Bitter Lawyer readers, myself included, are bitter for a reason. We’ve seen our profession degraded, our sense of justice and our devotion to the ideal of the Rule of Law ridiculed. But every now and then someone – usually an outsider to the profession – comes along and offers insight and hope: insight into a legal mystery and hope that the ideals we hold dear really can serve as the basis for change.
Enter journalist Jill Leovy. The legal mystery is the astonishing number of black male murder victims killed by other black males with seeming impunity and few consequences. The hope is that the tide can be turned by the application of the Rule of Law in communities where solving serious crimes hasn’t been a priority for decades and where the policing emphasis has been on preventing crime by cracking down on minor infractions, feeding young black men into the prison industrial complex for all the wrong reasons.
In Ghettoside, Leovy, a veteran Los Angeles Times reporter, takes a sobering look at the rule of law in one poor African-American community in California. It turns out, according to Leovy, that we have been doing policing all wrong. Forget preventative policing (i.e. the broken window approach). Instead, what’s desperately needed is reactive policing. That is, police need to solve serious crime – to reestablish the Rule of Law in the poor African-American communities that have long seen their males killed or maimed in staggering numbers when compared to other communities.
Leovy writes: “This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic.” And she proceeds to provide example after example of a relentless cycle of murder and revenge. At the heart of her argument is a paradox that is perplexing at first glance. African-Americans live with a criminal justice system that is at once “oppressive and inadequate,” that punishes black men for minor infractions with stiff sentences, yet fails to protect black men from murder and serious bodily harm. The result is that black men are far more likely to be murdered than any other group of Americans. The victimization is so common and the numbers so high. Leovy argues, that if black on black murders were excluded from the count, the United States murder rate would approach that of the rest of the Western World.
The heart of Ghettoside isn’t an intellectual argument, though. It is at the core a true-crime story of two homicide detectives — one white and one black — and the fight to bring to justice the killer who murdered the black detective’s son. It’s a riveting story and an important one for everyone involved in the justice system – for lawyers, judges, police officers, politicians and most importantly, for the communities devastated by what Leovy refers to as the “Plague.” Highly recommended reading.