Over the past weeks, I’ve had my insides tied into knots by this book. It took me a long time to read, because it is devastating. So many young people getting killed; many for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jill Leovy reported on homicide for the Los Angeles Times, and this book grew out of her observations of and her attempt to understand the high numbers of black murders. Considering how disproportionate black-on-black violence is in this country, it should be a prevalent subject in the news and the minds of people. Instead, it is largely ignored, contributing to the disillusionment contained in the phrase “just another black man down.”
Built around the murder of Bryant Tennelle, the son of a police detective, in 2007, Leovy takes what I found to be an objective look at the roots, circumstances, and consequences of the high number of blacks murdering blacks in the Watts area of Los Angeles County. While I sometimes got a little lost in extraneous information, overall, I found this book to be very well-written, very informative, and very poignant.
Here are the 3 points Leovy made that I found most thought-provoking:
- The problem in many high-crime neighborhoods is not overpolicing, but underpolicing. As long as a 40% success rate for solving homicides is acceptable (as is the case in LA), there is no incentive to stop killing. The success rate for catching and prosecuting robbers, rapists, and burglars is even lower than 40%. This is despite the fact that in neighborhoods that are tightly knit together by a lack of opportunity and mobility, “everybody knows” who committed a crime. Sometimes, it is fear of retaliation that stops a witness from saying something, and sometimes, it’s the lack of engagement on the part of the investigating police officer that prevents a crime from being solved.
- “Righteous victims” are hard to find in poverty-stricken neighborhoods with high crime rates. To many, a righteous victim is someone innocent, someone deserving of sympathy. Admittedly, it is much easier to shrug off the death of a gang member, a drug dealer, a pimp, or someone in possession of illegal weapons than the death of a righteous victim. But in the end, everyone is someone’s child and his or her murder causes someone else incredible pain. Nobody’s violent death should simply be shrugged off.
- We have to accept the fact that sometimes, rules and regulations that look good on paper do not work in the streets. Obviously, we need these rules to avoid abuse of power, but we also need flexibility for the people who are involved to be able to do their job most effectively. Likewise, we have to accept that the further we are removed from a situation, the easier it is for us to judge—often wrongly.
Ghettoside is not an easy read, but it is well worth the effort. I hope people will read it, think about it, and talk about the issues it presents. Considering recent events here in the United States, it is more than necessary.