Good Kids Bad City
Kyle Swenson
Contributed by Greta Venegas
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Racial Discrimination

The theme of racial discrimination has been explored extensively in the book. Swenson illustrates multiple instances where communities discriminated against each other on the basis of race. Swenson explains that, in the early 1900s, Cleveland experienced an influx of African American and European immigrants. However, various communities settled in distinct parts of the city like “juxtaposed tribes more or less at war with each other”; in other words, there would be occasional racial skirmishes taking place between the different ethnic groups (Cleveland, 2019, p. 24). With the police largely composed of Caucasians, African Americans suffered the most. Swenson explains that police would be harsher on African American offenders and suspects compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Swenson recounts how Carl Stokes’ efforts to reform the police department, by recruiting more African American candidates, were met with strong resistance from Caucasian politicians because he was also an African American. Stokes became so frustrated by his Caucasian counterparts in Cleveland’s local government that he opted not to run for re-election in 1971.

Police Brutality

Swenson explores the police brutality towards Cleveland’s African Americans, explaining how it was so rife in Cleveland that “black men and women in the city knew that if a police officer saw a suspect running from a crime scene, he would not hesitate to unload his service weapon at the fleeing target” (Swenson, 2019, p. 33). Within the police department, Swenson explains that police would beat suspects, coerce information, or even pull over African American drivers with no probable cause. We see Detective Eugene Terpay pinning a murder on three innocent African American boys after having threatened another African American minor and coaching him on how to lie in court — resulting in the longest wrongful conviction case in the history of the United States. Swenson describes how two Caucasian Cleveland police officers, John Mandryk and Ronald Turner, once raped and sodomized a young African American couple in Wood Hill Park only to be released shortly after their conviction. During the arrests of Ronnie, Rickey, and Wiley, Swenson explains how police manhandled everyone at the Bridgemans house as they forced them into waiting police vehicles.


Corruption is another theme that is evident throughout the book, specifically where the author reveals a series of scandals that scarred the city of Cleveland. For instance, Swenson describes that, in 2008, the FBI undertook a massive corruption probe against the government of Cuyahoga County. A vast system of payoffs and bribes would subsequently be discovered in the city of Cleveland. Swenson further explains that County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora’s court documents also revealed that he would trade county business and votes for “money, steak dinners, nights with high-end call girls, and discounted Rolexes” (Swenson, 2019, p. 13). On top of that, phone taps revealed that Dimora would demand payoffs or sex from women in exchange for county contracts. The FBI probe uncovered hundreds of names, implicating the entire political elite including the county sheriff and state senators, as well as the President of Cleveland’s city council. At the conclusion of the probe, Swenson notes that over forty individuals were convicted and jailed.

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