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Crime in urban communities is quite a persistent issue, especially when speaking about multicultural neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The present paper is designed to use the subculture approach that belongs to the array of ecological theories to explain the emergence of crime in Boyle Heights, composed mostly of citizens of Latino cultural background.
Subculture theory, developed by Cohen in 1955 (Eve, 1978, p.116) is an attempt to examine youth subcultures, manifesting their protest against the dominant culture. “The subcultures emerge in the slums of some of the nation’s largest cities. Often, they are rooted in class differentials, parental aspirations and school standards. Cohen notes that the position of one’s family in the social structure determines the problems the child will later face in life. Thus, they will experience status frustration and strain and adapt into either a corner boy, college boy, or a delinquent boy” (Eve, 1978, p.116). Corner boys are conventional in terms of lifestyle and therefore receive considerable support in group activities. Such individuals often fail to meet academic standards and thus receive poor education, which doesn’t allow them to penetrate the middle-class environment (Paulsen and Robinson, 2004, p.96). Delinquent boys, on the contrary, form bands and gangs in an attempt to define social and group position, so their disobedience and criminal behavior are normally purposeless: such young people steal in order to establish themselves as personalities and support their hedonistic lifestyles, – again, the latter purpose is less important, comparing to the manifestation of subcultural identity. Moreover, corner boys can participate in stealth and robbery in order to attain peer support, whereas most delinquent boys through stealth subconsciously show their ‘scorn’ for middle-class values.
Residential patterns in Los Angeles refer to traditions rather than models of settlement, but Boyle Heights is to certain degree an exception from the common rule, given that the area was “seized” by Hispanic and Latino Americans in the 1980s when the specified groups replaced Jewish Americans. The community profile is nowadays depicted in quite pessimistic terms, since it frequently endures funding deficiencies, high unemployment rates as well as problems with universal access to public education. Therefore, using the framework, prepared by Paulsen and Robinson (2004, p. 124), one can assume that the public space lacks safety patterns, taking into consideration the fact that the neighborhood has been substantially impoverished after the withdrawal of Jewish Americans, whose culture normally implies the development of domestic infrastructure (Vincent, 2008, p.4). The recent housing project, designed to address the needs of citizens dwelling in “The Flats”, or the poorest part of the neighborhood, failed not a long ago owing to the collapse of the American commercial sector supporting the long-term housing program.
According to Vincent, “In the 1980s, he [the respondent] said, drug dealers trolled the neighborhood, drunks stumbled about and young gang members shot it out. One of his sons was assaulted once and his car was shot up one day” (Vincent, 2008, p.4). In the present day, the criminality rate in the area is 30 per cent higher than the average Los Angeles index; this fact certainly causes the concerns of law enforcement agencies, but the efforts, ordered at the level of the city government, have appeared to not reach their goal, as the local police officers also belong to the specified community and often originate from the same circles as gang members (Vincent, 2008, p.4). Therefore, it is possible to speak about subcultural identity in the given case; moreover, the criminal unit is vast in Boyle Heights and surprisingly covers the groups of non-delinquent profile (e.g. qualified workers, who are not likely remain unemployed and are able to successfully earn their living).
The two major dimensions where delinquent subculture is cultivated are local schools and local construction sites, where predominantly seasonal workers are involved. It needs to be noted, however, that the latter dimension to certain degree reflects the former one, as both actually depend on two undermining tendencies which are the spread of unsound leisure practices and the inhibition of leadership inclinations in the majority of subculture members.
As the teachers of the community school suggest, it is not “fashionable” in Boyle Heights to have high academic achievement; on the contrary, the local leisure culture existing among school students, implies constant search for adventures till the late night. Therefore, underage community members simply have no opportunity to behave like “college boys”, as they normally fail to prepare their home assignments given the above described leisure culture. As mentioned above, the neighborhood has quite poor infrastructure that includes a number of abandoned shops or accommodations that served various “civilized” purposes in the past, but nowadays can be found half-ruined. These are major places of interest attributed to local young males, as insufficient budgeting has reduces the local educators’ motivation for arranging more useful and healthy leisure activities for students. According to Weisburd and Lum (2005, p.426), minimization of opportunities for the commitment of transgression is amongst the most important components of crime prevention; in this sense, the abundance of uncontrolled places in Boyle Heights becomes a determinative factor is the persistence of the pathological identity.
Furthermore, the strength of the criminal subculture is increased by the size of the group of corner boys, described as the main “executors” in the gang, due to their compliance with the internal norms. Leadership skills are normally nurtured in families and classrooms; but the profile of the average community member (manual worker, non-management) points to the fact that the patterns of cognitive and emotional independence are not popular in the community; moreover, the lack of educational initiatives aimed at raising students’ self-awareness determines schools’ failure to fully address the issue of leadership. The “college boy” identity is the major object of school students’ bullying, which might refer to the antagonism between the broad lower-middle class and relatively underrepresented class of white collars (upper-middle). The intensity of group pressure has already been depicted above: those whose lifestyle has been “intellectualized” and who have upgraded their socioeconomic background, are often physically assaulted, their property becomes the target of vandalism (e.g. car destruction). As one can assume, the criminal subculture actually dominates in Boyle Heights.
In conclusion, it is necessary to provide several recommendations concerning the further crime prevention activities in this environment. First of all, it is necessary to re-shape the public space and increase its safety through incorporating Geographic Information Systems suggested by Howard (2002, p. 69). The re-construction of abandoned buildings into the objects of infrastructure is also plausible; in this case, businesses are more likely to jointly support the new mapping system for their own profit. Furthermore, it would be also useful to encourage employers to create more beneficial job opportunities and social security packages (including health care, partial compensations of house rent and so forth). Furthermore, the local municipal government should work in the direction of the empowerment of the community’s educators for the strengthening of the connections between schools and population so that more control over the students’ out-of-school activities is obtained. Finally, local law enforcement authorities are supposed to strengthen supervision and de-formalize policing management (Schmerler and Velasco, 2002, p. 85) so that commitment to crime prevention and reduction is reinforced in police officers.
Paulsen, D., & Robinson, M. (2004). Spatial Aspects of Crime: Theory and Practice. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Howard, J. (2002). How to De-Mystify GIS by Understanding the Role of Common Sensed GIS and Blue Collar GIS in Public Safety. In S. Bair. R. Boba, N. Fritz, D. Helms, &. Hick (Eds.), Advanced Crime Mapping Topics (pp.68-71). Dencer, Co: National Law Enforcement & Corrections Technology Center.
Eve, R. (1978). A Study of the Efficacy and Interactions of Several Theories for Explaining Rebelliousness Among High School Students. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 69 (1), 115-25.
Vincent, J. (2008). Towering Ambitions for Boyle Heights. Los Angeles Times, 11 Jan, pp.4-5.
Schmerler, K. & Velasco, M. (2002). Primary Data Collection: A Problem-Solving Necessity. In S. Bair. R. Boba, N. Fritz, D. Helms, &. Hick (Eds.), Advanced Crime Mapping Topics (pp. 83-88). Dencer, Co: National Law Enforcement & Corrections Technology Center.
Weisburd, D., & Lum, C. (2005). The Diffusion of Computerized Crime Mapping in Policing: Linking Research and Practice. Police Practice and Research, 6(5), 419-434.