Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, USA TODAY, AND CHICAGO TRIBUNE • A masterly work of literary journalism about a senseless murder, a relentless detective, and the great plague of homicide in America
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Economist • The Globe and Mail • BookPage • Kirkus Reviews
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.
Praise for Ghettoside
“A serious and kaleidoscopic achievement . . . [Jill Leovy is] a crisp writer with a crisp mind and the ability to boil entire skies of information into hard journalistic rain.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Masterful . . . gritty reporting that matches the police work behind it.”—Los Angeles Times
“Moving and engrossing.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Penetrating and heartbreaking . . . 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.”—USA Today
“Functions both as a snappy police procedural and—more significantly—as a searing indictment of legal neglect . . . Leovy’s powerful testimony demands respectful attention.”—The Boston Globe
“Gritty, heart-wrenching . . . Everyone needs to read this book.”—Michael Connelly
“Ghettoside is remarkable: a deep anatomy of lawlessness.”—Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal
“[Leovy writes] with grace and artistry, and controlled—but bone-deep—outrage in her new book. . . . The most important book about urban violence in a generation.”—The Washington Post
“Riveting . . . This timely book could not be more important.”—Associated Press
“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.’ ”—The New York Times Book Review
“A compelling analysis of the factors behind the epidemic of black-on-black homicide . . . an important book, which deserves a wide audience.”—Hari Kunzru, The Guardian
From the Hardcover edition.
not tempted by the spectacle. But Steinbeck’s lyricism, so resonant to Skaggs, was lost on Stirling, who wrinkled his face and asked such obtuse and literal questions (“Well, why were they there, then?”) that Skaggs grew irritated and cut the conversation short. “You don’t get it!” he said. Skaggs and Stirling did not quite interact on the same plane. But Skaggs respected Stirling and they worked well together. A door on one side of the courtroom opened and all four attorneys subsided into
Bowers exactly what Bowers had just said about repeating. Bowers glared. Farell, in back of the courtroom, suppressed a laugh. The morning’s session was over. In the afternoon the trial finally began in earnest. By 1:25 P.M., the hall in front of the courtroom was packed. Rick Gordon was there, along with half a dozen RHD detectives in natty RHD suits. And a surprise visitor: Skaggs’s wife, Theresa. All week Skaggs had assured her that this trial was no big deal. Theresa knew him better than
and many variations on it. But history shows us that lawlessness is its own kind of order. Murder outbreaks, seen this way, are more than just the proliferation of discrete crimes. They are part of a whole system of interactions determined by the absence of law. European history offers a panoply of rough justice systems based on personal vengeance, blood feuds, shaming rituals, and sundry forms of retributive and clan violence. Frequent homicide was a part of this picture. High homicide rates
Bryant would hang out, then cut it short to start his shifts. The others liked him and called him by his last name. But they didn’t know what to make of him, with his beloved pet ducks and chickens and his gentle, sensitive ways. He wasn’t aggressive. He wasn’t loud. He sought to downplay conflicts. He wanted everyone to get along. The last part was most novel of all. Lawless violence burdens black men as no one else. Walking with a bopping limp that suggests you have survived your share of
would testify. So they would write a narcotics warrant—or catch him dirty. “We can put them in jail for drugs a lot easier than on an assault. No one is going to give us information on an assault,” explained Lou Leiker, who ran the detective table in Southeast in the early aughts. To them, proxy justice represented a principled stand against violence. It was like a personalized imposition of martial law. That’s why Coughlin went in hot pursuit of that pot dealer in a wheelchair. Coughlin caught