Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

by Jill Leovy


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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385529990
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 113,960
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jill Leovy is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "Ghettoside"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Jill Leovy.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part I The Plaque

1 A Circle of Grief 3

2 A Killing 13

3 Ghettoside 22

4 School of Catastrophe 28

5 Clearance 44

6 The Circumstantial Case 52

7 Good People and Knuckleheads 61

8 Witnesses and the Shadow System 74

9 The Notification 86

Part II The Case of Bryant Tennelle

10 Son of the City 99

11 "It's My Son" 112

12 The Killing of Dovon Harris 123

13 Nothing Worse 131

14 The Assignment 139

15 "Everybody Know" 162

16 The Witness 176

17 Baby Man 189

18 Mutual Combat 214

19 Witness Welfare 223

20 Lost Souls 240

21 The Victims' Side 256

22 The Opening 274

23 "We Have to Pray for Peace" 286

24 The Missing 304

Epilogue 311

Author's Note 321

Acknowledgments 325

Notes 327

Select Bibliography 353

Index 357

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Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
As a lawyer with a degree in criminology, I have read my fair share of books attempting to explain violence, gang culture, and the very real fact that black men, predominantly in poor urban neighborhoods, are far more likely than other segments of the population to die from homicide; as Jill Leovy states in her fascinating book Ghettoside, they are only 6% of the American population but account for almost 40% of the murder victims. Leovy's book is particularly timely in light of the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the slogan "Black Lives Matter." Regardless of what one thinks with respect to those two cases, they highlighted a question which has plagued many white observers: instead of rioting over isolated instances of white-on-black killing, why aren't black leaders giving more attention to the far higher prevalence of black-on-black violence? Leovy notes that any such emphasis on high rates of black criminality risk the speaker being charged with racism, yet as black Harvard professor Randall Kennedy has stated, It does no good to pretend that blacks and whites are similarly situated with respect to either rates of perpetration or rates of victimization. They are not. The familiar dismal statistics and the countless tragedies behind them are not figments of some Negrophobe's imagination. Having put aside any question of white racism, Leovy becomes free to explore the real issue: the existence of a "shadow legal system," in competition with formal law, where violence substitutes for litigation. Crime of any type is deterred by swift and certain punishment; if the criminal justice system fails to respond quickly and vigorously to crime, to enforce the state monopoly on violence, other mechanisms will arise to take its place. Thus begins the vicious cycle: police understandably do not want to actively patrol high crime areas, where their own safety is in jeopardy, yet high crime areas exist precisely because of the absence of effective policing. This is the same dynamic seen in the context of teenage cyberbullying, a predominantly white phenomenon (see; no one wants to speak out against the bully, in fear of becoming the next target, so the bully proceeds (and often escalates) unchallenged. Leovy's choice of story is a wise one. She focuses on the murder of a black teenager, the son of a homicide detective, whose only "crime" was to wear the wrong color hat in the wrong neighborhood. Thus there are no grounds on which to arguably blame the victim, and Leovy is able to address the broader issues relating to allocation of police resources and the priorities of a legal system which prefers the quick and easy drug possession prosecution (referred to as a "proxy crime") to the expensive and time-consuming murder trial. Her arguments are both thought-provoking and accessible to the lay reader. Leovy's background is in journalism, and it shows in Ghettoside. Her prose is never dry; the reader is never allowed to forget the human dimension in favor of the sociological theory. I highly recommend Ghettoside to all Americans whose votes determine our criminal justice priorities in a time of limited resources. I received a free copy of Ghettoside through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
MIBookseller More than 1 year ago
This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel, explains like a teacher, and is as thought provoking  as a philosopher.  Although it describes murder investigations in southern Los Angeles,  author Leovy writes it as much as a character study as a description of crime solving.   By the books final pages you will feel as close to the lead characters as you do to some  of your own friends and neighbors and you will find yourself sharing their emotions.  An exceptional book!  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about murder. Real murder! Not the stuff of the thrillers that I like to read. It is a superbly crafted book about gangs, black on black homicide, and dogged detective work. It is not a pretty story. But it is one that more Americans need to be aware of. The author blends the tragedy of young black men being killed in disproportionate numbers - many of them were teens - with some hope, as found in the investigative work of a few dedicated LAPD detectives and improving trends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I appreciated the objectivism of the author. She told a story of human tragedy from the perspective of those who are deeply involved and care.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a decent, but extremely frustrating book, and in the end I would not recommend it. Leovy seems to have gotten too close with the people she profiles. Page after page, we simultaneously hear about how cops and police departments fail to do their jobs, have terrible clearance rates, or display proper cultural sensitivities, and yet literally every single police officer or detective we meet (and prosecutors) is "one of the good ones," including detectives who seem thoroughly unremarkable at best. A similiar, thought not identical, issue exists with portrayals of the civilian characters: all are generally good people, caught up in events beyond their control (yes, there is even a prominent "hooker with a heart of gold" character), except for the ones we do not meet. In fact, the only flaw possessed by the "hood" characters is that they fail to trust the wonderful detectives we meet. The best way to get a positive portrayal by Leovy is to have allowed your name to be used in her book. After a while, this gets extremely frustrating - you know that every named character will be treated with absolute kid gloves. She also seems to use unflattering physical descriptions to mask this. All in all, it's a pass.
efm More than 1 year ago
True murder story's of being poor, black and living near gang violence in Los Angeles.
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
Putting names to the murdered young black men in LA she tells the story of one, a cop's son, and gives us more vignettes of others around the same time as his. She also takes us into the detectives' lives who are handed these murders and how they solve them. I liked this book. While there was a lot of statistics and history of what lead up to the high murder rates of young black men, she puts names to them. They are not statistics only. She shows what the detectives do and how invested they are to find their killers. There were times I cried as she talks about the Tennelle family and tells of funerals and the fears many of the young men have of not living to be 21. Though a few years old, it is still timely. Well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Black men make up around 6% of America’s population yet they account for about 40% of the country’s annual homicide victims. Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in America, documents a number of such murders which continue to plague the African American community in South Central LA in her effort to explain how and why “bullets seem to find their black targets in the “ethnically jumbled up” American cities and the supposedly color-blind America. Continue reading at
MayaMA More than 1 year ago
I wrote this review as an advance reader. We are all thinking this January 2015 about relationship between the minority – in particular, black – communities and the police. Ghettoside by Los Angeles reporter, Jill Leovy, is a timely addition to the conversation. The homicide rate in Los Angeles, in Watts and in South Central in particular, consists of young black men killing other young black men. The clearance rate for these murders is very low. Because of the difficulties in finding witnesses willing to testify and a culture that put a low premium on their lives, many police resorted to arresting those they knew were guilty of murder but against whom they had insufficient evidence, of “proxy crimes.” These crimes included public drinking, possession of drugs, and parole violations. These arrests did get killers off the streets, but they were often viewed as harassment. Ghettoside is the story of two murders and of John Skaggs, the white police detective who solved both. Skaggs was the detective who actually cared and he and his partners preserved until both cases resulted in convictions. Leovy chose as victims the son of a black police detective and a tenth grader son of a single mother home health care worker. Neither were gang affiliated. One would expect effort to solve the case concerning a fellow police officer, but given the culture of the L.A. police at the time, not the other. Skaggs worked through police budget cuts and the lack of resources his entire career. He and his first partner and later those they trained cared. They cared about the families, the victims and the witnesses. They solved homicides. Leovy gives us a small glimpse into what makes Skaggs tick, but I never learned enough to understand why he was different, why he was driven to solve these crimes that few others cared about. The unfolding of the investigations reads like a mystery story. Some may get confused about the multiple characters, but I found it no more confusing than reading Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie. I did find that Leovy’s digressions into the roots of both black on black crime and white indifference distracting and, in the end, superficial. Leovy is not an historian or sociologist and the strength of this book is her reporting on the crimes and the investigations. She began a blog for the Los Angeles Times called the “Homicide Report” in 2007. The report chronicles every homicide in the city to the current day. Every city should have a similar blog. Ghettoside ends with a quote from William J. Stuntz. Stuntz was a Harvard Law School Professor who studied the criminal justice system and died much too young. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kids of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” This also sums up Ghettoside. I highly recommend this book.
Subway_Reader More than 1 year ago
The book about a senseless and horrifying street murder was engrossing, written with a fluid, seemingly effortless style. She has a gift for making people three-dimensional and taking an approach to a horrendous situation that sees all sides, non-judgmental and caring at the same time. She manages to capture the feel of the street, thankfully without falling into the knee-jerk ‘culture of poverty’ socio-babble. Her insight that a community of people who live a hardscrabble existence without legal control aside from blatant oppression will experience internecine violence is vital and illuminating, and documented in places like the Catholic ghettoes in Northern Ireland or the black townships under apartheid in South Africa. But in the end it’s hard to recommend the book, because what she doesn’t say is as important as what she does. She’s better at description than history. She doesn’t touch on LA’s huge loss of manufacturing jobs prior to the 1980s, and the effect that had in providing fertile ground for the gangs and the crack epidemic. It’s an unconvincing, and uncomfortable, assertion that street violence is, or was, disproportionate to the black community; I imagine many in the Hispanic communities who worked to keep their kids out of gangs would take issue with it. Long stretches of the book, often fascinating, are devoted to the dogged detectives who cracked this case and others, but by her own admission they’re the exceptions; the majority of detectives who give rote attention to black murders aren’t given nearly as much space. And her omission of the long-standing enmity between the police in Los Angeles and the African-American community is glaring. How could she not mention Rodney King? The Watts riots of 1965 were a rebellion against racist police violence. (Perhaps only Chicago rivaled LA for having a police force with a reputation for racist violence outside the South.) Her intent in Ghettoside was description of incidents of black-on-black violence, not history, but even so, the decades-long friction between the African-American community and the LAPD is necessary as background, and it’s missing here. It’s the kind of book that’s very hard to criticize, since she is such a gifted and dedicated writer with clear empathy for all parties. It’s so rare to read a book eager know what happens next and feel for the people in it, including people you might not normally care about. But you can easily come away from this book with the impression that what’s needed to stop the street violence is more policing by honest police, and in the era of glaring economic inequality, Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter that’s an extremely difficult position to accept. I would tell people to read this book in conjunction with The New Jim Crow, because she needs someone to put her gripping story in some perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't understand the popularity of this book. I found it very difficult to read. The author lacked focus.
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Exceptional reporting on a subject that gets too little attention of the right kind.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought I was going to read a book about life in the Ghetto and murder stories, but this is a political book about inequality. Pass!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thissounds like a great book even thow im in 4th grade it still sounds like a great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks like an irestig Iwant to read this book like real life stories