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.
Latino. “But if I’m in a hurry, I just say I’m black,” he said. Bryant was lighter than his brother, not as light as DeeDee. He was tall and slim, and his smooth complexion was the envy of his brother, who battled acne. But like Wally Jr., Bryant generally identified as black on the fly. In the end, because of where they grew up, because of some unspoken comprehension of a complex racial history, and because most of the biracial kids they knew did the same, all the children considered themselves
whom he had stayed with. Starks grew noticeably tense. He pressed his lips together between answers, and he stopped swinging in his chair. Stirling had calculated distances and driving times. He asked Starks how much gas his tank held and tested him on when and where he had stopped for gas. Starks was trapped into insisting he had driven at eighty miles per hour all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana barely stopping, amped up on energy drinks and NoDoz before heading up to North Carolina.
truth, the trial of Derrick Starks and Devin Davis was not even very suspenseful. The case that had gone unsolved for so long proved to be about as formidable as a sand castle on the beach. As the last waves of Skaggs’s persistence washed over it, the defense crumbled. For years, politicians on the right and left had been building the notion of “gang violence” in the public’s mind as some kind of implacable social disease, springing from a deeply rooted moral crisis or from some kind of
do not make very good police, he laughed and agreed. “Yeah, gangs shoot everyone,” he said. “If you’re black.” Davis, too, denied involvement in the killing, but gave a different account than Starks. He said that Starks, Midkiff, and Bobby Ray Johnson had taken him in the car with them, but that he had not known of their plans and never got out. In one regard, his account harmonized with that of Starks: like Starks, he claimed that Johnson was a fourth in the car, and like him, he claimed that
Tennelle secretly questioned his choices. It had begun immediately. His eyes had filled with tears for an instant in front of his boss, Lt. Lyle Prideaux at California Hospital. “I blew it,” he told Prideaux. Again and again, in the weeks and months after, Wally Tennelle recalculated the impossible homicide odds of raising a black son anywhere in America. He wondered where he could have taken Bryant to keep him safe. He went back over his decisions, his stubbornness about the neighborhood he