Adrastos wrote, “Crime has been an intractable and recalcitrant part of life in New Orleans for as long as I have lived here. And sometimes very good people get caught up in it….I wish I had some answers but knowing as much as I do about our criminal justice system, and our local criminals, has made me pessimistic that there any good solutions to our crime problem. I’ve got tons of questions but I’m fresh out of either long or short term answers.” (Much angst in the NOLA blogosphere; browse and you will find laments and links to more.) But this problem we have has been brewing for a very long time, ignored, brushed aside, devalued by our “leaders” because it didn’t affect them, didn’t lose them any votes, didn’t cause anyone to doubt their abilities as far as they knew or were concerned. Our economy has deteriorated in the past 30+ years into a banana republic (absent a colonizer) with a wide bottom of tourism-related, service and retail jobs and a thinner but impenetrable top crust of Haves. Housing patterns show the truth–that the have-nots are concentrated in areas that are starved of the resources needed to thrive. And though there may be no real trickle-down effect, there is a seepage of rot, one that affects every neighborhood and even the Haves eventually. The public schools have sucked for at least 40 years. (This hurts the have-nots and what middle class Orleans parish has been able to cling to and perpetuates a low-wage economy.) Listening to the interview with Vincent Morelli on Saturday’s Community Gumbo about Left Behind made me think that that documentary and some of the issues it raises show a few reasons why we are where we are. How much respect would you have for yourself or the community if:
- there aren’t enough books in your school (or there are no books in your school)
- nothing happens in your school day after day but herding and babysitting
- you have nothing but substitute teachers all year
- you’re told you and all people like you or in your situation are ungrateful and lazy and better be grateful for the substandard housing, services and communities you and the people you know and love get because that’s just about all you deserve (sometimes it ends with “animals like you deserve,” spoken or implied)
- you’re told you should be able to pull yourself up even though you have no bootstraps (and the people who tell you this have rarely had material struggles of any real kind)
- you’re told hard work is all that’s needed to thrive and excel but you see the folks around you working hard and harder and they are still as bad off, or worse off, than you are and never get anywhere
- discipline is a smack to the head, profanity-laced insults and name-calling
- you have seen actual death and violence most days of your life
I grew up here in reasonably good circumstances by NO/poor and lower-middle class black child standards but violence was a part of daily life. People yelled at each other, threatened each other, hit each other and got in fights, pulled guns on each other (my grandmother did this once in her 60s), held knives to each other (Smother did this once to a cousin of mine, thinking she was teaching him a lesson), beat children with half-pleased expressions, told their kids they were pieces of shit and would get a beating as soon as their cigarette was done, ignored sexual and physical abuse and/or blamed the victim, told their children they had to be “hard” on them and beat them to prepare them for the brutality of The White World Out There. A whole bunch of bullshit. The difference between my childhood and The Girl’s is unimaginable and at times stops me dead in my tracks, full of disbelief and a bit of the shock I couldn’t feel and survive at her age and younger. And I was lucky. I went to Catholic and magnet schools, got only 2 or 3 whippings my whole life, had 3 meals a day, had new clothes from time to time and stuff at Christmas and birthday cakes and a couple pets.
Even if I am still sick, I’m going to see Left Behind on the 10th.
Addendum: I am not dismissing or excusing violence. It is abhorrent. But it is not, most of the time, an individual problem or isolated failing but part of a larger system and environment. There is personal responsibility but you can only be responsible for what you have been molded to be.