Monday, February 4, 2019

Book Review: Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson

A few years ago my youngest sister moved to Cleveland, which many people find a surprising move. It has a thriving foodie scene, a world-class art museum (where she works), and of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, since The Drew Carey Show, its only media hits tend to be about crime. So when I saw this book was about a wrongful murder conviction in Cleveland, and using that as an extrapolation point from which to look at the issues with the criminal justice and policing systems writ large, I jumped on it.

A sales rep who worked for a money order company was on his rounds of convenience stores, and had an unusually high amount of cash on him. Outside one store, he was jumped, had acid thrown on him, and was shot and killed. Three teens were convicted of the murder on the bases of a sole eyewitness, a small child. Dozens and dozens of other eyewitnesses were there, none of which described these three boys as being on the scene. The boys had alibis. And the kid also was demonstrably not in a position to have seen what happened. And yet, they were convicted.

Almost 40 years later, they were released. Kyle Swenson tells their story. And he tells the story of Cleveland. How a city that was once proudly fully integrated, which scoffed at Jim Crow laws and refused to uphold them, later became one of the most segregated cities in the Midwest, and how its once-vaunted infrastructure and government crumbled at the hands of corruption, mismanagement, and social ills. By the 1970s, African-Americans in the city were pushed into smaller and smaller neighborhoods, which were crumbling and not maintained, but overly policed. And three teens had a very, very bad day which wasn't rectified for decades.

If you are enjoying the current season of Serial, you must read this book. It truly goes hand-in-hand with Sarah Koenig's reporting and Cleveland really isn't a bad city--it's like dozens of other cities across the US. This could have happened anywhere. In fact, stories just like this have happened everywhere. Luckily, these three men were freed. Not all are. And the murderers were never caught.

This book is published by Picador, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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