In 1975, three young black men (two were teenagers at the time) were sent to death row after they were convicted of the vicious murder of a salesman outside of a convenience store in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite there being no physical evidence tying them to the crime, they were arrested and convicted solely on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy, Edward Vernon. Years later as an adult, Vernon recanted his testimony, and the three men were exonerated after spending several decades in prison.
Told with profound empathy and deeply researched history, Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America uncovers the shameful story of the longest wrongful incarceration in the history of the United States to end in exoneration.
In his debut, Washington Post journalist Kyle Swenson expertly unravels two connected stories: the personal histories of three innocent black men (Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu and Rickey Jackson) who were sent to prison for almost four decades for a murder they didn’t commit; and the history of Cleveland, a city embedded in an unmovable, corrupt system that allowed gross injustice to thrive. A formerly booming industrial town in the early 20th century, Cleveland was falling apart by 1975 from decades of neglect, systemic racism, poverty and police corruption. With dramatic, cinematic detail, Swenson connects this to a larger problem by showing how federal policies on both the war on drugs and the war on crime have devastated targeted communities in Cleveland and across the country, and have resulted in one of the most overburdened and draconian justice systems in the western world.
Though small reforms and cosmetic changes may be slowly lifting the burden of history, this book questions the very nature of the justice system—and whom it benefits.