“Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy – Swept Under the Rug

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (Book cover)
The South Central Los Angeles neighborhood has been depicted thoroughly in movies as well as literature... and yet, an overwhelming majority of us will never see the place with our own eyes or dive deep enough ourselves to gain an understanding of what's really happening there and why.

Thankfully, there are brave journalists who do these things for us, and Jill Leovy is one of them. Her many years spent observing South Central have led her to make some interesting conclusions and realize truths that she puts to the fore in her book Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America.

The book is written like a very factual story and provides a narration, which begins by focusing on one specific event, one that mirrored countless others: a black-on-black murder. More precisely, the drive-by murder of an 18-year old boy.

Considering the tragedy to be akin to so many others that basically get swept under the rug, no one believed there to be any hope... until detective John Skaggs was put on the case. Being determined to continue his work in the face of overwhelming odds, to serve and protect the people of South Central as best he could, Skaggs began his crusade, one which still goes on to this very day.

Though the book begins by focusing on this specific scenario, the real subject of it is much broader than that, attempting to paint for the reader a complete and understandable picture of the South Central culture.

We get to meet the people on all sides of the equation, and that includes the detectives and policemen who put their lives at risk every day, the victims of a seemingly-unstoppable crime wave, the junkies, prostitutes, gangsters... you name it.

Leovy delves deep into the whole culture which pervades throughout the neighbourhood. She shows how the police perceives things, what they go up against every day, as well as the rules, morals and values according to which people live in South Central. We get to see the kind of lawlessness which rules over there, a place where the criminal justice system has failed its mandate to uphold the law.

The author exposes the policing system as being far less preoccupied with finding answers to the murders of black people than keeping nuisance crimes to a minimum. Basically, Leovy clearly explains why it has become customary to settle things outside the confines of the law.

The psychology behind gang members and their families is also closely-examined; the teenagers who get swayed to join gangs either for protection or the glamour of guns, money, power and respect... and the families who weep for them, living under the constant threat of being beaten or even killed by those gangs.

In my opinion, one of the best parts about this book is Leovy doesn't preach to us in the slightest. Instead, she really focuses on explaining the situation in an impartial way, always using objective observations she made in the field or statistics obtained from reliable sources.

On top of bringing a heart-breaking narrative that will make you weep for the fates of countless people you'll never know, she makes a very strong case for the need to bring various major reforms to the justice system and the way the law is enforced on violent crimes.

She brings to the fore the internal and segregated culture of violence pervading through South Central, one where black-on-black crimes are swept under the rug.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (Book cover)
In the end, Ghettoside is an eye-opening and revealing look at black crime in America and the detectives who are desperately trying to fight against it, at the “Ghettoside” culture that is as much a place as a destiny for many people.

It gives an unprecedented look at the inner workings of South Central, and without a doubt many other cities across America... if anything, it's a loud wake-up call that things need to change if humans are to survive each other.

Favorite quote: "Fundamentally gangs are a consequence of lawlessness, not a cause"

Jill Leovy

Jill Leovy

Jill Leovy is an American reporter and crime correspondent for the Los Angeles Times since 2002 and has dedicated most of her career to covering the rampant homicides perpetrated in the south of the city. Recently she published her first book: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America.


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