Jill Leovy’s New Book Weighs in on “Impunity for the Murder of Black Men” in LA


January 29, 2015

ghettoside2The murders of young black men have been at the forefront of the American consciousness for the better part of a year now. Most of the national discourse has centered around racial profiling, the need for police accountability, and the injustices that arise from the conjunction of these factors, but a new (and timely) book written by Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy focuses on murders of black men in L.A. and why they often go unpunished.

Leovy’s book, “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America,” explores what she refers to as “impunity for the murder of black men.”
According to NPR, Leovy began a blog in 2007 titled “The Homicide Report,” for the purpose of documenting all of the murders in Los Angeles County, because many homicides went unreported by the media. Her book follows the story of the homicide of one young black man, Bryant Tennelle. The son of a well-respected African-American homicide detective for the LAPD, Tennelle was shot in the head in 2007 in what seemed to be a gang-related crime.

The second highest cause of lawsuits in America is criminal cases, which account for 20.6 million of them; however, many of the murders of black men in L.A. never reach that point.

In an essay adapted from the book and published by the Wall Street Journal, Leovy writes that the root of the problem is the underpolicing of violent crimes and the overpolicing of non-violent crimes. It’s easier, she writes, to increase foot patrols in certain areas and stop people randomly than it is to investigate a major crime and track down those responsible.

One of the effects of this method of law enforcement is that though murder rates among African-Americans have decreased, they are still much higher than any other group. While rates of homicides rise and their investigations are inconclusive, many more non-violent crime convictions rise.

An effect of this is a distrust of the police and the public perception that the police want control rather than justice. According to Leovy, this is not the case — many police officers would rather pursue serious offenders.
“I see the problem as lying outside police departments far more than inside police departments. It’s easy to blame the police,” Leovy told NPR. “But we have the police we deserve; we have the police we’ve asked to have. There is tremendous emphasis on prevention [which] translates to a system that falls short on catching killers [and] prosecuting them for the most serious crimes.”