Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside starts out with some pretty grim statistics. Black men are only six percent of the nation’s population but nearly 40% of those murdered. They make up 12% of Los Angeles County’s population but account for nearly half its homicide victims. A total of 186,807 people died from homicides in the United States between 1995 and 2005; of these victims, 89,991 were black, or 48%. She points out that “[t]he black homicide death rate remained as much as ten times higher than the white rate in 1960 and 1970, and has been five to seven times higher for most of the past thirty years.”
After review these statistics, and many others, she concludes that “for too long black men have lived inadequately protected by the laws of their own country.” She complains that “the speed and certainty of adequate punishment for the murderers of black men” remains a problem in our criminal justice system. She decried lawlessness in general in Watts, and other poor black areas of Los Angeles County. She argues that “gangs are a consequence of this lawlessness, not a cause.”
I picked up Ghettoside and began reading it because of this argument. I agree that we should reorient the discussion around race towards victims, and talk more about protecting black victims. Focusing on criminals, rather than victims, may make for better stories, but the big picture can’t be ignored. And the big picture is the misery created for victims, especially black victims.
I’ve heard mixed things about Ghettoside, but I’m willing to give it a try. After finishing the first section, I think Jill Leovy does an excellent job marshaling the statistics. I’m looking forward to the rest.