Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in AmericaGhettoside: A Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

wow. if this doesn’t win the Pulitzer this year, there’s no justice in the world.

there certainly doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in South Central, the territory of this book. the subject is black-on-black violence and the justice system’s response to it. Leovy introduces a novel theory here: that the way to solve the horrific murder rate in black LA is to have more and better murder detectives, and more and better prosecutions.

and i gotta say, she’s pretty damned persuasive.

as much as any person who didn’t grow up there, i think Leovy has the experience to comment fairly on this particular wicked problem. she’s behind the original Homicide Report, the LA Times’ attempt to catalog every murder that happens in city limits. Leovy started this as a blog and tried to both gather statistical data on the city’s murders and write at least a post on each victim. (i dare you not to be horrified by just the map on the home page.) Leovy has all my respect for that effort.

but this book takes it to a whole new level–she not only talks homicide, but attempts to get at the roots of why and the history of the phenomena.

she also serves up two tales of murdered boys: one a kid getting sucked into the maw of gangs, and another who could hardly have been further from that life. the latter’s father is a detective.

the book is a mix, then, of true crime, criminal theory, and economic/racial/social history. if that makes it sound about as appealing as eating drywall, fear not, because once you pick up this book, you will not be able to put it down.

i can’t remember a book affecting me so deeply since Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s wrenching book on poverty in Mumbai. Leovy doesn’t insulate readers from the unrelenting death toll nor the families’ grief (which, incidentally, is conveyed so well that the NYT reviewer said it made her nearly vomit reading it. i concur).

this is the sort of book that alters all one’s preconceptions about the violence that, in my lifetime and experience anyway, has been part of the background hum of the news–californians know it goes on everyday, but it hurts to pay too much attention to it, and it seems to never end. i personally lean so far left i’ve nearly fallen into anarchy, but this book has given me a lot to think about in terms of the entire spectrum from personal responsibility to the function of the law in civilized society.

for those whose experience of everyday murder is more personal, all i can say is: i’m so sorry. i’m so, so sorry.