In the five substories of the piece, a moral seems to materialize: that we should listen to and sympathize with gang members. In other words, we should look past the fact that many of these kids deal drugs, kill, or are prepared to kill. We should also look past the fact that many of these kids refuse to study and refuse to work. Instead we should believe that gang members are lost souls whose criminal mindsets can be rectified through understanding.
This is naivete at its most foolish. It is exactly when a person commits a violent crime that his perspective loses all respectability, for he has revealed his thuggish nature. Society does not need people like this. Imagine if 80 percent of our country consisted of people like the protagonists in Williams' story: All learning would halt, the law would become meaningless, and by way of wanton corruption and violence, society would degenerate into the wild state of nature described by Hobbes.
In other words, these kids are dangerous. But because they are kids, and, sadly because they are black, we tend to downplay their sins. We seem to think that racism is to blame (or white people, oppression, history, the system, it all seems equally amorphous and convenient for the accusers). We blame anyone but the kids themselves. This is why Williams does not revile the young gang member who promises to kill the next poser he sees. This is why he does not condemn the gang-member-turned-gang-mentor who murdered at least two people on the West Coast years ago and then came to Durham and found God (in the article, Williams tells us that this mentor had shot a Los Angeles convenience store clerk in the face. Williams fails to even mention whether this clerk died, whether this clerk had a family, or whether this mentor had ever been brought to justice). Williams and everyone responsible for his article at The Independent seem to think that blackness and all the excuses that come with it act as mitigating factors, which in turn lessen the sheer enormity of cold-blooded murder. How many people have to be shot dead before they'll change their minds?
In truth, these gang members are a disgrace, and Williams' article is a disgrace not only for failing to realize this, but also for providing the tacit message that neglect, frustration, poverty, and anger are good enough excuses to join these murderous gangs. They are not. What these gang members deserve is swift and conclusive punishment. They deserve to be placed outside society where they'll do the least damage to innocent people. Finally, once they are locked up, they deserve to be reminded every day that it is through the sheer mercy of the society they wish to destroy that they are alive at all. And then, and only then, should we begin to listen.
--CHRIS SPECK, DURHAM
What slang dictionary did Randall Williams use to decipher the lyrics of rap artist Lil' Bow Wow in his article, "Nobody Offering Nothing: Snapshots of Gang Life in Durham?" [July 18]. The terms that Mr. Williams cites as evidence of the artist's gang affiliation are very common slang words. "Shotgun riding" refers to riding in the front passenger seat of an automobile. "Dubs" are 20-inch tire rims, the latest high-status automobile accessory. And "ball[ing]" is living an expensive lifestyle. Almost any rap music aficionado will give the same definitions.
As one who does research on youth street gangs, I recognize that gang members often have alternative meanings for common words. So I submitted these terms to an online gang discussion group. Thus far, the participants of this group (which includes hundreds of law enforcement officials, social service providers and other professionals working with gangs) have noted only a few alternative meanings for these terms, none of which come close to approximating Mr. Williams' definitions.
Sure, there are other aspects of Lil' Bow Wow's presentation that might lead us to suspect that he is gang-affiliated. After all, he is the protégé of Snoop Dogg, a self-admitted Crip who flashes more gang hand signs in his music videos now than he did when he first emerged on the rap scene seven years ago. But the fact that Lil' Bow Wow likes Burger King and wore a Tar Heels jersey when performing in Charlotte? Surely that's not enough evidence to convict this 13-year-old of being a hardcore gang member. As for the Crip Walk, spend a few hours watching MTV or BET and you'll see that it's become such a popular dance, soon 'NSYNC will be performing it. Not that that's a good thing.
--CHANEQUA WALKER-BARNES, UNC DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, CHAPEL HILL
Got something to say about an Independent article? Send no more than 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org; to P.O. Box 2690, Durham 27715; or fax 286-4274. Include your name, phone number and mailing address for verification; we cannot publish a letter without confirmation from the writer. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity.