Magazine article The Spectator

'Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic', by Jill Leovy - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic', by Jill Leovy - Review

Article excerpt

Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic Jill Leovy

Bodley Head, pp.266, £16.99, ISBN: 9781847923622

Los Angeles ghetto life -- thrashed, twisted and black -- is not a world that most Americans care to visit. Black Angelinos can be -- and for a period in the 1980s and early 1990s, were -- murdered for a trifle. The slightest act of 'disrespect' may call for a tit-for-tat killing, where an entire family is rubbed out to avenge a perceived affront.

Such disregard for human life is unknown in the white neighbourhoods of LA. Is there a specifically black predisposition to gun crime? Or is that too narrow an assumption? The violence endemic to Watts, Compton and other black LA suburbs is reckoned (by some) to be a delayed response to the cruelty of plantation life. See for yourself, says the veteran crime reporter Jill Leovy: see how the men and women live there in converted garages behind razor-wire fencing -- sullen, numbed; how the children are un-childlike; the women hardened.

As a Los Angeles Times reporter, Leovy has done her share of legwork in areas of the city made infamous by gangsta rappers like Dr Dre and Bob Dylan's beloved Ice-T. All the theory about plantation slavery means nothing if you can't read the street, says Leovy. In her analysis, turf wars break out in black LA as a consequence of lawlessness, not as a cause. If anything, black neighbourhoods suffer from too little application of the law, not too much. Stop-and-search harassments only generate a hatred and mistrust of authority; what is needed, says Leovy, is a policing that does some good.

Ghettoside , her magnificent, non-fiction police procedural, concentrates on a murder that took place in the 77th Division of LA's no-go South Central district. In 2007 an 18-year-old African American called Bryant Tennelle was gunned down there by a fellow black man for no clear motive. The murder would have gone unremarked in the press had Bryant not been an LA policeman's son.

Black-on-black crime is a taboo subject for many liberal Americans, who fear that African Americans might somehow be 'intrinsically wired for violence' (as Leovy puts it). Of course they are not, but that does not stop bigots from arguing otherwise. Forty years after the civil rights movement, says Leovy, no one much in America seems to care if so many black men are getting shot up and killed, or if such a high share of the murders remain unsolved. …

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