Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Leovy looks at the thinly veiled racist origins of violence in South Central LA.
In her debut, the author journeys where most fear to tread: the perennially mean streets of South Central LA, where she uses the senseless murder of a policeman’s progeny as a jumping-off point to investigate broader issues of why, even as violent crime as a whole in America continues to drop, that urban area sees so many of its people dying by tragically violent means. Leovy’s big-picture thesis is that whether you’re talking about the “rough justice” of vigilante revenge killings in Ghana, Northern Ireland or South Central LA, the one underlying cause is the same: a vacuum left by a legal system that fails to serve everyone equally. Leovy posits that the gang violence in LA is the result of the local police simply not doing their jobs. On a microcosmic level, the author follows the lives of two LAPD officers, John Skaggs and Wally Tennelle, the former investigating the murder of the latter’s son. Tennelle’s decision to buck the trend among LA cops and live within the city limits furthered his career as a police officer but had deadly consequences for his son. Intertwined with Leovy’s swiftly paced true-crime narrative involving Skaggs’ methodical tracking down of Tennelle’s killer is some probing sociological research into how blacks in LA got the short end of the socioeconomic straw: Hispanics may have been treated unfairly in the jobs they worked, but as Leovy points out, African-Americans were, even as far back as the 1920s, often excluded from even the lowest-skilled jobs in the city. Unfortunately, however deftly the author interweaves the more personal angle of officers Skaggs and Tennelle with broader sociological “root cause” investigations, there is little to suggest that real change will arrive soon in South Central LA.
A sobering and informative look at the realities of criminality in the inner city.