows the Detective John Skaggs and a few other exceptional detectives through their work and discovers that being a good or great homicide detective is not a job but an art. A great detective has to be constantly alert and probing for clues and if your hunches tells you something is not right, then he/she needs persevere until it is right. Witnesses are a big part of the story when it comes to getting convictions.

Jill Leovy opens the world up inside the black upon black murders. She uses the true story of great detectives to show what homicide detective should be like, involved with the victim’s family. She illustrates how to bring about change between the police and the community.

This book is engrossing and would not let me go until the end. I learned so much from this book and invite you to read it.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder In America as a win from LibraryThing from the publishers. My thoughts and feelings in this review are entirely my own.
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LibraryThing member cblaker
You may as well buy a first edition of this book now before they all get bought up because this book is deadlock for the Pulitzer Prize. Its combination of clear, detailed reporting on and important but under-reported topic make it a likely nominee for literary prizes. In the spirit of Stalin's quote, " One death is tragedy, a million are a statistic ," Leovy uses the murder of a nineteen year old man to reveal the larger tragedy of black-on-black murder rates in LA and the whole country. The slaying of Bryant Tennelle is so awful and the grief of his family so palpable that this almost had me chocked up at times. The muckraking author not only presents her readers with a nation problem but a solution as well. My one criticism is this book lacked any footnotes or bibliography. I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member dalexander
Ms. Leovy has written a very interesting book that weaves facts and information about the homicide rate in America with the tragic story of a murder and the detectives who tirelessly worked to solve it. After finishing the book , I found that I became more aware of the slant on how current events are handled and I have a greater understanding that what is covered in the news in only a small fraction of what many people in America are handling on a daily basis. Although the author attempts to explain different possible causes to the problem, a solution was not as clear or as easily implemented. I can only hope that by helping to shed some light on the topic and making people aware, we can move in the right direction.… (more)



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