book reviews, books, compassion, culture, emotion, psychology, reading, Uncategorized

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy



On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes.

But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

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.

This was a passionate, lucid, poignant book that put faces to the statistics and points out, through the investigation of a single murder, a solution to the raw magnitude of faceless murders of black men in Los Angeles. The central narrative is the senseless murder of a young man, son of a homicide detective and how, through a thorough and determined investigation, the case is put together and prosecuted. Along the way, Leovy offers up some profound wisdom and insight into the communities that suffer such indignities, she is unsentimental but deeply compassionate and what she writes here is deeply moving, in it’s juxtaposition of hope, despair, anger and above it all the continued struggle to police a group of people that have been written off or mocked by all levels of society.

Detective John Skaggs is relentless, driven not by a dark past but by a simple recognition of his talent and purpose. He’s the platonic ideal of the homicide detective, and he works the cases in a part of Los Angeles written off for the most part as lawless where the community is hostile and prone to apathy. For all of that, Leovy gets out of the way and shows us his thoughts and actions, it’s sparing and just glorious writing. It is not glamorous nor is it a tourist experience of the jagged horror and grief that murders cause. It was books like this, Homicide by David Simon and Ed Burns and The Killing Season by Miles Corwin that helped me get back ever being enamoured of the idea that murder is some intellectual puzzle wielded by malevolent geniuses. Murder is a good way to solve a problem, and the solution to such endemic rates is applying the right law enforcement – the old fashioned dedicated investigation and arrest of criminals.

For all that, it’s not an unremitting book. There is beauty and hope here, genuine emotion and love, the unresolved and the resolved alike are woven and give strength to Leovy’s insights and statistics. Please read this, it will provide you with some new perspective which, to me is what a good book should do.



2 thoughts on “Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

    • It’s so moving Michelle, at the least it’s beautifully written and it provokes some real thoughts on crime and society. It doesn’t lecture, it quietly points out where the problem is. Please let me know what you think about it


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