I live in Los Angeles, and this book about crime in South Los Angeles has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I mean, it has all the things that I proclaim to like: true crime, race relations, specifically those dealing with Black folks; a journalistic style and approach, and a woman author. Plus, it talks about locations I’m familiar with and people that live 20 minutes (without traffic) away from me. This has just always felt like a must read for me.
If you aren’t familiar with Ghettoside, here is more about the book.
Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.
I found Ghettoside to be a very well manicured book. It is clear from the moment the book starts where it will end, and it is clear exactly what points author Jill Leovy will hit. It has no twists and turns, no suspense, no real excitement in the storytelling. That is not what Leovy is doing here. The point of this book is to show how routine and mundane murder has become in South Los Angeles. The point is that day in and day out Black men are being killed, and the LAPD detectives are the only people of authority who care (her point of view not mine).
Leovy embeds with the Southside detective unit and spends much of her time with one detective, John Skaggs. He is ostensibly the hero of this book. He is the guy we are told to be impressed by, he is the best one, he solves the cases, he is dedicated to justice. While I enjoyed hearing about the detectives, the parts of this book I enjoyed most were about the victims, their families, and even those people involved in perpetrating the crimes. Detectives are cool, but we have so many stories focused on them. I wish Leovy would have spent more time engaging with the stories of those who live in Watts, those who lost loved ones, those who stories are often erased in from their own narratives.
Something that got in the way of my enjoyment of Ghettoside, is that Leovy clearly grew to respect and admire the work of the detectives in the units she was with. I think that biased her to the work of other police officers. The book felt incredibly pro-detective, and mostly anti-patrol cop. I’m not doubting the detectives do good work, and that cops make mistakes, its more that it felt like the detectives were the heroes only being foiled by lousy police work and out of control gang members. I found it hard to trust her praise or condemnations fully.
I am glad I finally read this book. I enjoyed the well researched subject matter, and the amount of effort Leovy put in to talk to so many different people involved in South Los Angeles murders. I also appreciated her willingness to discuss the anti-Black racism that has led to a world in which the murder of Black men goes mostly unseen, unreported, and unsolved. She really gave these murders the context that is so often overlooked in place of a “personal responsibility” narrative.
If you’re interested in the detective process and how crimes are solved, this would be a good book for you. I also would suggest this book to anyone living in a city with high rates of murder perpetrated against Black men, or anyone who thinks this topic sounds interesting.
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (October 27, 2015)
- 3/5 stars
- Buy Ghettoside on Amazon
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