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.
of Skaggs’s relentlessness. Kouri worried less about not being able to talk to people. He had discovered he could be effective simply by trying to reason with people without affectation, using the manner that came most naturally to him, stumbling over his words if he had to. He was not smooth. But he was sincere and nonadversarial, and people trusted him. More important, Kouri’s commitment to the craft had deepened with every case. This was really the key to his success: his emotional response
shape magnified many times the size of its source because of a refusal to see the black homicide problem for what it was: a problem of human suffering caused by the absence of a state monopoly on violence. The Monster’s source was not general perversity of mind in the population that suffered. It was a weak legal apparatus that had long failed to place black injuries and the loss of black lives at the heart of its response when mobilizing the law, first in the South and later in segregated
traffic from the elevated freeways. An attorney asked what would happen if he violated these mysterious “rules and regulations.” The young man answered with an impatient shrug: “Killed, shot—anything,” he said. Back in the 1930s, the anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker wrote of the proscriptions of Jim Crow in exactly such terms. Powdermaker noted a conversation with a black woman about her fear of socializing with a white man: “When asked what she is afraid of, she laughs and says: ‘Don’t you
homicides as earth-shattering. But to the detectives of the Southeast Division, they deserved every ounce of vigor the state could muster. By now, for Skaggs, this way of thinking was defining. He and Marullo were already working in high gear. Kouri would join them soon. Skaggs wanted him to take a central role as soon as his plane landed. By June 17, the doctors had explained the organ donation process to Barbara’s uncomprehending family. Duane Harris, Dovon’s father, could not accept it. He
when he got a “cherp” from a girl he called “Hollywood.” “A tramp just got chipped,” she told him. The probationer was happy—it meant a gang rival had been shot. “I was like, all right, woo woo woo,” he said. But then one of the probationer’s homeys called, alarmed. “A police officer’s son got chipped somewhere off Normandie and the police is hot around here—shit!” The homey recommended he stay put in Arkansas. The probationer got several more calls to the same effect. Everyone was talking about