Friday, May 14, 2010

Ecru Flight and the Gangsta Factor

On Wednesday, I discussed the transition that my town of Arlington has found itself undergoing for the past decade.

During its boom years of the sixties through the eighties, some of Arlington’s massive growth can be traced to the “white flight” post-war phenomenon that drained larger North American cities of middle class whites. However, most of Arlington’s new population has come from in-migration of people from across the country during North America's epic shift to the sun belt. For years, Arlington's affluent white population grew not so much because of racism, but simply because most of the corporate transfers from north to south involved white employees.

Although it usually bristles at the term “suburb,” Arlington has been a desirable one for most of its existence. However, without any warning, Arlington’s fortunes have turned, as more and more upper-middle-income families leave for the next big thing in urban sprawl: the exurbs. It's happening all over North America, and Arlington isn't the only established "suburb" in the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex to find itself suddenly undesirable. To varying degrees, the cities of Irving, Grand Prairie, Bedford, Garland, Richardson, Carrollton, and Farmers Branch are in the same boat as Arlington.

Instead of white flight, I call it “ecru flight,” because this time, it’s not just whites leaving established suburbs like Arlington, but well-employed minorities as well. Yes, the exodus is still mostly white, but enough people of color have joined this rush for the suburban exits to make it less racial in nature.

For the first time in its nearly 100 years of existence, Arlington now it finds itself in the challenging position of proving that it’s still a good place for people to choose to raise a family.

Gangs In A-Town's Hood

Not that Arlington has become an awful place to live. Ecru flight has simply proved that as a maturing city, there are no laurels for Arlington to rest upon. Indeed, new sales tax revenue from the recently-opened Dallas Cowboys Stadium masks seismic shifts taking place in the city’s once-prosperous economy, proving that breaking-even can be both positive and negative.

But something else has also come to the fore: the bane of urban America has come calling to prematurely aging subdivisions in a sprawling section of southeast Arlington in the form of gang violence.

Actually, police say Asian and Hispanic gangs have been here for years already, running extortion and drug rackets among the city’s sizable Asian and Hispanic populations. Only rarely, however, did they allow their turf to succumb to blatant displays of violence. Years ago, the Asian owner of a jewelry shop near my neighborhood was murdered gangland-style, but it did not result in widespread public alarm or the decline of our neighborhood.

However, the new breed of deadly gang violence which has reared its ugly head in Arlington doesn’t seem to have any roots in the traditional seeds of discord like discrimination or economic deprivation. It’s taking place in what would otherwise be a relatively acceptable middle-class neighborhood – not wealthy, but not a ghetto, either. It’s located in the sought-after Mansfield school district with good ratings, well-paid teachers, and quality resources. Since virtually all of the teenagers participating in the violence are black, their inexcusable behavior is compounded by their relatively privileged surroundings, making a mockery of previous generations of minorities who had legitimate causes for anger and despair.

Stupid Kids

And what is causing this violence? It's not what you'd think.

Several years ago, an entrepreneurial wanna-be hip-hop guru got kids to fight in groups, videotaped the fights, and sold them online. This most recent episode began, apparently, with girls fighting over a boy on April 19. Before too long, about 20 teens were enjoying a brutal melee reminiscent of the flash mobs which have been plaguing Philadelphia.

Inside one of the bungalows lining the street was a vacationing Houston cop, who heard the violent kids and went outside to see what was happening. One of the teens, Clevonta Reynolds, raised a pistol towards him, and when the officer identified himself and ordered him to drop the weapon, the kid made a motion towards the cop. You can imagine what happened next.

On the day of the stupid teen’s funeral, a bunch of kids were reassembling on the block in what they claimed was some sort of vigil. Because of the neighborhood’s recent violence, the police had been maintaining a strong presence in the area. However, things started getting rowdy again. A car full of teens careened wildly through the neighborhood, catching the attention of a nearby Arlington cop.

As seems to frequently be the case in these matters, what happened next is up for debate, depending on whether you’re a police officer trying to uphold the law or a juvenile with a humongous chip on your shoulder. At any rate, four teens ended up being arrested on traffic violations, which was enough to foment further petulance within the unreasonable crowd, although the subsequent release of the teens diffused further violence.

Parents, Don't Play the Race Card

Of all the questions the rest of Arlington is asking, one sticks out the most: Where were the parents in the videos kids were shooting with their cell phones and which they provided the news media? If they were both at work, why didn’t they make arrangements for childcare for their children? Obviously, just because these are teenagers, their attitude is still too juvenile for them to be trusted on their own.

Even some black Arlington police officers have suggested that race itself may be part of the situation. Have you figured out already that these kids are black, or up until now, did you not have a clue? However, haven’t decades of urban crime studies proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that race itself does NOT play a factor in gangs and delinquency? Plenty of middle-class black parents raise kids of equal - and better - quality as their white counterparts.

However, the fact that a disproportionate number of black youths are involved in these incidents cannot be ignored. But it's not a racist observation, simply a cultural one. And the culture I suspect to be responsible is the gangsta culture.

Why don't we see middle-class kids from other races and ethnicities behaving this way? Could it be because some cultures tend to glorify the gangsta lifestyle? How much less discipline and responsibility do these families exercise over their children which results in teenagers unwilling - and unable - to learn how to take responsibility for themselves? Nobody can expect all teens to be perfect all the time, but at some point, juveniles need to be mastering certain benchmarks for acceptable behavior well before they graduate. Sometimes it's the teens' fault for failing in this area, and sometimes it's the parents'. But the parent is the one legally responsible for their child.

Some parents may genuinely be ignorant of the role gangsta movies, music videos, and other lifestyle props play in the development of their children. Other parents may simply be in denial of how their own celebration of the gangsta culture rubs off on their kids. However, I suspect that a significant number of these parents are by themselves without a spouse, trying to hold down a full-time job to pay for their bit of suburbia and at their wit's end struggling to relate to their teenaged kids.

Should the city step in and provide taxpayer-funded programs to keep the kids off the streets? I don't think so. Even the black mayor of Philadelphia, responding to parents complaining flash mobs were a result of too-few city activities for teens, says he "was elected mayor, not mother."

Maybe single parents in the neighborhood need to pool their resources to have an after-school program for their kids. Maybe they need to lower their lifestyle expectations a notch or two so they can spend more time monitoring their offspring. After all - these kids are their responsibility, not ours. Yes, it takes the proverbial "village" to raise kids, but our village has already spent a considerable fortune in schooling and policing, so I think our responsibility has been met - as it has been met for every other race and culture in Arlington.

Da 'Boys In Town

The proof of a community's viability is its ability to succeed with as little help from the municipal government as possible. That means local churches, social groups, and maybe even employers need to step up along with parents to try and indoctrinate these kids with some beneficial social skills.

It’s not just because gangsta violence scares away they type of industrious, diligent, and civic-minded taxpayers that Arlington needs to remain a viable city.

People who acquiesce to a culture which glorifies crime - even soft-core crime like yelling at cops, street fighting, and driving dangerously - will only push their neighborhoods further and further into despair. The gangsta culture has to be thwarted.

If for no other reason than the real gangsta thugs in Chicago, the Bronx, and LA would probably laugh their heads off if they saw how silly these middle-class kids from a highly-regarded school district in a decently-manicured subdivision behaved.

And no, the genuine gritty urban gangsta scene isn’t what we want for Arlington. We’ll get enough of that vibe when the Dallas Cowboys play in their new stadium.

After all, at least they’re professionals.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your social commentary on the current state of our city. I will read more in the future.


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