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

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

Kyle Swenson. Picador, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-12024-3

In his vivid, extensively researched debut, Washington Post reporter Swenson uncovers the story of the longest wrongful imprisonment in U.S. history to end in exoneration. Three young black men—Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu (then Ronnie Bridgeman), and Rickey Jackson—were convicted of the 1975 robbery and murder of a white salesman outside a Cleveland convenience store. Despite a glaring lack of physical evidence and a witness who testified they weren’t the perpetrators, the prosecution claimed they were based solely on the testimony of 12-year-old Edward Vernon. Thirty-nine years later, Vernon recanted his coerced testimony and the men were released. With empathy, Swenson follows the three convicted men from their adolescence in a close-knit Cleveland neighborhood through the ways they handled their time in prison and their freedom. His equally sympathetic portrait of Vernon chronicles decades of substance abuse and addiction caused, in part, by guilt. Arguing this travesty of justice was rooted in the city’s “larger failure,” Swenson highlights the high crime rate, decaying infrastructure, race riots, and unchecked police corruption that plagued Cleveland during the 1960s and ’70s, in addition to exploring the broader failures of the “war on crime” and the “war on drugs.” Cinematically written, this powerful tragedy of racial injustice and urban dysfunction will make readers question the idea that America can promise “justice for all.” [em]Agent: David Patterson, Stuart Krichevsky Agency. (Feb.) [/em]