Dangerous or Endangered? Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America

Dangerous or Endangered? Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America

Dangerous or Endangered? Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America

Dangerous or Endangered? Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America

Excerpt

In June 1999, recently elected Mayor Jerry Brown visited a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) meeting in an elementary school auditorium at the eastern edge of Oakland, California’s sprawling flatlands. Speaking to approximately fifty, mostly African American, middle-class homeowners, Mayor Brown detailed his plans for revitalizing the city, “When I talk to people everywhere in Oakland, they are concerned about crime and schools.” Crime rates were declining, but “not fast enough.” He knew that Oakland’s citizens disagreed on how to respond; some at the meeting took “an overtly hard line on crime” while others focused on economic development, improving schools, or building after-school programs. When Mayor Brown opened the meeting for questions, an African American woman in her midthirties asked if the city had a plan to reduce juvenile crime. Mayor Brown mentioned new funding to open recreation centers longer, and then added, “Facilities are full. Even to be arrested and held, youth have to pass a test. So it is hard to discipline youth.” The woman explained that she was thinking more in terms of prevention, remarking, “Locking them up doesn’t work.” Mayor Brown agreed: “That’s our paradox. We’ve got to do something, but building facilities doesn’t work. So what do we do?”

Talk about Oakland’s present and future almost invariably turned into a discussion about youth, who seemed to simultaneously embody both the city’s crises and its hopes for change. After briefly responding to an unrelated question, Mayor Brown returned to this topic: “I don’t believe that I’ve answered this woman’s question,” he said.

Prevention is an environment where young people are respected as well
as disciplined. It is very hard for the state and the city to take the lead
on prevention. First you need the family, then relatives, and then maybe
the neighborhood. If we have to go to institutions, it’s not going to work

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