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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important alternative to the David Simon presentations of Bmore, August 25, 2011
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This review is from: Why Do We Kill?: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore (Paperback)
Reportage of Baltimore's crime, criminals, and underclass has been dominated by David Simon (`Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets', `The Corner', `The Wire'), who as a Jewish, urban, white, liberal may not be considered overly representative of the black population that constitutes the majority in the city.

In this slim book, Kelvin Sewell, a black resident who joined the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) in 1987 and spent 22 years in various assignments, provides a genuine `insiders' look at murder and mayhem on the streets of Charm City.

The first half of the book provides concise descriptions, or `case files', of 11 of the more noteworthy cases Sewell handled as an investigator in the Homicide Unit.

The second half is a quick overview of Sewell's career in the BCPD, focusing less on specific cases and more on the nature of police work, and a blunt appraisal of the role of race, politics, and bureaucracy on the operations of the BCPD.

The title's use of the pronoun `We', as opposed to the more typical `They', reflects Sewell's attitude that as a black man and a resident of the city, he saw its perps, and its victims, with a mindset different from that of many white officers and observers. It is this philosophy that gives Sewell's memoir a tenor and perspective that Simon's work is necessarily less apt to provide.

The case files in the first half of `Why Do We Kill ?' review genuinely cold-blooded acts of mayhem taking place from 2008 - 2010. With the exception of one case involving Paul Pardus, a white man who murdered his mother, shot a Hopkins hospital physician, and then killed himself, the case files describe acts of violence committed by low-income blacks upon other blacks of the low-income and working classes.

I finished the book with the feeling that Sewell, despite his years of experience, remains unsure, and even frustrated, as to how best to answer the question inherent in his book's title.

He does invoke the traditional root causes put forth by generations of liberal scholars and social analysts, i.e., poverty, racism, and neglect drive Baltimore's crime.

At the same time, however, it's clear that many of the murderers he has put behind bars are members of a unique and emerging breed of sociopath (if that's the right word), a breed whose actions have little, if anything, to do with the standard-issue explanations for violence in the underclass.

These New Sociopaths are genuinely surprised that their actions are considered evil; snuffing out the life of another member of society is seen as simply a more complicated, but no more immoral, iteration of stepping on a roach.

Indeed, 14 year-old Devon Richardson shot an elderly woman to death with a .22 shotgun because a friend dared him to do so. Richardson was not angry or enraged about being poor; a victim of racism; or a young black male and thus an `endangered species'.

He simply thought it would be entertaining to aim and shoot his rifle at a woman he had never met, who just happened to be crossing the entrance of the alley in which he had been plinking malt liquor bottles.

`Why Do We Kill ?' is an interesting read, although it does not fit comfortably into particular ideological camp, a factor that may lead white liberals, and some black activists, to discount its contents. It is a book that should be part of a the curriculum in criminal justice, public policy, and sociology courses in colleges and universities.
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