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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 20-Jan-06


Friday 20-Jan-06

Ghetto rules

I recently read an article by a guy who was brought up in a North London ghetto, where jobs are scarce and crime is rife. He was one of the lucky ones: his family protected him through childhood years and coerced him to work and he got to University. With a strong social conscience, he returned to work in the community. His sad article describes how children there were increasingly seduced into a life of crime.

He writes in horror at the social decay and increase in casual crime in the short time he was away. Drug-dealing has moved from the more traditional marijuana and heroin to the more profitable and damaging crack-cocaine, and the violence has escalated accordingly.

And much of it is is involving younger and younger children, even as young as eight years old. The older children like an adoring audience and the younger ones aspire to be like their idols.

Money and guns are used as symbols of power in social settings where, in the middle of a conversation, a boy will pull out a gun or a thick wad of notes and just casually play with them. The signal is one of extreme power that extends beyond the law. The money says 'I steal' and the gun says 'I kill'.

The culture is propagated by such displays along with bragging about criminal activities that similarly display lawless power. And it is more than display. A burglary or other crime will keep a person in money for about two weeks before they need to steal again.  In search of ever-greater thrills and bragging potential, even car-jacking is becoming more common and 'mad-dog' confrontations are used to put others in fear of their lives.

Although much crime goes undetected, application of the law has a perverse effect, and even spells in prison are used as badges of courage and afford significant social status to the wearer.

Without the effective constraints of law and normal communal values, society reverts to the law of the jungle, where absolute power both rules and corrupts absolutely. Fear becomes a way of life and death a close friend.

I feel for the desperation of the article author, as well as the many powerless subjects of such a cruel domain. If ever there was a need to change minds, then this is a prime candidate. Yet until the wider society deals with deeper issues of inequality then such disaster zones will persist.

Your comments

I think this is information is false. I live in a fairly Ghetto area and I am currently in high school. I know how the teenagers in gangs now a days feel. I know a few people that are involved in such things at drugs and violence. Most often, people do not do these things for the fun of it. People that have money and flaunt it aren't trying to send the message 'I steal'. Sometimes they are showing the money that they have made from honest work. Not everyone that dresses in baggy clothes and appears 'gangster' is bad. People feel that because they live in an area with the reputation of being bad, they have to look and act it. Most of these people are just like us.
When people have guns it's not sending out a message saying 'I kill'. Because there is such a high crime rate in 'Ghetto areas', there is a need to feel safe.
I think that people who qualify others who live in Ghetto areas are completely inaccurate.
You don't know what it's like in the Ghetto until you live in the Ghetto. Don't judge us, we're the same as you, with a different way of life.

Lucky Lucy

Dave replies:
You're largely right, Lucy. Most people are doing their best, given the the circumstances they are in. Appearances can be deceptive and 'strange' clothes do not mean criminal intent. And in poorer areas, most people are just trying to get by and stay out of trouble. And 'acting criminal' may just be trying to fit in. A problem, however, is that it only takes a few criminals to bring an area down and that some people are more easily tempted into crime. Acting criminal can also lead (not always, of course) to a self-image of being criminal and hence to criminal behaviour.

Your message, however, is a good reminder of what I firmly believe: Most people are basically good.

Thats right a gun wil not mean "i kill" and money will not mean "i steal"

-- yoshi

Dave replies:
Meaning is created by the other person watching or listening. When the same meaning is intended by the person with the gun or money, then the communication is accurate. If the interpreted meaning is different from that intended, then miscommunication is going on. In the context described, they are used as power symbols.

I live in a ghetto myself, even though I am college-educated and not a criminal. Why? It is a long story that does not matter here. The point that I wish to make is this: The ghetto is a violent place. It is an anti-social place. It is a place where there are plenty of hard-working poor people, yes, but it is also a place where I cannot walk to the corner store in the DAYTIME and be safe, let alone at night. I am a bit irritated that anyone would claim that the dangerousness of the ghetto is exaggerated, as one commenter seems to think. I am reminded of just how dangerous it is every time I walk past the roadside memorial for a murder victim-- and where I live, you do not need to walk far to see one after another after another. I am not sure how to solve this problem, but these criminals do not fear the law and live by a code of honor that could only be described as sociopathic, and there is no shortage of them in the ghetto.

-- Alexander

Dave replies:
I feel for you. Alexander. There are many dangerous places and many nearer than we think. It is sometimes blindness to real dangers that put people at risk. May you go safely.

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