You know how it is when you're reading something, and you read words that clobber you with the truth -- a truth you have been approaching from many different directions, and this passage switches the light on, and the truth becomes visible?
What truth has revealed itself to me this time? This truth: people who live in high-crime areas live where the rest of the society has decided not to apply caring anymore. They literally are people and places that society presumes to select for neglect.
Example: Recently, I have taken a few minutes several times a week to drive around in Hempstead, my village on Long Island, in Nassau County, New York. In the 21.5 years I've lived here, I have never just driven around; I've only driven through areas relevant to me. Rarely have I gone to the parts of Hempstead that are run down. I knew those areas existed, but I didn't think about why. I attributed the shabbiness to the low income and low self-maintenance of the inhabitants.. Every town has its rundown side, right?
But yesterday, driving through the areas behind the Long Island Railroad terminal in Hempstead, I thought, "Wait -- why are all these roads back here so much worse than roads elsewhere in Hempstead? Why aren't these roads repaved just like other roads have been in better-kept neighborhoods of this village?"
Paving roads isn't something individual citizens do. It's something their taxes are paid to government to do. If these roads in the northern part of the village aren't repaved -- and they obviously haven't been repaved in many years -- then the village government has selected those areas for neglect. The rents there are lower (somewhat) or are designated for Section 8 housing prices -- and the government of the Village of Hempstead, believing that it can afford to ignore people who live in those areas, neglects its obvious duty.
Many of the homes show that the inhabitants in them care: flowers planted, lawns mowed. Expensive maintenance such as house painting or fence replacement doesn't get done because the inhabitants really can't afford those things; but they do what they can. When their efforts aren't seconded by good roads and good job opportunities, can anyone wonder why discouragement arises -- and does anyone contest that discouragement breeds vulnerability to crime?
Here is the quote I came across, written by a seminal writer about gangs, F. M. Thrasher, in 1963:“The gang is almost invariably characteristic of regions that are interstitial to the more settled, morestable, and better organized portions of the city. The central tripartite empire of the gang occupies what is often called ‘the poverty belt’ – a region characterized by deteriorating neighbourhoods, shifting populations and the mobility and disorganization of the slum. It is to a large extent isolated from the wider culture of the larger community by the processes of competition and conflict which have resulted in the selection of its population” (from The gang: A study of 1,313 gangs in Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
The boldface in the quote is mine.
People who aren't involved with gangs want law enforcement to fix them. However, gangs are caused in large part by society. What is to be done? My life mission has become this: to join that battle with those who are already fighting it.