I’ve been thinking it for a while, but this book compels me to go ahead and say it. Right now, I think there are more examples of strong non-fiction writing than fiction. The structure and pacing of Leovy’s work is remarkable. Her sense of detail is precise and her focus is impeccable. Unlike others I’ve encountered who move from newspaper or magazine-length pieces to books, she made the transition successfully. That the book is tightly written helps it land its powerful punch.
In my experience, some of the reaction to the recent and highly publicized violence between police and black Americans emerged in a couple of ways. One strand was that whites were being killed by police too. Another was that blacks were killing whites in equally brutal if less publicized ways. And still others said that black-on-black crime was of greater concern than anything involving the police.
The last is what Leovy takes on here. She says it is “a problem of human suffering caused by the absence of a state monopoly on violence” (307). Put more simply, for a variety of reasons (racial, economic, historical), the clearance rate (a statistic that is, itself, disputed) for homicides committed by blacks against blacks is very low, particularly in the part of Los Angeles Leovy studies here. (Why no maps?) People, victims of both de jure and de facto segregation, hemmed in by geography and the lack of economic opportunities, who do not receive adequate attention from the police seek to police themselves. And they do it badly. Black men die and we are all “less than we might have been”(309).
There are strong characters here (the word ‘character’ here is meant both ways), but as much as they help navigate the case that is the focus of the book, they also reveal the problems of relying on the individual to address this issue. No number of outstanding detectives working unlimited overtime can combat what is a systemic problem. People ho can’t rely on or fight those in power, look to their left and right instead; the violence becomes horizontal. And more black men die.