Saturday, July 18, 2015

"GHETTOSIDE, a true story of murder in America"

This book, written by Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy, is an exceptional portrait  a of phenomenon that is bigger and worse than had been previously recognized here.  That is the mostly black on black murder epidemic in urban centers, mid-sized cities, and much of the South.

To paraphrase and then quote from the beginning pages of the book, black men were the nation's number one crime victims.  "They were the people hurt most badly and most often, just 6% of the country's population but nearly 40% of those murdered.  People talked a lot about crime in America, but they tended to gloss over this aspect---that a plurality of those killed were not women, children, infants, elders, nor victims of workplace or school shootings. Rather, they were legions of America's black men, many of them unemployed and criminally involved.  They were murdered every day, in every city, their bodies stacking up by thousands, year after year."

Leovy's book focuses on South Central L.A., and she is allowed to embed herself in police department homicide divisions in that area to report on what was happening periodically and over several years at time.  What she details is a long term problem of diminished law enforcement in certain minority areas and much more importantly lax follow up on crimes, a plethora of unsolved cases that left communities open to self-enforcement by gangs.

She follows a few experienced, dedicated, and successful homicide detectives, studies their cases, and holds them up as examples of the kind of policing that is needed but that is far from the norm.  She looks back at how the beginning of this type of experience began in the Jim Crow South in the 19th century and then the attitudes there moved to the urban centers of the country.  Black on black crimes that were not deemed as newsworthy received limited police attention in many parts of the country.

The gang phenomenon in this country became more real to me when traveling back and forth to my hometown in southern Virginia many times as my parents aged.  Here in the New York area it would be referred to as a small town but, in that area, with a population of 42,000 and more in adjoining areas, it was still a city.  It is not an especially prosperous city, but it is far bigger than anything nearby.  What I learned at that time from a knowledgeable friend was that there were more than 20 identified gangs in the city, having turf wars, controlling the local drug trade, and being a transfer point to other smaller towns and villages in the region.  My hometown had become a regional shopping mecca in more ways just that WalMart, Home Depot, and many other recognizable national brands.  When reading in Leovy's book about one of the prime murder suspects in the book traveling to North Carolina and staying for a few weeks for unspecified reasons, it reinforced the idea, believed by many in my hometown, that some local gangs had relationships with larger urban gangs, even those from L.A.

My father's assisted living facility, a former college with huge columns in front, where he lived from 2006 to 2009, is a well known part of the city at a crossroads where Main Street divides into West Main Street and South Main Street in front of a beautiful high steepled church built in the late 19th century.  One late night when I was staying there, a full scale shoot out occurred in front of the building.  Police arrived after the shots had stopped ringing out and there was no information the next day as to what happened.  I was told that Main Street at that precise point was a boundary between two gang territories.  The assisted living center had excellent security.

"GHETTOSIDE" brought out that aside from a viewed minor experience here, but it could have led to comments about a fortunately minor but scary traffic accident in South Central when driving back at night from calls on investor clients in L.A., about what were luckily more humorous than alarming experiences in Louisville's West End in the 1970's, or walking or staying in some fringe parts of Manhattan in the 70's and early 80's.  This book is important and can be related to tangentially by many people one could guess.  I would.

The black on black murders and the gang dominance in some areas are problems that still need more recognition and action, and while in L.A. there is some progress now,  it is a problem that is far from being solved there or elsewhere in this country.



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