Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Jill Leovy. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $27 (351p) ISBN 978-0-385-52998-3
This absorbing first book from journalist Leovy traces the investigation and prosecution of a 2007 murder in South Los Angeles, registering along the way a powerful argument about race and our criminal justice system. Eighteen-year-old Bryant Tennelle was “just another black man down.” His shooting death inspired neither press attention nor vigorous police action—until, that is, his case was handed to Police Detective John Skaggs, the central figure in Leovy’s narrative. By following the relentless Skaggs, fleshing out all his quirks, and rendering the perpetrators, survivors, and witnesses of the murder vividly, Leovy spins a good yarn and illustrates how, by her lights, black-on-black homicide should be dealt with (but too seldom is). The state fails “to catch and punish even a bare majority of murderers” in urban black enclaves, and the result is “street justice”—informal legal systems, replete with their own laws and codes and punishments. Gang violence, in Leovy’s account, is thus not a cause of lawlessness; rather, it is “a whole system of interactions determined by the absence of law.” Like most ghettoside cases, the Tennelle case was eminently solvable—merely awaiting a determined investigator to whom the lives of black men were valuable, their murders something to be answered for. Readers may come for Leovy’s detective story; they will stay for her lucid social critique. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 09/15/2014
Release date: 01/27/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-385-52999-0
Compact Disc - 11 pages - 978-0-449-00971-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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