Law & Disorder in where?

Jenni got me watching this BBC special hosted by Louis Theroux called Law & Disorder in Philadelphia.  Below is the first of 6 parts that you can view on youtube, or on Jenni’s blog (link above).

I can’t help but feel a lot of things while watching.  It’s pretty good in the sense that I wanted to continue once I started.  Pretty brutal in that it portrays a dangerous and seemingly unsolvable cycle of poverty in violence.

If you live around here you might recognize some of the sights (maybe even people).   People around the neighborhood do act like this sometimes (and so do the cops), but the sensationalization bugs me.  People are going to look even crazier when they have such a narrow-viewed interrogater looking at violence in the city at one level.  It’s almost to say “this is why our city sucks” or “be afraid to live here because these people are on the loose.”

Well, our city does kind of suck sometimes.  I’d like to dig a bit further at some causes of poverty, Louis.  I’d like to explore why we’re not working together to keep illegal guns off the street.   I’d like to consider the American way of life that leads the “haves” to run to a place of relative safety, sometimes at the expense of the “have nots”.  I’d like some more options for people who get stuck in the ruts of their surroundings.

I guess it would be a boring movie to explore corporate profit on the street drug industry, sale of illegal handguns, letting neighborhoods languish before buying them up, etc.  At least boring in the sense that you don’t have a person with a crack addiction yelling into the camera to reinforce a lot of stereotypes.

The culture of violence or the cycle of poverty are not easily explained or solved.  We really do need Jesus in Philadelphia.

11 thoughts on “Law & Disorder in where?

  1. i appreciate this post, joshua. it’s a shame there is not a look at the city in the way you posited to help develop a higher level or understanding about what really goes on in this city.

    i was troubled by the officer in part 2 who hesitated when asked if he feels for the people in the neighborhoods when they get shot, and can’t really say he feels bad for them if they’ve committed crimes against others. but the overlap between ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ is staggering. a person charged with a crime one day was often a victim not long ago. we always feel so bad for the ‘victims’ of crimes, but what about when that victim has committed their own crimes in that very neighborhood? what happens when the victim of a shooting was a criminal last week who we called a menace and asked for them to be locked up? do we care any less? should we care any less? does this being to show us that people and problems are far less black and white as we’d like to assume?

    the lack of empathy and understanding between police and civilians/suspects is staggering, and the divide deepens with each passing news story of a cop that kills or gets killed. we always talk about ‘crime’ in the abstract as the enemy, but we never think about the people involved. if only we could all start seeing each other as people again, understanding that we are all amazingly similar, perhaps we could move to a more enlightened state where the war between cops and suspects could being to subside. i don’t know what would bring this change about, or if it’s too lofty an ideal, but i’ll hang on to it nonetheless.

  2. thanks, Mark. you must know how it feel to be in the middle of that world most of the time.

    I like your point that it’s really dangerous when we don’t or can’t see the humanity in each other. It makes us capable of horrifying things.

  3. I have been having such a difficult time wrapping my head around those videos. I tend to willingly forget that there is such a big problem in our own backyards. Although, if I dwell on the problems too much I know I would be consumed with hopelessness. Sigh. I guess the pursuit of a balanced view and concern for Philadelphia is the next step for me. Or prayer instead of a turned eye.

  4. hey guys,
    I gave this out as an extra credit assignment to some of my students… the response was interesting. One in particular caught my attention. He lives in the section of the city that was most focused on in the video, and said that reds actually runs the two street corners on his block and the girl who was killed was murdered around the corner. We talked a little about it and I asked him how he felt about it, what he thought could be done etc. There were some common things we easily agreed upon. Everyone thought the people looked silly and that it was horrible that these things take place in our city. We were all frustrated that this seemingly goes on and on and on. We couldn’t really figure out how police were suppose to effectively do their job with the stop snitching mentality. It was interesting, sensational and bummed us out on a lot of levels. These young people are good people. The effects of the street culture or world or whatever you want to call it are readily seen in the schools in philadelphia, whether it’s pre school students bringing dope into school, my new student who broke his old principal’s nose because when he was talking to him he accidently sprayed him (spit, c’mon you know you had a teacher like this) or the class of repeat ninth graders who draw all over $3000 worth of new texts the district has provided and refuse to do their classwork. I can relate to the cop who feels little to no compassion.

    I was talking to a teacher who has been in the district for 30 years today, asking for advice. He suggested I lower my standards and learn to not care as less or take it less personally. We were also talking about a particular student and he summed it up pretty well stating that she has been damaged too much to really ever change her behaviors or the things she gets involved in. Experience shows that this is partially true, and there are plenty of experiences where the person “sees the light” and does the about face. Who am I to say, but right now she sure as hell doesn’t show any signs of being willing. Why do we have to lower our standards? The idealistic side of me says we shouldn’t, but the realistic side of me says that it’s necessary because you will repeatedly hit a brick wall otherwise, and for what good? To be worn out, talked about by other staff members and possibly assaulted? We’re not talking about achievement here either, I’m talking about standards of how to courteously and appropriately interact with people. Maybe it’s about the small victories.

    Lana, I totally agree that we need God to affect any real change. This is really hard when there are no positive role models at home or in the neighborhood. It’s really hard when you’re confronted with a belligerent attitude of “I don’t give a [email protected]$#!” that is backed up by the actions. I’ve been STRUGGLING with this A LOT lately. It strikes up soooooooooo much emotion in me. Honestly I’m looking into applying for jobs in the suburbs. I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of defeat when I consider what I want to do and what I am actually achieving where I am at. I think there is a lot of truth to what the police sergeant is saying at the end of the video, if we take care of this guy there is going to be another guy to walk up and fill his shoes, and when I walk away someone else will walk up and fill my shoes. So what do you do? What can I do? I get that there are a gaggillion factors involved in this… this is my main question/problem with all of this debate. I strongly believe in accountability. If you know me you might know some of my story. I had one of those “see the light” experiences and was “saved by grace”. One of the most important factors to me making the changes I could were the consequences of my actions, I absolutely needed to experience the pain related to my actions in order to be willing to change. My concern is that we coddle people and do so much intellectualizing that we make a million excuses for people. Is it a shame that they are “sick” spiritually or mentally, absolutely. This however doesn’t in any way make it excusable.

    Seriously I have no clue, but I guess God is okay with it. Maybe I should say the serenity prayer more.

    Thanks for posting this Josh, and thanks for hearing me out. God bless

  5. Hey Joshua. Thanks for posting this, too. I am not sure what anyone took from what I wrote about these videos. I just really found it interesting. How the city is viewed, how the people act, the criminals and police alike. I am not sure what the answer is. I have always approached people of poverty and despair in a compassionate way. I do not think that will change, that is simply how I am. I do not know if it makes a difference however.

    You know me well. You know I spent some of my time in those areas, not doing anything good, but contributing to the problem. Whether it was drugs or stealing or doing something wrong. I am sure I took part in defacing some of their properties. To be honest, when I think about it, what got me out of that, was the people around me. I was embarrassed, I needed to make a change. I was hurting the people who cared for me. I had a problem. I tried to get help for it. It is hard to help people who don’t want help…. who do not see light at the end of the tunnel. I have always tried to see the light for them, but that doesn’t always work.

    I think it is easy to be offended or angered by some people’s cynical view of the situation. When someone chooses to be in a career that surrounds them with this stuff, or tries to do some kind of outreach with it, it can lead to an amazing frustration/ambivalence. It also leaves the ones trying to help and make a change feeling infuriated by those who judge, because what are the other people doing to make a change? I understand a lot of the people in our community think they are making a change by living in the common neighborhood, but what is that really doing? I am not completely knocking it, I just think by simply living there, it isn’t really making a change at all. Something else needs to be done. I do not think that means it needs to stop. I just think turning a blind eye doesn’t help either. I think it would take effort from everyone, people in the neighborhood, people outside the neighborhood, police, government, etc to make a difference. And I guarantee with all of that, it still wouldn’t solve it.

    I have a friend who is a heroin addict. He is hurting everyone around him. He lies to every single person in his life. He comes from money, he has been offered the world of help. It would only take him saying “okay I’ll try” for it to begin…. but he won’t. He keeps losing everything great in his life, but he still has his drug. It has cost him everything so far… and I am sure it will continue to. I think the same goes for people who are selling drugs, for people who are fighting and killing. They don’t want to loose their “high”. It can come from plenty more than a drug. I have never killed anyone. I have however sold drugs. I have done drugs. I have stolen from people, stores, what have you. I have hurt people badly, physically and emotionally and here I am… not doing these things anymore. I had to make the choose to try. I couldn’t have done that without God.

    I do not believe this is solely a town of faithless people. I do not believe that God is completely out of these areas or even out of these lives. Which leads me to… what is the main cause? I know I need to treat others the way I want to be treated, the way I want my family to be treated, but it’s hard, I do not see my family out there committing these crimes.

    What do you think will help?

    I just got done having a debate on racism and higher education in this country. I think a lot of the problem stems from people being denied things in their culture, in turn it fills them with a sense of entitlement. I think when these people feel entitled to something it makes them act out in many destructive ways. Sure some people fight for their education and fight for the right thing, but I think the majority of them fight for the wrong thing. I think a lot of these criminals, feel put down by the majority of people in the world, they end up doing the wrong thing. Maybe they know they can do it. I do however feel like if people generally felt that they were equal with all other races and economic standing, they would be striving for the bigger and better things. They would be trying to live the right way.

    I started going to AA about a year a half ago. This taught me a lot about accepting the consequences to my actions. It also is a spiritual program that taught me a lot about God. I think with God and knowing that He is there to accept me for who I am, and also seeing my part in the things I have done wrong, I can get through everything. I however feel lucky for knowing these things. Not everyone is that lucky.

    Maybe I am just a wishful thinker. I have a lot of hope in the world. It is confusing to me. I believe in God and think that I should treat people equally, that I should treat people with love, understanding and hope. That I should look for the potential in them and try to build it up in them.

  6. to markII (who might be Mark I because he posted on the facebook thread and jenni’s blog first?):
    wow! thanks for sharing so much of your process and story.

    i love how you reject the advice to “why not just love less?”. brilliant.
    job in the burbs may not be selling your soul, man. sometimes decisions like that seem like they are changing our values forever, but i tend to see them as seasonal adjustments. maybe you’ll be back in the phila district (with all its problems). i’m sure you know your predecessor will have big shoes to fill. we may even have friends that want to take a crack at it. maybe getting paid another $10k/yr, having art supplies, and less apathetic students will be healing for you. or maybe you just need to get angry and this transformation will happen, and the “next you” will keep going. can’t wait to see how it plays out.

  7. to jenni:
    if half of my friends were half as passionate as you we wouldn’t be having this conversation. thank you for getting this going. i don’t have a lot of answers, either.
    i like the “golden rule” but i think Philadelphia needs the Kingdom of God to bust through all the brokenness and enslavement to dead systems and ways of life…and bring peace and healing. there is a growing number of people who want to work that out together, and maybe you can be encouraged that you don’t have to work at it alone.

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