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Friday, January 30, 2015

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

This book has owned me for the past week. I have been so engrossed that I sort of forgot most other things existed. This is right up my reading and research alley, so I went in whole hog to Jill Leovy's Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. Prepare for broken hearts. 

In Los Angeles county, someone is killed every day. Most of the time the murder victim is a black man, killed by handgun whether or not he is gang affiliated. These are murders that are not likely to be solved -- witnesses disappear (both voluntarily and involuntarily), stories change, revenge occurs. The police officers working in Ghettoside, the nickname for the area below the Ten in the Seventy Seventh district, know how to solve these homicides better than anyone else. When one of their own suffers the ultimate loss, their work is put into a different perspective. It's the most personal case most of them will ever work.

This is a hard book to qualify with the phrase, "I liked it," because how do you sit back and enjoy a book that critically examines how police and communities dealt with a massive murder outbreak in one of our nation's largest cities? This book was outstanding, it was moving, and it was frankly, incredible.

This book moves past the privileged idea of, "How can a community just kill off themselves?" (I am putting this in a little bit more of a PC way that I've heard people in my actual life express this question.) It starts to examine the sociological underpinnings of why such violence happens – and you won't like the answers. You won't like them because they're not easy, and because there's nothing simplistic about the violence in LA, or even that across our country that we've seen affect the nation psyche over the past few years. It's complicated, yet connect-they-dots-y, and we have to face the fact that we as humans are not rational and logical creatures. It is only then can we can begin to understand the ease with which the citizens of Los Angeles could take weapons to each other.

It then takes this whole discussion to a new level by adding in a personal story – the murder of a young man who was also the son of a homicide cop. It doesn't just add in a personal twist to the faceless violence that we all may have heard about through the nightly news, but it also puts into perspective the daily anxiety of raising a child in an area where you have no idea what could happen. By just wearing the wrong hat, or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just by being Black, a young man loses his life and a family loses their balance. Because you never get over the death of a child, and you never should be expected to.

The homicide detectives are also a major part of this book. Their tenacity and their dedication to their work, leading some of them to live in the very neighborhoods they investigate, are an outstanding example of where a police force needs to go. Paper pushers are a waste of everyone's time, but the cops that are profiled here show dedication worthy of being a civil servant. There is a responsibility to the public when you serve, be it as a police officer, a teacher, or a politician. Knowing that there are some good eggs out there and the LAPD made reading this book worthwhile.

Leovy has done a phenomenal job with this book, and it is as engrossing as it is raw. I salute her for giving names to the dead whom deserve so much more then to die in cold blood for simply existing. I admire her for understanding that at the end of the day, lives are lost, and that is worth recognizing. And ultimately that's at the heart of Ghettoside – that at the end of the day, lives matter, and figuring out how to save them is a priority.

For purchase below.

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