Ghettoside, if there’s any justice, will be the most important book about urban violence in a generation. And in one of those rare moments of utter kismet, it has appeared just when we need it most ... Ghettoside should change our understanding of and the debate about what’s going on in our most troubled neighborhoods. They are not hopeless places filled with incurable problems. They are dealing as best they can with horrific conditions not of their making and mainly not under their control. The book should bring some much-needed balance to the current debate about what post-Ferguson policing should look like.
Ghettoside is old-school narrative journalism, told strictly in the third person. It’s as square as a card table. Yet the book is a serious and kaleidoscopic achievement ... Ms. Leovy’s greatest gift as a journalist [is] her ability to remain hard-headed while displaying an almost Tolstoyan level of human sympathy. Nearly every person in her story — killers and victims, hookers and soccer moms, good cops and bad — exists within a rich social context ... Ms. Leovy’s narrative has its share of clichés and mildly soggy moments, yet on the whole she’s a crisp writer with a crisp mind and the ability to boil entire skies of information into hard journalistic rain.
That Leovy is able to rely so heavily on external sources and perspectives is a testament to her journalistic experience and expertise. As I well know, oftentimes first-person meta-commentary is a cheap trick designed to gloss over inadequacies of research. Leovy, however, needs no such misdirection. She has done the work. She knows the neighborhoods and the people. She’s been to the hospitals, to the police stations, to the homes of the victims, to the scenes of the crime. In Ghettoside, you can practically smell the shoe leather. The reporting is so thorough, so detailed — the physical description at times verging on the photorealistic — that I found myself marveling, wondering, and even doubting. How the hell did she get all this?
In Ghettoside, she adopts an anthropologist's gaze to unravel the workings of this tribe. She tracks the daily movements of homicide detectives working cases that rarely attract the media spotlight. This is gritty reporting that matches the police work behind it ... Leovy has created a book that is part reportage and part sociology. Her diagnosis is clear and compelling. Ghettoside's tale is rooted in a specific place, but it's clear that Leovy sees this L.A. neighborhood as a microcosm of American dysfunction and Skaggs as a representative of a path not taken.
Ghettoside has its weak spots — the opening feels choppy; there are so many characters it’s easy to lose track of them; some of the historical digressions feel distracting and unnecessary — but these are minor quibbles. Leovy’s relentless reporting has produced a book packed with valuable, hard-won insights — and it serves as a crucial, 366-page reminder that 'black lives matter,' showing how the 'system’s failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap.'
Now is probably as good a moment as any in our fickle American discourse for the publication of a thorough, unsentimental and painstakingly evenhanded account of the tortured and multigenerational dynamics plaguing our nation’s ghettos — and the senseless killings that so routinely occur in them, whether at the hands of the police or, as we are so frequently reminded, at the hands of other blacks. Fortunately, Jill Leovy has written such a book ... The power of Ghettoside, then is not primarily in the particularity of the Tennelle case but in the dizzying accumulation of such discrete deaths that she tacks onto it.
Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy's penetrating and heartbreaking report from the front lines of 21st-century urban crime arrives at this seemingly auspicious moment in our ongoing racial dialogue. Ghettoside points out how relatively little America has cared even as recently as the last decade about the value of young black men's lives, especially in the nation's inner cities.
Leovy touches briefly on the social forces that created LA’s ghettos – restrictive covenants on housing in more desirable areas, preventing sale to blacks, mass migration from Louisiana and Mississippi – but never deals with this history in depth. This is not a 'big picture' book about Los Angeles in the mode of Mike Davis’s magisterial City of Quartz. Instead, she adopts the familiar format of the police procedural, introducing us to a team of heroic hard-bitten detectives and narrowing her story down to one particular murder ... Leovy has sympathy for the dangers and difficulties faced by police, and while she acknowledges the LAPD’s brutal history, she sometimes soft-pedals the frank hostility of many officers to the people they are pledged to protect and serve ... what sets Ghettoside apart from the slew of factual police procedurals published every year, is a compelling analysis of the factors behind the epidemic of black-on-black homicide, and the beginnings of a policy prescription for tackling it. This makes Ghettoside an important book, which deserves a wide audience.
[Ghettoside is] a true-crime book that leaves the reader haunted not by its cast of criminals but by the society in which those criminals operate ... the grander tragedy that impels Ghettoside—and the reason it shouldn’t be overlooked or treated as just another true-crime chronicle—is, as Leovy writes, that 'where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic.'”
The way solid police work cracks a case that at first seemed insolvable reads like a thrilling police procedural. The most gripping episodes come as Skaggs manages to persuade the girlfriend of one of the killers to testify against him and then keeps her safe and sober in the face of death threats ... While focusing on the killing of Tennelle, the son of a Los Angeles detective, Leovy explores the reasons for the homicide epidemic and looks at ways it can be addressed.
Leovy, a longtime Los Angeles Times reporter who spent several years embedded with LAPD detectives, pieces together the case. From those notebook pages, we get a frequently painful look into the lives of weary detectives and sobbing mothers, meeting time and time again over bodies crumpled in the street ... The numbers she shares are stark; in the approximately two years between the book's central murder and the subsequent trial, more than 500 black men and boys were killed in Los Angeles County. But Leovy's careful attention to the people caught up in a cycle of violence makes the argument that the toll is far greater — on the victims' families, the people who investigate the crimes and on the rest of us, who should be paying more attention.
The author adeptly shows how murder affects families, causing an agony that intensifies with time and echoes through the generations ... The author makes clear that black people, in spite of negative feelings toward police, infinitely prefer formal justice to that of the street. In some unintentionally funny cases, drug dealers will call 911 and demand police action: 'My dope got ripped off! I want you to book him for robbery!' Ghettoside is a cogent, compelling account of black homicide in this country and well worth reading.