I - Gangs
"A child is the only substance from which a responsible
adult can be made." (Thomas Lickona,
During the course of my field studies I realized gangs had become a
window through which I could look at and learn about the well-being of the neighborhoods in which they are found.
At the very least, the
presence of gangs indicated some of the neighborhoods' youth were not
only behaving badly, they were organizing to behave badly.
A continuing or growing gang presence also suggested the neighborhood was
either ignoring their presence, was afraid to do anything about
them, wanted to do something but didn't know what to do, or their efforts
to reduce gang activity were ineffective.
This window on a community and its neighborhoods also revealed the relationship between
a neighborhood's social structure and physical infrastructure. By "social structure" I refer
to its social
institutions (i.e., the family, faith institutions,
commerce) and the impact of social class, gender, race, and
ethnicity on the quality of life in the neighborhood.
The social institutions in gang-dominated neighborhoods are often disorganized, weak,
or, in some cases, absent. It is difficult for a
neighborhood to provide a healthy environment for its residents without
supportive and robust social institutions. In a similar manner, a
neighborhood isolated from the remainder of the community due to racial or
ethnic discrimination is likely to produce an unhealthy environment for the
neighborhood's residents - including their children.
By "physical infrastructure" I refer to such
things as school buildings,
residential and commercial structures, hospitals, playgrounds, faith
institution buildings, parks, and shopping structures. In gang-dominated neighborhoods the physical infrastructure may
characterized as neglected and abused. For example, schools are in
poor repair, faith institutions in decline or for sale, sidewalks broken and
derelict cars abound, and trash may be found in piles around buildings and
in the streets and alleyways.
A gang unit officer and I were cruising a gang neighborhood in
Kansas City (MO) when the officer received a distress call from
dispatch. A woman who appeared to have been battered and dazed
was supposedly wandering down the sidewalk.
As we approached the scene we
found a woman stumbling down the sidewalk holding a baseball cap in
one hand and an empty coin purse in the other. She was wearing
short-shorts and one nipple was visible above her halter top.
Below her left eye was a bump
nearly the size of a golf ball, blood was running from her lower
lip. She was mumbling and crying and could not focus her eyes on the
officer as he approached to help her.
Turning to look at me the
officer said "See if you can find something for her to sit
on." Perhaps fifty feet from where we were standing was a two
story apartment building. Trash had been blown up against the entry stairs
outside the building.
Barely visible in the
three-foot-deep pile of trash was what looked like the top of the
back of a wooden kitchen chair. I grabbed it, pulled it out, took
it to the woman, and the officer helped her sit down. She had been
raped, robbed, and beaten. In some ways, so had the neighborhood.
In the field of law enforcement there is a
concept called "broken windows." It is used as a metaphor for the presence of trash, derelict
cars, cracked sidewalks, potholes, insufficient street lighting, homes in disrepair, brush growing wildly, and other
symbols of neglect.
As the notion goes, there is a tendency for matters to get worse in neighborhoods in which
broken windows are not repaired in a timely manner.
windows bespeak a lack of neighborhood concern or resources, a lack of
attention from city government, disenfranchisement, or a combination of
these things. The result is the potential for developing a
target area for vandalism, theft, public disturbance, crime, drugs ... and gangs.