All Involved, by Ryan Gatiss, hits the reader with a metaphorical punch to the gut. It is raw and bloody, ambushing the senses with its evocation of how little life is valued in gangland LA. This is a story of a section of society where the most powerful currency is fear, fear that is acquired by hurting others.
On April 29th 1992 a jury acquitted three LA police officers of using excessive force to subdue a civilian, Rodney King. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the same charge against a fourth officer. That evening riots began which lasted for six days and caused more than a billion dollars worth of property damage. As the city burned rival gangs seized the opportunity to bolster their power bases and settle old scores.
The reader is introduced to seventeen characters, most of whom are members of gangs or related to them in some way. I had expected to feel some empathy for them, to better understand the anger they would feel at the outcome of the trial which sparked the riots. This is not what I took from this story.
Where the media talks of coloured folk’s anger at another verdict seen to be racially motivated, this tale focuses on those who took advantage of a lawless situation to hide crimes which no one would have the resources to investigate. The maimed and murdered may not have been seen as valuable members of society by the forces of law and order, but neither were they valued by their communities. “If you play, you pay” was their mantra. Most were young, still in their teens. They hunted and killed their rivals, as some do animals, in an attempt to impress.
I read this book and wondered if it was my pale skinned, middle aged, middle class prejudices which kept me cold to the reasons behind these attitudes. However, there were still those who had chosen not to be involved, to live a better life despite their background. Poverty does not have to lead to a demand for ‘respect’ from behind a gun.
The writing is gritty, believable and depressing. In researching his book the author talked to some who were gang members during the riots. His characters reminded me of the hard line Belfast folk from both sides of the sectarian divide at the heart of The Troubles, with their uncompromising views that they believed were worth dying for. Perhaps it is that, from my personal background, which coloured this depiction as such a pointless waste of lives.
Sometimes a book can change a person and this one has certainly made me rethink how I translate the media reports of unrest in America following alleged police brutality of young, coloured men. I am not sure that this is a good thing. I want to consider all people as having some good in them. Too many of these characters came across as fools, desperate for acclaim, void of humanity.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Picador.