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Fist stick knife gun, Geoffrey Canada (1995) - Violence and Youth in America

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FIST, STICK, KNIFE, GUN: VIOLENCE & YOUTH IN AMERICA Introduction In Fist stick knife gun, Geoffrey Canada (1995) traces his own encounters with urban violence as he was growing up in a poor, predominantly African-American neighborhood in the Bronx during the 1960s. Canada (1995) paints a vivid picture of a community of children and teenagers whose conduct was governed by codes of violence. He traces the progression of his own violent behavior as well as those of his contemporaries. Despite his own background and experiences in the violent world of the New York urban ghetto of the 1960s and the Boston urban ghetto (where Canada worked as a teacher) of the late-1970s, Canada (1995) is stunned by how much violence has escalated when he returns as a teacher and community activist to New York City in the 1980s. By the early 1990s, Canada (1995) viewed his former neighborhoods as nothing less than "war zones" in which the primary combatants, children and teens, engaged in lethal violence. Canada's (1995) perception that youth violence had escalated significantly in the 1980s and 1990s over its level in the 1960s and 1970s is born out by national crime statistics. According to Brownstein (date), "from 1988 to 1992, juvenile violent crime increased by 38 percent, reaching 198 arrest per 100, 000 juveniles in 1992" (pg. 113). From this perspective, Brownstein contents that "juvenile crime is on the rise" (Ibid, 113). Futhermore, FBI statistics, between 1985 and 1995, show the overall violent crime rage among adolescents increased by 75%, including a 97% increase in aggravated assaults and a 150% increase in murders (Borduin & Schaeffer, 1998, p. 146). As Canada (1995) noted in his book, the jump in youth gun violence has been particularly pronounced. In his book Social Reality of Violence and Violent Crime, Zimring (1998), reported that "offenders under 21 made up 26 percent of all arrests in in 1995; offenders under 18 made up 15 percent (p. ...read more.


fighting which did not often feature guns. In contrast, violence on the contemporary street is dominated by gun violence. The presence of lethal weapons inevitably changed the traditional codes of conduct. Canada (1995) notes that he "knew that the codes of conduct were deteriorating when I heard young teenagers saying they'd 'rather be judged by twelve than carried by six'. The message on the street is clear: make a preemptive strike, shoot first even if you're not sure that your life is threatened at the moment. Odds are you'll live, and if you're arrested and then convicted at least you'll still be alive (p. 69). Whereas Canada and his generation learned, through years of experience, how to make effective violent responses, Canada (1995) notes that the current generation is inherently inexperienced: ["For many of today's child gangsters, how tough you are is measured by how lethal a gun you carry. They may never have won a fight, or even fought one..."] (p. 85). Canada (1995) argues that the proliferation of handguns (which he attributes both to the natural tendency to escalate the level of violence from fist to knife to gun and to the widespread availability of guns, thanks to a lack of adequate gun control laws, gun ownership among adults, and deliberate efforts by gun manufacturers to market gun to young people) is a significant causal factor in the increase in youth violence, and a primary factor in the increase in lethal violence among young. He argues that not only the mere presence and availability of guns, but also the psychological impact of the availability of guns heightens the risk of lethal violence: There were always some natural checks on violence among young people before handguns were so common. There were many times that I wished I could have fought back when I was growing up but I didn't because I knew I couldn't beat the other boy...Even when a fight went ahead, the outcome wasn't guaranteed...Kids with guns often see no limits on their power. ...read more.


However, it is important to note that these studies do not suggest that "genes cause violence"; rather, they argue that a genetic predisposition may interact with environmental forces to increase the likelihood of violent responses. Raine (2002) conducted an extensive review of recent biosocial studies of antisocial and violent behavior in children and adults and summarized the major findings from these studies. The existence of certain "biological markers" for violent and antisocial behavior is incontrovertible. For example, low resting heart rate and other indicators of low autonomic activity are consistently associated with antisocial behavior. On the other hand, heightened levels of autonomic arousal seems to serve as a "protective factor" against violent behavior. Overall, however, Raine's (2001) analysis reinforced the finding that there are always interactions between psychophysiological and social risk factors, with social factors predominating in some cases, and psychophysiological factors in other cases. The biosocial studies indicate that psychophysiological risk factors are more important in youth from benign home backgrounds and middle to upper-middle class families, whereas social risk factors predominate among persons from lower class backgrounds (Raine, 2002, p. 315). In his personal case history of violence, Canada (1995) stressed learning to behave violently within the context of complex social rules that required certain responses to violent or potentially violent challenges. This is consistent with Gilligan's (2001) model of violence causation which stresses the role of shame and respect. Gilligan (2001) hypothesizes that "the basic psychological motive, or cause, of violent behavior is the wish to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation...and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride" (p. 29). Gilligan (2001) goes on to argue that "the purpose of violence is to force respect from other people" (p. 35). Thus, from this perspective, young people "get respect" with a gun. Gilligan's (2001) theory does not discount the role of various additional biological, psychological and social causes of violence, but rather maintains that while these factors contribute to violence causation, feelings of shame and the desire for respect remain the root cause. ...read more.

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