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Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  14,289 ratings  ·  1,794 reviews
On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man was shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of hundreds of young men slain in LA every year. His assailant ran down the street, jumped into an SUV, and vanished, hoping to join the vast majority of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case was ...more
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published January 27th 2015 by Spiegel & Grau
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Carolyn Yes- I even hated rating it as a book I really liked. How can I like a book so much that is so horribly sad and true. It made a huge impact on me.
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Tory From my perspective, he is and also isn't at the same time. He compromised witness' identities and he manipulated suspects to giving in to confess.…moreFrom my perspective, he is and also isn't at the same time. He compromised witness' identities and he manipulated suspects to giving in to confess. There's no doubt that he did some shady stuff. But also, I think most of those acts were in for justice and finding a murderer and providing closure to a family that lost their kid. It really depends on if you think what he did was justified or not. (less)

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Oct 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
i grew up in a tiny village located in the smallest state in the u.s. whose residents were mostly elderly transplanted french canadians. it was a very docile environment. from there, i went directly to nyc for college, and despite what the warriors

or west side story may have taught you

we don't have a lot of gang activity around here. not like in l.a., anyway. no one here hails cabs to perform drive-bys.

Will Byrnes
Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from both bodily injury and death. It is at once oppressive and inadequate… This is a book about a very simple idea where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic.
There is a plague loose in the land. A dark, long-time resident t
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kemper by: Trudi
We love murder.

Let me clarify that statement. We love murder as entertainment when the victim is some poor innocent blonde woman that our hero detectives avenge with a little help from the geeks in the crime lab, and the whole thing is wrapped up in an hour. Or about 45 minutes with commercials if it’s on network television.

This book is non-fiction so it certainly doesn’t have the appeal of a tidy TV solution, and it digs into the whole sociology of a community where murd
Good reason to read it: superb writing.

The characters though are so hackneyed. There is Supercop, the ordinary, world-weary father of teenagers who just wants to do his best. The police team who mostly don't care at all, it's only one Black shootin' another. The forensics guy who thinks he can do better than computers (he can). The victim - a boy with a shining face full of the possibilities of life, bleeding to death on the pavement from a bullet in his head, "I'm so tired, " he says, and dies
Paul Bryant
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime

If it’s sadness you’re after, we have it right here by the bucketful One 16 year old kid named Devin Davis on May 11 2007 walked round the corner from St Andrews Place onto 80th Street, Los Angeles, and closed his eyes and pointed a gun towards two other black kids. One of the shots hit one of them in the head, an 18 year old named Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA detective, and he died.

If it’s sadness you’re after, we have it right here by the bucketful One 16 year old kid named Devin Davis on May 11 2007 walked round the corner from St Andrews Place onto 80th Street, Los Angeles, and closed his eyes and pointed a gun towards two other black kids. One of the shots hit one of them in the head, an 18 year old named Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA detective, and he died.

(Bryant Tennelle)

Some time later Devin was questioned and confessed pretty quickly. It turned out that he hadn’t realised he’d killed anyone until much later. He thought what he was doing was throwing a few rounds at some rival gangsters, maybe hit one in the arm if the guy was unlucky. He said

I ain’t never think I’d hurt somebody. I ain’t never did want to hurt nobody in this world. I always just wanted to be a person everyone was just cool with. Everybody just liking me! I never did want to ever ever ever ever ever my whole life, never wanted to hurt nobody!

Being a person others would be cool with meant not being a punk. Not being a punk meant that if somebody for instance suggested making a few rival Crips bangers run like rabbits, Devon would say yes.

I got out of the car, closed my eyes, and I just started doing it, I don’t know why! I was scared! I didn’t want nobody thinking of me as no bitch or nothing’…I just wanted to have friends! That’s all I wanted. I didn’t think you had to do all that.

From pages 34 and 40:

In 1993, black men in their early twenties in Los Angeles County died by homicide at a rate of 368 per 100,000 population, similar to the per capita rate of death for US soldiers deployed to Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion…. The smallest ghettoside spat seemed to escalate to violence as if, absent law, people were left with no other means of bringing a dispute to a close. Debts and competition over goods and women – especially women – drove many killings. But insults, snitching, drunken antics, and the classic – unwanted party guests – were also common homicide motives.

This book comes at you like Jill Leovy has discovered this major ghastly secret at the heart of American life : black on black homicide. Jill doesn’t herself believe this is hold the front page news, but her book often reads as if it does. In fact, she knows she hasn’t discovered this information (just check out the amazing bibliography at the back) but maybe she thinks she has RE-discovered it. And that has to be a good thing. In the two years which followed the murder of Bryant Tennelle, 546 black men and boys were killed in South Los Angeles.

I remember the flurry of great black American movies at the beginning of the 1990s, which all dealt with this very issue, front and centre : Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City, Jungle Fever. Those movies still ring in my head today, so powerful were they. At the very same time came David Simon’s brilliant book Homicide, which, as it’s all about Baltimore, was also all about black on black homicide. After which came the all time great tv show Homicide: Life on the Street, 1993 to 1999.

There was this one episode which really got to me (well, there were a lot that did). A black woman is in the police station waiting room and another black woman comes in. They get to talking, in fact the first one needs someone to talk to. That morning she found out her son had been killed. The second one is immediately sympathetic, she knows what being a black mother in Baltimore means. But then, little details of the first woman’s son emerge, and where and how he was killed, and the atmosphere begins to freeze. The second woman is down at the station because her son has just been arrested for this very murder.

And after Homicide came The Wire, so it’s not like this is unexamined territory. We kind of know this stuff already. But that’s the problem right there. It’s become accepted as background radiation, something that happens there and not here, too massive and too disturbing to think about. Jill Leovy’s fast, bold and blunt prose takes the whole subject head-on. Again.

In many ways this is David Simon’s book Part Two. JL was “embedded” with a homicide unit, followed some cases in detail, got to know some of the detectives very well, and here are her findings. You also get the procedural stuff you might get in a Richard Price novel (one of the three biggies, Freedomland, Clockers and Lush Life). And mixed in with that you get the alt.political-history perspective of Mike Davis’ City of Quartz (subtitle : Excavating the Future in Los Angeles). All crammed down into 330 exhausting pages.

On p 242 she observes that homicide rates amongst equally poor new immigrants from Central America are way, way lower than those for LA blacks. Poverty in itself does not make men shoot each other. But :

In the year 2000, decades after the courts struck down restrictive covenants, black people in LA were no more likely to have white neighbours than they had been in 1970. … Indices of racial segregation are strong homicide predictors. Homicide thrives on intimacy, communal interactions, barter, and a shared sense of private rules. The intimacy part was also why homicide was so stubbornly intraracial. You had to be involved with people to want to kill them.
By contrast, America’s lonely, atomized upper-middle-class white suburbs were not homicidal. Their highly mobile occupants were not much involved with each other.

(In passing : one really surprising thing about Ghettoside was the absence of drugs as a big motivator in violent crime. )

In the last few pages JL reports that homicide rates are now declining (as of 2010/11) but are, of course, still sky-high by comparison with the rest of the population of the USA.

Although Jill Leovy’s cast of thousands, most of whom come with a pungent three-line pen portrait, and hectic circumstance (who did what to who when and who said it went down way different than that) and how the police departments got reorganised and how thir office stationary budgets were affected and how the careers of her favourite murder cops went is quite exhausting and the reader will feel like they have been through the wringer more than once, I give it up for Ghettoside. It’s great stuff.

Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an important book.

Despite overall crime rates falling nationally, black homicide rates remain stubbornly high. And this is only the most lethal of problems facing inner-city neighborhoods. Failing schools. Concentrated poverty. Mass incarceration. All these things work together to create a world apart, known colloquially as the ghetto.

It’s a touchy subject that touches on just about every third rail in American life. To even begin a discussion you have to avoid getting tripped up on ra
Wow. This is an incredible book about murder in South Los Angeles. Jill Leovy was on the police beat for the LA Times, and she spent 10 years following homicide detectives and reporting on different murder cases.

Ghettoside goes in-depth into one case in particular, the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle, who was the son of an LA police detective. You could say Bryant was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that he was killed because he was wearing the wrong colore/>
Patrick Brown
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a masterpiece. If this doesn't win the National Book Award and a ton of other awards, then literary awards are really and truly bankrupt. I was a fan of Leovy's Homicide Blog (the original name for The Homicide Report), in so far as someone can be a "fan" of a project to catalog every homicide in LA county. Still, it felt like important work, and this book continues in its steps.

The point of the Homicide Report was to bring attention -- in whatever way possible -- to every homicide, regardless
Joseph Spuckler
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is a history and the study of a murder case in South Los Angeles. Leovy is a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the creator of The Homicide Report.

Ghettoside opens with the shooting death of Bryant Tennelle a young black man. Tennelle death seems random as he had no gang affiliations. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the city, especially the area south of I-10, hundreds of people are murdered in a typical year. Many are

This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous So
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
Important. Devastating. Brilliant. Compelling. This book educates on the literal lack of reporting of murders occurring in South Central Los Angeles (what?!...not on the news at all?) and then brings every aspect of the neighborhoods, the police, the families, the victims, and the life cycle into the reporting to form a cohesive, well-written book that asks the right questions and glimpses the possible answers. The author shows compassion to the plight of the community and the dire need to break the cy ...more
Richard Derus
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4* of five

It took me, the guy who reads a book in a day, quite a while to finish this one. GHETTOSIDE is a vivid, eye-opening, matter-of-fact indictment of generations worth of neglect, oppression, and indifference on the part of the larger republic towards African-Americans, and men in particular.

My review isn't a sweet little nosegay. It's a jeremiad.
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
I struggled a lot with this one. I went into it very interested in the subject and was excited, and it just did not live up to my expectations. First, the same message is sent about 10 million times, in the same format every time. With that, the author mentions many cases that follow the same pattern. I think it would have been more effective to stick with the Tennelle case while focusing on the human interest element of the story. I felt bombarded with cases and could not keep them straight and ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
First posted at

I went into Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside with high expectations. Since its release in January, there has been praise seemingly everywhere, with The Washington Post even calling it “the most important book about urban violence in a generation.” I can’t help but wonder if we read the same book.

It’s easy to cheer for many statements made early in Ghettoside, as Leovy discusses how “police forces have historically preoccupied themselves with nuisance abatement ra
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Snotchocheez by: Julie Ehlers
When I saw that my friend Julie was reading this 2015 ARC with an iconic aerial view of a LAPD patrol car on the cover, it made me wonder, yet again, what the heck was going on back in the 'hood. All reports I'd heard regarding violent crime in the City of Angels since I left it a decade ago seemed to indicate that violent crime was on the rapid decline. I pretty much had to see if Ms. Leovy could provide added insight to refute what I'd heard about the decline of murder and other violent crime ...more
Mikey B.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a superb journalistic work on detective investigations of homicide in Los Angeles in the Watts (South Central) area. It gives an intensely human angle. It is centred on the streets and its’ people.

We see how hard the detectives can pursue a case and the years it can take to train and make a good detective. They have to be on the streets and understand the lingo and the code of the inhabitants. They must probe and interview potential witnesses, family members, accomplices over
New review - Just re-read this. Still a great book that reveals even more on a second reading. In particular read with (before, after or during) Between the World and Me. Note while the first time I read this was a Netgalley ARC, my re-read was of my personal (brought) hardcover edition.

Older review:
Disclaimer: ARC read courtesy of Netgalley.

This book will undoubtedly be compared to David Simon’s Homicide. This is a good and a bad thing. A good thing because if the compari
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Leovy's thesis is powerful: We owe inner city African-Americans better crime solving - the victims of black on black violence (particularly murder) deserve to have perpetrators caught. In contrast to much received wisdom, Leovy - who was "embedded" with an LAPD homicide squad - makes a passionate (and often convincing) case that what black inner city neighborhoods need most from the police is more policing: for murderers to be caught, for victims not to be written off as somehow less than innoce ...more
Jan 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-crime, kindle
In Ghettoside, the author asserts that black on black murder among young men, is so rampant in areas like South LA because the justice system has failed the people in these communities by under-enforcing the law. This creates a lack of trust in police, contributes to vigilante style justice, and subsequently discourages witnesses from coming forward, etc.

Besides being a broad narrative that focuses on the police and murder investigations in marginalized black communities, Ghettoside also focuse
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fairly recently, I recall reading, “Another Day in the Death of America,” by Gary Younge, about the deaths of ten young men, and children, killed by guns during twenty four hours. Like the young men in this book, the majority of those victims, and those doing the killing, were black. ‘Black on black’ crime, as author Jill Leovy terms this murder epidemic, is something which is dangerously accepted by both those who live in the areas of such high crime rates, where guns, feuds, and gangs, prolife ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
So in the minority on this one. (Should note, I finally abandoned at about page 170 to pursue other reading material.)

Unfortunately, I did not like Leovy's style of story telling. She took way too long to get into the main story and much of the initial 100 pages is repetitive. I found the biographical chapters of the various detectives involved to be trite and overly scripted.

The underlying premise, that in various black communities, an ineffective policing leads to a vigilante styl
Many years in the making, this recounting of the deaths of young black men in the neighborhood of South Los Angeles has the intellectual and emotional impact of a rubber mallet struck hard against the head. It is sickening, anger-inducing, and confounding, like listening to the litany of femicides in Book Four of Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece, 2666 . Only the facts elicit this reaction, for Leovy’s writing is dispassionate, cool and clear, which is the only way we could get through this horrifying a ...more
Nancy Oakes
a much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version:

Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-American men have been "the nation's number one crime victims," only six percent of the population, but a staggering "40 percent of those murdered." Her book focuses on the area of Los Angeles formerly known as South Central; more specifically, she zooms in on the Watts area, and part of her thesis is that more often than not, "the idea that mu
Judith E
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A sad sociological study of the Watts neighborhood in southeastern Los Angeles in the early 21st century, and the disproportionate murder rate of black men (aka “The Monster”). The attitude that black men’s lives did not deserve the time and work it took to get justice was embraced by many law enforcement personnel and the public’s perception of the Watt’s neighborhood was simplistic and inaccurate.

Ms. Leovy chooses to focus on a few extremely dedicated, savvy, smart, and compassionate homicide
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a masterpiece. Informative, nuanced, compassionate, efficiently told, entertaining, heartbreaking. Every American should read this book.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is an interesting and informative book about a serious problem that goes ignored by most of American society: the extraordinary number of young black men who are murdered every year, most often by other young black men. (Despite the title – the book is set in Los Angeles – this isn’t just a big-city or inner-city problem; the same thing happens even in rural areas.) The author embedded in a “ghettoside” investigative division for several years, and the book focuses primarily on the murder o ...more
Julie Ehlers
The thesis of this book is simple: the reason areas like south Los Angeles have so much gang-related violence is that law enforcement doesn't place a high priority on solving the murders that do occur. The city therefore sends the message that murder in these areas will go unpunished and, by extension, that the lives of those murdered, be they gang members or others, don't matter. This lack of justice creates a vacuum that the residents then fill with their own form of justice.

Leovy resta
Darcia Helle
Sometimes I read a book full of alarming statistics, but it fails to move me. Then other times I read a book like this one, when the author weaves statistics and research into a story, when the writing is vivid and the details compelling, when I feel like I've learned something in a way that matters, and when that knowledge has, on some level, changed how I think.

Jill Leovy is a gifted writer. She puts words together in a way that paints a portrait of images and emotion. I didn't just read the
Leah Polcar
Strangely, I didn't love this book. It has all the elements present that should make a nice popular sociology read, but I found it rather tedious even though the central argument that over-policing actually causes violence was intriguing. Some factual information here was well-presented and used for novel, to me, sub-arguments -- I found the history of black on black violence interesting -- but I found overall this never seemed to really get off the ground. I think Leovy needed to decide whether ...more
Jan 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2015-reads
It wasn't until I began reading/listening to Richard Price's The Whites that I could begin to nail down why I wasn't more ecstatic about this book. I'm completely sympathetic to Leovy's arguments and and I agree with those who say it's an important discussion of the neglected tragedy/travesty of black-on-black crime. But I'm now wondering if it would've had a greater impact on me if it weren't written as narrative that focused on one family and a couple of detectives whom I didn't find terribly intere ...more
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Jill Leovy is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.
“This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. African Americans have suffered from just such a lack of effective criminal justice, and this, more than anything, is the reason for the nation’s long-standing plague of black homicides.” 12 likes
“Fundamentally gangs are a consequence of lawlessness, not a cause.” 8 likes
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