Friday, July 31, 2015

These Black Lives Also Matter


I just finished reading a book that has affected me greatly. Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy, a crime reporter at the LA Times, is the story of the murder of an 18 year old boy in Southeast Los Angeles, and the heroic and successful efforts of one detective to bring the killers to justice. The story, which reads like a thriller even though the end is known, serves as the backdrop for Leony's thesis that the ongoing violence in poor segregated neighborhoods is the direct result of the  State's failure to control that violence through effective policing. In between riveting vignettes of the crime and the subsequent investigation, she recounts the long and dismal history of black-on-black murder and the larger indifference of white society, a reality that extends as far back as the end of Reconstruction. It is that indifference, combined with policing tactics that focus on petty crimes and rely on harassment as a means of crime prevention, that have produced an "underground law" of that honors block-to-block tribalism and promotes reprisal in a society that that more closely resembles a medieval revenge culture than an post enlightenment society.

The statistics alone are appalling; African American men between the ages of 18-30 are murdered at a rate 15 times greater than whites; even now, with the marked decline in murder rates, more than half of the killings in LA occurred in just 2 precincts in South Los Angeles. At the height of the murder epidemic in the early 90s, less than 40% of killings were solved.

But what is far more affecting than statistics are the heart rending accounts of the effect upon the survivors; the loved ones whose lives decay in a waking death full of grief. Several passages left me heaving in agony. Violence is a scourge upon these communities, a soul breaking, life destroying plague no less destructive than cholera or a tidal wave.

Some elements of Leovy's thesis withstand scrutiny with difficulty. Her analysis most critically does not explain the marked drop in violent crime in the absence of any real improvement in the efficacy of crime solving. She also gives little examination or counter weight to the widely held belief that crime prevention tactics, such as gang units, are an effective deterrent. Still,her account convinced me that along with effective reductions in teen pregnancy, effective control of violence is a key element in improving the lives of the poor. These black lives also matter.



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