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Wrong Place, Wrong Time

, 232 pages
October 2009



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Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men

Table of Contents

Named One of the Top 20 Books of 2009 by Cleveland Plain Dealer

Medical school taught John Rich how to deal with physical trauma in a big city hospital but not with the disturbing fact that young black men were daily shot, stabbed, and beaten. This is Rich's account of his personal search to find sense in the juxtaposition of his life and theirs.

Young black men in cities are overwhelmingly the victims—and perpetrators—of violent crime in the United States. Troubled by this tragedy—and by his medical colleagues' apparent numbness in the face of it—Rich, a black man who grew up in relative safety and comfort, reached out to many of these young crime victims to learn why they lived in a seemingly endless cycle of violence and how it affected them. The stories they told him are unsettling—and revealing about the reality of life in American cities.

Mixing his own perspective with their seldom-heard voices, Rich relates the stories of young black men whose lives were violently disrupted—and of their struggles to heal and remain safe in an environment that both denied their trauma and blamed them for their injuries. He tells us of people such as Roy, a former drug dealer who fought to turn his life around and found himself torn between the ease of returning to the familiarity of life on the violent streets of Boston and the tenuous promise of accepting a new, less dangerous one.

Rich's poignant portrait humanizes young black men and illustrates the complexity of a situation that defies easy answers and solutions.

John A. Rich, M.D., M.P.H., is the chair of and a professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the Drexel University School of Public Health, where he is also the director of the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice. A 2006 MacArthur Fellow, Rich founded the Young Men’s Health Clinic in Boston and is the former medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2009.

"John Rich joins the ranks of Rachel Carson, Michael Harrington and Ralph Nader for bringing attention to a pervasive social problem with a fresh perspective and warranted urgency."

"John Rich was selected for a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, and his incisive book demonstrates why. Replete with poignant vignettes, this book unveils his findings. Not surprisingly, he exposes the deep human sensitivity of his subjects. Highly recommended for readers of urban sociology texts such as Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America."

"A remarkable and sensitive account of [the author's] lengthy interviews with boys and young men who were rushed, bloodied and on gurneys, through the doors of the emergency room."

"Those of us who spend time tracking violence and its impact on every aspect of life in urban America—as well as anyone with an ounce of humanity—ought to be thrilled to see a book like Wrong Place, Wrong Time come along. It looks beyond the gunplay, offering a window on urban violence by putting faces with the cold statistics and presenting stories in the victims' own words."

" Wrong Place, Wrong Time calls us back to the table to see our safety as intimately connected to the safety of the young men we dismiss with cliche even as they become the prime bogeyman of our conscience in urban America."

"In his vital new book, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Rich lets the reader share and differentiate among the harrowing stories of young black men cut down by violence, stories he collected during the term of a five-year, $625,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health."

"Rich does not sugarcoat the cycle of violence or portray the African-American men who populate the book as saints. Rich does holds out hope, however slim, that understanding that all human beings have more commonalities than divergences could make a difference."

"A concise yet powerful examination of urban violence from the perspectives of those on the receiving end."

"Powerful... Scholar-practioners like Dr. John Rich are helping find the answers we urgently need to better understand the cycle of violence and save our children from being its next victims."

"Written in a style that would make an accomplished novelist proud, the attention to detail is remarkable. Rich takes the reader with him on a voyage of discovery as he interviews each subject. The case studies are punctuated with his honest, insightful and informed reflections as he recounts the real-life experiences of young black men and their search for a way out of their almost impossible lifestyles. The case studies are condensed summaries summaries of the author's involvement with these young men over a period of years."

"Dr. Rich is an excellent writer. He is a passionate reporter who becomes one of his characters, as vulnerable as those he writes about."

"Rather than dwell on statistics or prescribe policy, the stories reveal the human toll of violence and help explain the seemingly inexplicable levels of violence in particular communities. And like all good stories, they are both entertaining and edifying."

"If we are going to reduce the violence in our devastated inner cities, we need to understand its causes. That is how Dr. Rich has done such an invaluable service: giving a voice to the young men who are routinely demonized for trafficking in violence and showing us humans reacting to desperate circumstances."

"John Rich’s illuminating narrative powerfully renders America’s domestic 'killing fields.' Wrong Place, Wrong Time is an urgent and deeply moving up-close portrait of urban violence and the all too common killing of young black Americans—a highly perceptive work that provides in-depth understanding where there is often too little. It is a telling account that should be required reading by everyone."

"John Rich, who has devoted so much of his career to the study of violence—especially in men of color—challenges us to see beyond the injuries and the anger and to hear and appreciate the plight of these men and to understand that they, like us, seek a place of safety in their lives."

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