top of page

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Jill Leovy

Top 10 Best Quotes

“This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. African Americans have suffered from just such a lack of effective criminal justice, and this, more than anything, is the reason for the nation’s long-standing plague of black homicides.”

“Fundamentally gangs are a consequence of lawlessness, not a cause.”

“The system’s failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap.”

“This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic.”

“It might not seem self-evident that impunity for white violence against blacks would engender black-on-black murder. But when people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other. Lawless settings are terrifying; if people can do whatever they want to each other, there are always enough bullies to make it ugly. Americans are nostalgic for the village setting and hold dear the notion of community, so the idea that the oppressed do not band together in solidarity is counter to our myths. But community spawns communal justice; the village gives rise to the feud.”

“White people “had the law,” to quote a curious phrase that crops up in historic sources. Black people didn’t. Formal law impinged on them only for purposes of control, not protection. Small crimes were crushed, big ones indulged—so long as the victims were black.”

“If every murder and every serious assault against a black man on the streets were investigated with Skaggs’s ceaseless vigor and determination—investigated as if one’s own child were the victim, or as if we, as a society, could not bear to lose these people—conditions would have been different.”

“There was, of course, a whole complex range of people in the ghettoside world. Some men liked hurting people. Some didn't. Some men started out not liking it but became brutalized and sadistic. Maybe the mix would differ in other groups of Americans. Maybe some other racial or ethnic cohort would contain a higher ratio of regular guys, or a lower ratio of men susceptible to becoming violent. Maybe the gnawing fear of getting murdered-- estimated as high as one in thirty-five by a Justice Department report in the 1990s-- would influence another group of men differently. But this was hairsplitting. Take a bunch of teenage boys from the whitest, safest suburb in America and plunk them down in a place where their friends are murdered and they are constantly attacked and threatened. Signal that no one cares, and fail to solve murders. Limit their options for escape. Then see what happens.”

“In Jim Crow Mississippi, killers of black people were convicted at a rate that was only a little lower than the rate that prevailed half a century later in L.A.—30 percent then versus about 36 percent in Los Angeles County in the early 1990s.”

“He said it simply, as if it were obvious. Axiomatic, even. And it was. A black assailant looking to kill a gang rival is looking, before anything else, for another black male. This was the fundamental fact of Bryant Tennelle’s death. Other elements may have contributed—the neighborhood in which he lived, the company he chose to keep, the hat he was wearing that evening. But for all that—and for all the rhetoric about bad choices, senseless acts, at-risk behavior, and so forth—what killed Bryant was the one fact about himself that he could not change: he was black.”

Except where otherwise noted, all rights reserved to the author(s) of this book (mentioned above). The content of this page serves as promotional material only. If you enjoyed these quotes, you can support the author(s) by acquiring the full book from Amazon.

Book Keywords:

racism-in-america, community, justice

bottom of page