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Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  392 ratings  ·  67 reviews
From award-winning investigative journalist Kyle Swenson, Good Kids, Bad City is the true story of the longest wrongful imprisonment in the United States to end in exoneration, and a critical social and political history of Cleveland, the city that convicted them.

In the early 1970s, three African-American men--Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu, and Rickey Jackson--were accused
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Picador USA
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Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
A few years ago my youngest sister moved to Cleveland, which many people find a surprising move. It has a thriving foodie scene, a world-class art museum (where she works), and of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, since The Drew Carey Show, its only media hits tend to be about crime. So when I saw this book was about a wrongful murder conviction in Cleveland, and using that as an extrapolation point from which to look at the issues with the criminal justice and policing systems wr ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This story is wonderfully written and shares a great deal of information to the reader. You have enough evidence to make your case and have your own opinion. My opinion is innocent. In 1970’s 3 black men were accused of robbing and killing a man outside of a convenience store in Cleveland Ohio. They were all three charged and sentenced to a total of 106 yrs for all three together. They were convicted based on eye witness testimony from a young man who later recanted his testimony. At that time t ...more
Tonstant Weader
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ricky Jackson and Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman were good kids. Cleveland, Ohio, was a bad city, rife with crime and corruption, where racism was manifested in hypersegregation that resulted in a regional government that served and protected the white suburbs and hollowed out and devastated black urban neighborhoods. When a money order salesman was robbed and murdered, these three young men were nowhere near the crime, but that didn’t matter thanks to a twelve-year-old boy’s desire to be helpful an ...more
Patty Shlonsky
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
“...the American justice system repeatedly fails to fully analyze its own mistakes and abuses. In wrongful convictions, lawsuits and cash settlements have become common, but the system itself has little inclination to push deeper with detailed inquisition into how it could break down so catastrophically.”

“Good Kids, Bad City” is the story of the wrongful conviction, and ultimate exoneration of Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu (formerly Ronnie Bridgeman) and Rickey Jackson. The three were convicted o
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Okay full disclosure here--this book is about something that happened in Cleveland, Ohio a few months before I was born. I have been a life-long resident of Northeast Ohio except for the six years I spent in Northwest Ohio (as a student at Bowling Green State University) and I have been a resident of the city of Cleveland proper for over twelve years. I am proud to be from the area and to be a Clevelander, and this book kind of shits on Cleveland. However, it does so for good reason, as the stor ...more
Karen Nelson
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good Kids, Bad City is another in an unfortunate series of books that address race and incarceration in this racially divided United States. This is an extremely well researched book that addresses the history of racial uprisings based ,this time, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ricky Jackson and Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman were good kids. Cleveland, Ohio, a bad city, known for it’s corruption and crime. Cleveland’s racism was in part caused by extreme segregation, resulting in more racism and a government t
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lively writing and of particular interest to those of us from NE Ohio. I hadn't heard of this story at all. ...more
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Life can taken from you at any time. One moment you’re a fifteen year old boy in Cleveland, Ohio who’s never been in any trouble, playing with your friends on just another day in 1975 when suddenly you’re being whisked through the criminal justice system before you knew what hit you. That’s the story of this book and of teenagers Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman and their friend Rickey Jackson.
On a May afternoon in 1975 a man is shot and robbed in front of a convenience store. A twelve year old boy
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I haven't loved a book at this level in a long time. I can recommend this one to anyone, without reservations--it ought to be required reading. It does an exceptional job of setting a wrongful conviction in a city's racial, economic, and historical context. On top of this, it is a profound insight into wrongful convictions. As a white woman, I have taken for granted that I will not be accused of a crime I didn't commit, and if I were that I would surely not be convicted of it. It is mind bending ...more
Darrin Bronson
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Overall I would likely give this book three stars due to the slightly slow pace and the magnifying glass it uses to review frivolous details that hold no bearing on the story and provide little use to the reader. However, the author includes a nugget of wisdom that I feel earns a star all on its own. To paraphrase - racism isn't always manifest in the things we say or do, though it certainly might be. Sometimes racism is manifested as a complete inability to empathize. Groups of people don't hav ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
"There is responsibility in our perspectives. We're accountable for what we see in the world, and more importantly, we're responsible for what we don't see."

"There's every reason to believe the number of innocent men and women sitting in American prisons is far larger than we suspect. This has everything to do not only with how our legal system has developed over the last sixty years, but how American culture itself has shifted-changes legible in Cleveland's own story."

"The American criminal jus
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I approached this book with trepidation. Umm, Bad City. Not sure I want to go there. Prologue, though, with its intriguing figures of speech, led me on. Book is about the longest wrongful convictions in history, about an author-reporter (Swenson) who's dogged (and loving) probing helped bring about justice (indeed, without his intensive concern, three wronged men might still be languishing in prison -- even beyond the nearly four decades two of them served). As the story unfolds, Swenson offers ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of three African American men who were wrongly convicted of murder based on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy from their neighborhood, despite testimony to the contrary and lack of physical evidence pointing to their guilt. Sentenced to death but ultimately moved off death row after Ohio's death penalty was declared unconstitutional, they spent decades behind bars before one was released, and then moved heaven and earth to gain his brother's and childhood friend's release as w ...more
S. Rose
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book does a good job of not only telling the story of a trio of egregious wrongful convictions but also the more urgent one of explaining what's wrong with Cleveland and how it got to be that way. This is a city in which more than half the children live below the poverty line and in Swenson's telling the police force and overall justice system, while they don't get the attention of some others, are as bad as they get. What happened to these young men is doubtless happening to others right n ...more
Melody Riggs
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Our justice system can be pretty messed up at times. There is pressure to deliver a perpetrator. Pressure of self preservation. Pressure to do what we think is right. But sometimes we get it wrong. In 1970s Cleveland, the justice system got it wrong when three men were convicted of a murder based on the eyewitness testimony of one boy. Well-researches and reported, this isn’t just a story of those three men. It’s also a story of our justice system at large, a story about race, and a story of red ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good narrative nonfiction about the longest wrongful conviction in America. Set in Cleveland, the author explains the neighborhoods and government that sets up this tragedy. Well written and interesting.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Anyone that’s originally from or currently living in Cleveland should read this book.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of Cleveland’s racial issues as well as social injustice. If you like « When They See Us » by Ava Devaney, you can continue the infuriating history of injustice for black and brown people.
Brian White
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was excellent. The author does a great job telling two stories - one about the tragic wrongful convictions and one about the history of policing in Cleveland. Hard to believe stuff like this can happen and it’s certainly topical given all the recent focus on police brutality and corruption
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. I had the privilege of meeting the author at a local bookstore event. This is a story every American (particularly white Americans) should read and consider as it provides a sad and scary look into pieces of our justice system that are broken. I loved the author’s approach in not only outlining the details of these wrongful convictions but also juxtaposing issues of race and the history of his own hometown, Cleveland. Insightful and enraging-this book reminds us that we have a long wa ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you’re from Cleveland, like many places, you love your city with ferocity yet are extremely critical of it. This dive into 1970s-1980s culture and politics of Cleveland allow someone who grew up at the time in this town to understand what we didn’t then. Most importantly it shows, devastatingly clearly, how we got here.
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Superb reporting. Looking forward to more from Kyle Swenson. A must read for 2019.
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stunning. I kept having to stop because I was so angry. It's absolutely worth reading for anyone with compassion and a heart for justice. ...more
Hana Correa
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Good kids, bad city is a beautifully written look into the murder convictions of three young black men. Sentenced to death in 1975 for the murder of a local, white store owner, Ricky Jackson, Ronnie Bridgeman, and Wiley Bridgeman were thrown away, products of a justice system that was not capable of judging minority defendants fairly. Good kids, bad city examines the case itself as well as the city of Cleveland and the factors that played into the convictions of the Bridgeman’s and Ricky Jackson ...more
Andrew Degruccio
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exceptionally well written and well researched book. Quick and easy read.

Just another in a long line of non-fiction novels shedding light on the corruption and failures of our jurisprudence system. Read and digest. We must stand up and fix this mess.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
It’s truly unfathomable for me to think about the time these men spent falsely incarcerated—more than my current lifetime. I could only cry. And to think, these are just three out of an unknown, untold number who have yet to have their story told.
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about so much wrong with our justice system.
Jim Hiller
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This story is so much more than how the lives of three innocent men are shattered by a lie; it's about the systems in place in Cleveland (although is this different than any large city?) that support and perpetuate racism throughout the community. Well-researched, well-written, and compelling at every level. ...more
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and important book, equal parts history and analysis of the present. Well worth your reading time.
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have found the story of Ricky Jackson to be one of the most compelling stories I have ever heard, since I first learned about him, shortly after his release. I had the distinct honor of hearing him speak at John Carroll University, and his first hand account made an indelible impact on my heart and conscience. I have followed and supported the Innocence Project as a result.

This book tells the story of three black teens who were wrongfully convicted of the killing of a white salesman at a corne
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