2016: 69. Ghettoside

Los Angeles Police Det. John Skaggs carried the shoebox aloft like a waiter bearing a platter.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, Jill Leovy

I took this out of the library, thinking it was a totally different book about homicide in poor neighborhoods, one I’d read a review of in the NYRB (that one was Philly, this LA).  But I’m glad I made the mistake because this was a great, though totally depressing and harrowing, read.  Leovy looks at the scourge of black on black homicide through the lens of one particular case, a police officer’s son who was in the wrong place and got shot.  She both explores the devastation of the murder rate among black men, and examines why it happens, why it is ignored and what we can do about it. And does so while also telling the story from start to finish of Bryant Tennelle’s murder and the men who worked, against odds to solve it.

Her thesis, which seems credible, is that it is lack of police attention to these cases that helps fuel the violent epidemic.  That as cases are unsolved and ignored, the whole legal system fails to work, and encourages people to solve their problems themselves - i.e. with gun violence.  And as those murders aren’t caught, the cycle continues.  She highlights a few officers, particularly John Skaggs, who work “ghetto murder” the way murders are worked if they happen in a “good neighborhood” and how he brings some measure of justice to people.  But he and the other few detectives are working up hill in a system that just doesn’t do the hard work to solve these crimes.

I thought it was though provoking. I thought it was appalling.  And tragic.  And just a very good insight into a part of America that is so, so different from my reality.  The writing doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s serviceable, and the issues it discusses are just imperative for us all to think about.  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017