Sunday, March 20, 2016

Into the madding crowd



I believe it was in the early 2000s that LA Times journalist Jill Leovy first started reporting on the murders taking place in South Central LA.

Not from the aggregate, the usual statistical perspective that keeps murder and violence at arm's length (unless your arm can't escape the thick of things), but she took on the murders, one individual victim at a time. She wrote about his background, his life -- because it usually was a man, though sometimes, of course, a woman or a child. Who killed him and how, and the possible reasons why. Then the response from police to EMT to coroner. Notification of next of kin, the effect on the next of kin and friends, the funeral, the grieving, the aftermath and possible retaliation.

Gut-wrenching is a term that gets tossed about a lot, but maybe that's just because so many things in life do that to the gut. Her stories certainly fit the bill. 

When I still worked at The Times, a small group of us met with Leovy, and we asked some rather typical questions, you know, how did you research each story, gather information, meet with the families, that type of thing. And then one guy asked, "Writing these stories, week after week, does it take it's toll on you, personally?"

And she rubbed her arms nervously, up and down and up and down, and finally said, "Oh, I'm a wreck."

This Sunday's LA Times has Leovy's review of a book about the history of murder in LA from 1840-1870. Before it was a city at all. And like today in LA and the world over, sometimes violence is gang against gang, tribe against tribe, ideology against ideology, and sometimes it's got nothing to do with any of that at all. 

Apparently, the book also delves into the various concepts of justice. Something of immediate fascination since the internet has already proved to be the most successful instrument of mob justice mankind has ever known.

The book is titled "Eternity Street." Even if you don't read the book, read her piece. It's something more than the parts of its sum -- better than a book review; more than a discussion of LA's history, more than just really, really fine writing. 

http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-frontier-los-angeles-20160320-story.html

14 comments:

  1. "Oh, I'm a wreck." Yet killing fascinates her, as it does all of us. It always has.

    Will we ever evolve? Or is this the animal we are destined to be?

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    1. with what's been happening in the news (i.e. dog found @ Mother's Beach) it seems some have evolved to be ..

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    2. As Leovy puts it: "...the question is not why do people commit murder -- That is a little like asking why people lust, hate and covet — and why they seek to prevail.

      "Because they do. Because they can."

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  2. The city I live in use to be rated as 'one of the safest in California'... we've had a few shootings- one from the neighborhood we moved to (1986)... skateboard deaths seems to be the norm here.. Regardless of how the deaths occur- its still a death..

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  3. "Rubbed her arms nervously up and down" . . . what a picture of torment.

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  4. Very thoughtful, well-written article. Think I have to read the book. Thanks.

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    1. Library has it, but I'm next in line (I think).

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  5. I read her review; it's reminiscent of those in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. I have about a million books I want to read, thanks to those reviews, and now this one joins the queue. Your review of Jill's credentials was entertaining, and her book review was riveting.

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  7. Slightly off topic, but this is so well put: "The internet has already proved to be the most successful instrument of mob justice mankind has ever known." Yes, it sure is. People we know have recently been subjected to Facebook and Twitter outrage and lost their jobs without being able to defend themselves in a trial.

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  8. I enjoyed your review of the review and learned some things from Levoy's review of the book. When I am in conversation with people and the topic turns to the dangerous times we live in, I remind them of more dangerous times we have survived. Thank goodness I've never had to go as far back as the mid 1800's.

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  9. Ain't that the truth, Sharon? I think that period of time, and most periods of history, were only romantic if you were very very rich.

    Bellis, there's an excellent book by Jon Ronson about that very thing, "So You've Been Publically Shamed," (terrible title). Should be required reading for anyone with an internet connection.

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  10. To me, it's much more about "where" these things happen, rather than "why." Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that we know the answer to those two questions.
    I'm now going to follow the link! Another great post...

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