I heard some very troubling news on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 in my HipHop & Cultural Studies in Science Education class taught by Dr. Christopher Emdin and teacher-assisted by Ian Levy. I like to think of this class as my “real world” discussion class because it’s one of the few courses that I’ve had in my entire collegiate career that wasn’t loaded up with antiquated theories that are seldom actually effective for today’s application. Instead, it encourages innovative thinking and practical solutions to effect change in the various fields of the class participants.
The disturbing news was that over 120 youth and young adults were arrested April 27, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
and maybe even fathers and mothers.
The Wall Street Journal reported that these gang affiliated young people are responsible for a host of shootings, slashings, beatings, and robberies since 2007 and they have acquired charges relating to racketeering, narcotics, and firearms.
Issues relating to mass incarceration, juvenile delinquency, the war on drugs, etc. are focus topics for my forensic psychology research, so needless to say, this piqued my interest. After class, I found myself watching the Fox News story, yes y’all Fox News, in addition to reading the Wall Street Journal and New York Times online articles about the “single largest gang takedown in modern New York history.”
Many people seemed to celebrate the fact that these youth were removed from the streets of the Bronx. Among those proud celebrants was special agent in charge homeland security investigations, Angel M. Melendez, who referred to the raid as “a great day for communities.”
I was curious that he mentioned the communities. You see, I was hoping he was going to dive into nature of communities, like those within the Bronx, that cultivate the occurrence of violence in the first place. I mean if he was going to mention communities, I figured he would have done his homework and he’d mention
the low employment rates and lack of job opportunities available,
or maybe he’d discuss the deficient quality of the schools,
or he’d touch on the poor resident conditions of the area,
or the inadequate access to appropriate healthcare…
I mean when you examine communities filled with violence, these are just a few of the reoccurring associated factors that seem to influence the nature of criminality.
I’ll give y’all a quick scenario example to further elaborate.
Say we have a 17-year-old black male named Brandon. Brandon is struggling to complete school and it’s not because Brandon is not smart enough to do it. It’s because Brandon’s mother works two jobs and can barely make ends meet for him and his two younger siblings. Furthermore, Brandon doesn’t see how learning about the Sin, Cos, and Tan calculations in geometry are going to help keep the lights on at his family’s house, make sure his little sister and brother don’t go to bed hungry at night, and ensure there’s enough money left over for his little sister’s medications. Needless to say, Brandon feels he has greater priorities than his education.
Brandon was working at the local Crown Chicken around the corner to help supplement the family income. However, Brandon’s homies are making easy money fast by trappin and card skimming, whereas he was making minimum wage that simply ain’t cutting it for him. Joining his friends is tempting for Brandon because they consistently have money coming in, they provide peer social support for their living conditions, and protection against victimization from others within the community. Being “bout that life” seems normal and Brandon doesn’t know why he’s been holding out like a square for so long. Brandon decides to join his friends so he can feel like he belongs to something that people seem to care about, because when he looks around his community it seems nobody cares.
Brandon and his friends live in socially marginalized and excluded positions and areas within society, and as a result, him and many other actual people have developed adaptation strategies as a form of survival that deviate far from the traditional “norms” of American society. This is because their living conditions simply aren’t “normal.” They have been forgotten, left behind and ignored by the American Dream and it’s principles of “Freedom, Justice, Equality, and Liberty”.
The New York Times quotes police commissioner William J. Bratton saying, the arrests of individuals, like the fictional Brandon, go “a very long way towards ending the historical violence” that has plagued the projects in the Bronx. However, I beg to differ. Until we holistically examine these communities and rid them of their systematic violence by improving things like the schools, housing, living conditions, healthcare, and provide greater employment opportunities, things will continue in a similar fashion. It may quiet down for a bit, but the root of the problem has not been dismantled with this “gang raid.” The 120 young people who have been removed from the streets and placed into the private prison industrial complex will now cost taxpayers millions in associated legal and penitentiary cost. Moreover, those who were locked up will eventually be replaced by new young people on the streets. The cycle of violence in these neighborhoods is not caused by an individual or a group of over 120 individuals. The neighborhoods are not now rid of all of their ailments and despair. The desperate conditions that inspire and foster such malicious and deadly behaviors are still there and until systematic change occurs, people will resort to what they know works for them in that kind of environment.
Law enforcement used this “gang bust” as a way to try and send a clear strong message, as evidenced by the remarks from U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, “unless you like jail or death, don’t do it.” Similarly, Police Commissioner, Bratton proudly declared, “hand cuffs are needed because some just don’t get it.”
But I ask them and others with shared sentiments,
What if they feel the current living conditions are already dire?
What do you do when many feel jail and death are inevitable “norms” in the community?
What will be put in place to give these young people other options besides criminality to sustain their livelihoods?
How will these actions lead to any sustainable improvements for Bronx residents?
I cannot fail to mention how this contributes to the continued dismantling of black and brown families by mass incarceration. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average age of these young people is 24-years old. I am 24 years old. I am a young woman still in the very early stages of my life. I cannot help but think about how the lives of these young people and their loved ones will be forever egregiously affected by their involvement with the criminal justice system.
When I think of these young people who were arrested, most of whom were young men,
I think of their parents and grandparents who will mourn for their sons;
I think of the women who will be alone without a partner;
I think of their children who will have to grow up without their fathers;
I think of the catastrophic effects missing black and brown men have on family dynamics and how they cycle throughout the generations.
So when I heard this story I did not share the same celebratory sentiments of so many others. I do not excuse the participating parties for their actions. They are responsible for playing a role in contributing to the angst of an already distressed environment. Families continued to be broken at the hands of many of these young adults, which is deplorable. However, I recognize the overall brokenness of the communities that contributed to cultivation of their criminality. It is vital that that professionals focused on relief, reduction, redirection, and restorative efforts carefully examine the origins of these behaviors to implement effective interventions. What occurs in communities that are suffering from violence, like the Bronx, leaves me with the same feelings of sorrow. There is nothing to celebrate. There is too much work that needs to be done.
New York Times:
Wall Street Journal: