GUY RAZ, host:
This weekend, as I just mentioned, we're broadcasting from our studios at NPR West. And here in the L.A. area, county officials recorded 740 homicides last year. That's an average of 14 violent deaths every week. And with few exceptions, most victims simply become statistics - numbers.
But in 2007, the Los Angeles Times set out to dig beneath those numbers and tell the story of each and every person on a blog called The Homicide Report.
Ms. SARAH ARDALANI (Correspondent, Los Angeles Times): Hi, detective. This is Sarah Ardalani from Los Angeles Times. I'm calling to inquire about one of your homicide cases from last week.
RAZ: Each week, Sarah Ardalani checks in with several city and county agencies - the LAPD, the county coroner, whoever can tell the stories of who died and why.
Ms. ARDALANI: Brandon Garrido, a 16-year-old Latino, died Monday, May 10th, on the 3200 block of East 1st Street in Boyle Heights. Marques McNeil, a 28-year-old black man, was shot and killed Sunday, May 9th, on the corner of 78th Street and Avalon Boulevard in Florence. Jorge Barajas...
RAZ: The names go on and on and on. Many of them attached to a photograph on the blog site.
Ms. MEGAN GARVEY (Editor, The Homicide Report, Los Angeles Times): We get everyone reported as a homicide by the Los Angeles County Coroner.
RAZ: That's Megan Garvey. She has been running The Homicide Report for more than a year.
Ms. GARVEY: If you're in a smaller place, you know, there's a local paper and a homicide is big news. In L.A., it isn't always big news. I mean, there are people who, if it wasn't for The Homicide Report, probably would never be acknowledged in print, whether that's online or in a newspaper. When Jill created this blog, I think that that's part of what people really responded to.
RAZ: The Jill she just mentioned is Jill Leovy. Up until recently, she was the paper's chief crime reporter. And Jill Leovy noticed the huge disparity in the way murders were covered by the news media. The sensational stories, mostly the outliers and anomalies, got the most attention. But the majority of homicides were largely ignored.
Ms. JILL LEOVY (Senior Reporter, Los Angeles Times): The first year I was in the Watts homicide unit, that unit had 60 murders that year. And I was shadowing the detectives, and we were running on murders every other day. And every morning, they had CNN or something on, and it would have the latest installment of the Laci Peterson murder. And the detectives in that unit were fascinated with it. Every day, we would have a moment of discussing the newest development in that case, and then they'd go on to do the other 60 murders that year - and that is homicide in America.
The truth about homicide is that it is black men in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s. And the way we guide money and policy in this country, we do not care about those people. It's not sort of described as what's central to our homicide problem, and I wanted people to see that. I wanted people to see those lives and to see that that's our real homicide problem in America.
The money needs to go to black male argument violence. And anything else is, you're dealing with the margins of the problem, statistically, and it's not right.
RAZ: You wanted to give a name, and an identity, and an age, and a story to every person who was murdered in L.A. County. What did you want people to think?
Ms. LEOVY: One of my arguments is that we need to get away from sympathy and sentiment in these kind of medieval notions of deserving and not deserving about homicide. I don't care if they're the worst thug in the world, and some of these guys are really, really deeply, criminally involved characters. I...
RAZ: Many of them are, right?
Ms. LEOVY: Many of them have killed people. I don't care. If you've killed somebody, you don't have it coming in a gang shooting, you need to be arrested and prosecuted.
A lot of the money we spend is based on the presumption that the victims are guilty in some ways based of the presumption that - and you hear this all the time: Oh, these young men are killing each other, what should we do? They've got to be shown not to be so delinquent and so terrible.
Well, it's like, wait a minute. When we talked about domestic violence, we never talked about how these women were so delinquent and terrible and they needed to get their heads together and be taught right. We talked about protecting them from people who are trying to hurt them. We don't talk about men that way.
RAZ: Jill, for so many years, throughout the '90s and to the 2000s, we have been hearing about how murder in American has really just been conquered essentially. Obviously, you hear about New York is the safest city in America now. Is that a myth in Los Angeles County? Are murders way down and is it much safer, or is that just aren't true?
Ms. LEOVY: Murder is way down and it's much, much safer. But it was never about that. The mass hysteria thing was never correct. Homicide is not a mass syndrome in America. It's a concentrated group of people. And that group of people is still horribly affected by homicide.
In 2007, which was one of the years we were way on our way down, less than half the number of homicides in L.A. County than in '93. It was still true that black men in their 20s were dying at rates of, I think, about 140 per 100,000 per year.
As a middle-aged white lady, my death rate is probably one or two per 100,000 maximum. These young men are dying at 140. Do you understand the degree of difference there? They're in a war zone, and the rest of us are living in a different country. And that's in a year when homicides were low. And so the real homicide problem is not the numbers that everybody focuses on, it's the disproportion.
RAZ: Was there a particular entry on the blog that was kind of difficult for you to assimilate and absorb? Is there an example that you know...
Ms. LEOVY: You remember all of them. You remember every single name. I was always - because people think that these are throwaway people and that nobody cares. And so I'm always looking for the guy who's so bad and so despised that he really is a throwaway person and nobody cares.
I thought I found him. He was schizophrenic, he was in his 40's, he was a black man living in a very bad part of town. I think he was homeless and he was nothing but trouble to everybody in his life. He was mentally ill and he had caused so much grief. And then when I went to see the mother, her grief, it was hard for me to see it as authentic. She kind of worked me over for favors and I thought, this is it. I finally found the guy who nobody cared about.
And he was number three of eight or 10. Sister number five called me like a week later. She couldn't sleep, she was having visions, she was having physical problems, her hair was falling out, which is something that you hear a lot, out of grief for her terribly troubled homeless violent brother. You just - not one single one of them leaves you clean. When you get close to it, not one single one of them can you pass over easily.
RAZ: That's Jill Leovy. She's a senior reporter at the Los Angeles Time and the founding editor of the paper's homicide report. You can read more about the blog at our website, npr.org.