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Anthropologist Jorja Leap on LA Gangs
Book Review
© 2012 James LaFond
Jumped In
What Gangs taught me about Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption
Beacon Press, 2012, Boston, MA, 217 pages
5-stars if you are an educated upper-middleclass woman
4-stars if you are any other kind of woman
3-stars if you are a Harm City reader
2-stars if you are a conservative man
1-star if you are a police officer
As gangs represent an urban return to primitive tribalism, no one is more qualified to take an objective look at them than an anthropologist. Rather than make this a clinical study, the author dipped into the non-fiction genre pioneered by Marc MacYoung. Part memoir, part investigative social commentary, Jumped In takes an emotive feminine look at the urban gang issue from a liberal suburban viewpoint.
If you have watched more than a couple episodes of Gang Land on the History Channel you won’t learn anything about gangs or gang lifestyle here. There were some pertinent—but as the author points out, ever-changing—numbers. What I found most fascinating about this book was the insight into law enforcement.
As a memoir the book works best in Chapter 1, and then goes hot and cold, but fascinatingly so; as the author, who built relationships within law enforcement and the gang culture, swings from her love-and-loathing symbiosis with law enforcement and her fear-and-lust spiced exploration of gang culture. It is the interplay of these two antagonistic dualities that makes this work tick.
Gang members will sneer at Jumped In as not hard enough. Law enforcement will resent it. The fact that I failed to really get into this book was due to the fact that I am jaded, and was not able to learn a lot from it. I think it is a perfect introductory to urban gang life and urban law enforcement for the educated woman. That is the clear and vulnerable perspective from which Jorja Leap tackled the subject in this book. Even the structure of the book is reminiscent of late 1980s Paladin Press titles. How she slid it by a religious publishing house must be a tale in itself.
Let me warn you though, if you are a conservative man or law officer, this book will make you angry; even angrier than you are with me for taping into your regressive planet’s oxygen supply.
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