Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Tragic Power of `Props' in Brownsville, the Search for Respect Can Produce Deadly Results

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Tragic Power of `Props' in Brownsville, the Search for Respect Can Produce Deadly Results

Article excerpt

The Ville

Cops and Kids in Urban America

By Greg Donaldson

401 pages, Ticknor and Fields, $22.95

PROPS, Greg Donaldson tells us, is a term used in the Brownsville section of New York City that means "respect."

Everybody in Brownsville, or "The Ville" - the kids at Thomas Jefferson ("Jeff") High, their brothers and sisters, their parents and neighbors, their teachers, the crooks and the cops that bust them - is looking for "props."

Donaldson focuses on one year in the lives of two young black men in The Ville: Sharron Corley, a 17-year-old housing-project resident and Jeff High student, and Greg Lemite, a rookie New York Housing Authority cop.

When we meet Sharron he is stopping the show in "Don't Give Up On Your Dreams," a school musical with an anti-drug and anti-violence message. This budding thespian winds up doing time in Riker's Island for armed robbery.

At the start of the book, Gary is getting in trouble for not shooting a teen-aged "perp" who had drawn a "banger" on him. He is in love with law enforcement.

By the end, he is leaping into shootouts with an almost suicidal disregard for his personal safety. He has become the most highly decorated cop for 1992, but he begins to doubt the efficacy of his efforts and he has become disillusioned by the laziness, incompetence and racism of his fellow cops.

Though Sharron is not a bad kid by Ville standards, he measures the level of his "props" by the worst of them. So he wrecks his life committing a senseless crime. Ville standards also warp Gary's concept of law enforcement until it corresponds to how often he uses his fists and guns.

Brownsville, Mike Tyson's old hood, is a violent catalyst, nearly 2 miles of crowded, crumbling buildings where 200 people died within 12 months. In the 1930's, it was the headquarters of Abe "Kid Twist" Reles and Murder Inc.; Alfred Kazin de-scribed it as "a place that measured all success by our skill in getting away from it."

In recent stories about communities like The Ville, recitations of shootouts and sickening tallies of the slain often seem overreported and outrageously sensationalized. …

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