The holidays are good time to give the gift of books. Here is what some of the people in the business of crime fighting are reading:
Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., United States Attorney, Eastern District of Louisiana
1. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, by Gary Krist
2. The Gardens of Democracy, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
3. The Second Amendment: A Biography, by Michael Waldman
4. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, by Joseph Ellis
Mr. Polite travels extensively as a U.S. Attorney General-appointee to a panel representing the nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys, a spokesperson says. He couldn’t be reached for elaboration on his choices of leisure reading.
Of the four books recommended above, Empire of Sin offers the most provocative title. It is an oft-mentioned choice of other criminal justice professionals. Criminologist Heidi Unter Ph.D., last year in this space recommended Empire of Sin to our readers as “a fascinating and dramatic history of the Storyville Era.”
Krist’s book isn’t just another colorful history of the city’s notorious red-light district and its jazz artists, according to Walter Isaacson, a native New Orleanian and author who reviewed Empire of Sin for The New York Times (Nov. 6, 2014):
“Krist’s underlying theme is the uncomfortable relationship of civic reform to class prejudice. Leaders of the Uptown business establishment and social elite were opposed to the tolerance that defined Storyville. But Krist shows that their intolerance went deeper. They were repelled by racial intermingling, and some were involved in notorious lynchings of both blacks and Italians. An integral part of their moralistic crusade was support for Jim Crow laws that attempted to re-segregate the city and reverse a public tolerance of blacks, Italians and jazz.
The book’s most important lesson, Isaacson says: “Rooting out sin may be worthy, but beware the unsavory motives that can lurk in the hearts of moral crusaders.”
Tania C. Tetlow, Tulane University law school professor and former federal prosecutor
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross
“It is a page-turning crime story that takes place in Reconstruction New Orleans, when the New Orleans Police Department and juries were both integrated and there was real hope of racial progress. It is fascinating and spellbinding.”
Peter Scharf, criminologist, LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health
1. Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, by John Pope
2. Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the “Jeff Davis 8,” by Ethan Brown
“I love Pope’s book. All the notables of New Orleans are here, from [reputed Mafia boss] Carlos Marcello to Dr. Alton Ochsner. I just hope when I die, Pope puts me in the
“He gives little details of life like Eudora Welty. New Orleans radiates throughout the book and it’s written totally without judgment. There’s no false praise. He lets the person’s life tell the story.
“It’s very multi-racial, multi-political – a total ménage. People who haven’t been to New Orleans will like it – but only if they like people.”
And Ethan Brown’s nonfiction narrative centers on eight sex workers found murdered between 2005 and ’09 in Jennings, a small town in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana.
Murder in the Bayou “shows the banality of sleaze” in rural Louisiana, Scharf says. “It’s more about the culture of compromise in a small town” where “sex knows no boundaries” – not race and not class.
“The theme of the book crosses into political control. It took tremendous courage for the author to go into Jennings. I’m amazed he came out in one piece.”
Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy
I haven’t read this book yet, but it has a lot of buzz among people in local criminal justice circles who aren’t too burned out to read about cops and crime in their leisure hours.
Reported before police brutality became a national issue in 2014, Los Angeles Police Homicide Detective John Skaggs manages to win the trust of minorities in the tough Watts section “despite his white skin,” Jennifer Gonnerman writes in a book review in The New York Times (Jan. 21, 2015)
The focus of Ghettoside isn’t police misconduct, but the fact that so many people who commit murder in minority communities nationwide are never punished.
According to Ghettoside, it isn’t a street code against snitching that’s the primary reason so many killers roam free but a “very real fear” that witnesses who testify in court will be injured or killed in retaliation.
Leovy, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, faults top cops at the LAPD and the nation’s criminal justice system for failing to make the murders of black males a higher priority. African-American males are “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered,” Leovy says.
When “a highly respected African-American detective” of the LAPD must tell his wife and family at the hospital that their 18-year-old son has been murdered, the Times reviewer writes, “I actually felt physically sick.”
The “true scope of our nation’s homicide problem – the extraordinary pain and trauma and despair” that follows murder is indeed sickening. “Homicide remains the leading cause of death among black males, ages 15 to 34 – and solving these crimes should be a top priority for any police force.”
Ghettoside is a crucial 366-page reminder that “black lives matter” and the failure of society to prosecute their killers makes black lives “cheap,” Gonnerman writes
U.S. Attorney Polite’s review of Ghettoside might prove insightful to New Orleanians.
Polite, a federal prosecutor who was born in New Orleans to teenaged parents in 1976 is the son of an NOPD officer, and he lost a brother to violence.
On Aug. 8, 1977, his father, Kenneth Polite Sr., joined the NOPD as a patrolman; there were fewer than 100 blacks on a majority-white police force often accused of police brutality.
In Nov. 1977, Ernest “Dutch” Morial was elected as the city’s first African-American mayor, (a seat later won by son Marc Morial). On May 1, ’78, Dutch Morial took the oath office, replacing term-limited Mayor Moon Landrieu (the father of current Mayor Mitch Landrieu).
Violent crime soared with the advent of crack cocaine in the late 1980s. New Orleans has been among the nation’s leaders in homicides per capita most years since then.
A graduate of Harvard with a law degree from Georgetown University, Polite is among a new generation of criminal justice professionals tackling old problems: drugs, crime and police-community relations.
Nominated by President Barack Obama, Polite replaced fellow De La Salle High School graduate Jim Letten as local U.S Attorney in 2013.
Polite will need public support in the New Year. A good book now and again might help, too.