FEEDBACK ON "BAD" NEIGHBORHOODS
My response to JILL LEOVY's piece about "bad" neighborhoods generated two responses over at LAOBSERVED.COM, the excellent LA media site run by KEVIN RODERICK. It's a daily stop for me and I alerted KEVIN that INTHEHAT had something to say about LEOVY'S SLATE.COM piece. He graciously linked my comments on his site and hence the responses over there. If you want to see the two comments in the original, go to LAOBSERVED.COM and scroll down to the mention of INTHEHAT.
The first comment by MEXREP agreed with my observations without reservation. Another reader named MR. RICEY agreed generally but had some observations of his own which I quote. "He [meaning me] overlooks the economic reality of many people, particularly kids, in those neighborhoods who don't have a fucking thing to eat in the house, crappy clothes, broken toys and their parents are AWOL in prison or on the street while a poor granny tries to do her best for 9 kids in a tiny house. It's all too common, too, and it certainly feeds the cycle of crime and despair."
While I like people to agree with me, I love when people force me to refine my observations and think harder. All of what MR. RICEY says is true. Children, who are the most vulnerable and heartbreaking of all victims, certainly are by definition poor. Or at least as poor as their families. Unfortunately, as MR. RICEY alludes to, these children are victiminized by the very people that brought them into the world and are supposed to be providing for them. My point was, that it's not this vague notion of "society" or the real notion of "poverty" that victimizes them. Society, at least the one in which I live, provides a level of plentitude and opportunity not found anywhere else in the world. Parents who want to do better for their children are not condemned to the sort of can't-get-out-of-it poverty found elsewhere in the world.
Kids in "bad" neighborhoods are victimized mostly and most profoundly by their parents (or lack thereof). In other countries it's the whole society that screws kids. Think of the AMERASIAN kids of VIET NAM, the FERAL BABY GANGS of the FAVELAS, the UNTOUCHABLE kids of INDIA or the kids living in TIJUANA shacks. In those cases, the kids are deeply scarred from a young age and there's not a single ray of hope in their lives because even if their parents "wanted" to be better providers and caretakers (which most in TIJUANA clearly do and vote with their feet), social mobility is non existent. The parents there are just as screwed as their kids. Hope is non existent and in a situation like, I'm surprised there hasn't been an armed revolution, let alone a youth gang problem.
Back to our own BARRIOS and HOODS. While our safety net with regard to kids is imperfect at best, the avenues of improvement for the parents are there and available to anyone. I won't go into the anecdotal success stories of immigrants making good. But they're abundant.
If you read the ART BLAJOS book, BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT or MY BLOODY LIFE: THE MAKING OF A LATIN KING by REYMUNDO SANCHEZ, you get the message that the events that scarred them happened at home, not on the street and not because they didn't have "things." The gang life was a result of lousy homes, not a cause. These books also illustrate that in each of their lives, SOCIETY did intervene to the very limits of legality and practicality. In BLAJOS and SANCHEZ' case, they were taken out of bad homes and put into foster homes. BLAJOS says that he got "armloads" of toys for CHRISTMAS from department stores and generous donors. And he and others from the YA were invited into upper class homes for Christmans dinners. And you know what? He stole stuff from those houses because as much as he wanted the toys, he wanted his parents to be doing this for him. Not strangers. He wanted loving parents. And there's no government program that makes those.
Almost every gangster I've ever interviewed has been through the foster home system. Foster homes, if we remember, were supposed to be the humane and smarter alternative to the state-run orphanages.
Generally speaking, every street gangster in trouble with the law is a graduate of that system as well as the youth correctional system, diversion programs, drug rehab programs and other programs up to and including YOGA, THEATER ARTS and TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION. Believe it or not, those programs are readily available right here in LA COUNTY for kids in trouble. And I'm all for anything that works. Unfortunately, very little works to ameliorate a situation casued by lousy parents.
My contention is that despite the best intentions and the most enlightened programs, there's no government program that will adequately substitute for a solid, stable, loving family.
The best we can do under the current system is take the kids away and provide them with something that at best isn't as much of a mind fuck as their family lives. There's more that can be done. But then we get into an area of individual freedom and giving government the kind of power over parental rights that's currently scaring the bejeezus out of people who look at the PATRIOT ACT as the demise of the US CONSTITUTION. How much power do we want to give the government when addressing the problem of lousy parents who are victimizing their children and will eventually turn them into tomorrow's predators?
So yeah, poverty in a very general sense, may conribute to criminal behavior to some degree. But my contention is that it's not the lack of money or NINTENDOS. For the most part, criminality is the result of the violence, neglect and abuse children experience at the hands of mom and/or dad long before they pick up a gun.
I'd like to hear more on this. Especially from young people who are on the front lines and facing this situation for real and not from the theorizing comfort of my centrally air conditioned house. Then again, they probably don't have a computer and web access.