I’m looking at young people in a very similar predicament, and their vantage point is outside their window. I interviewed one kid and asked, “What do you think about police in your neighborhood?” He said, “I think they’re fair. When I look outside my window I see black gangbangers, I see people doing things they shouldn’t be doing.” Whereas the kids who move across these boundaries of race and geography, they’re saying, “Wow, the police downtown, they wave at people and give the thumbs up. They don’t do that to me. They actually go in the shops and buy stuff. These aren’t things I see in the South Shore.”
The protective piece is so key. A kid asks, “Don’t the police stop everyone?” If you shatter that and say, “No, it’s actually just in your neighborhood,” or “No, it’s people who look like you,” what does that do, if they feel like they can’t really respond against it, or change that reality?…
So when it comes to looking at someone under the guise of criminalized suspicion, younger and younger black kids are caught under that same gaze. That’s one piece where they say, “I have to learn that I can’t run and race with my friends, since I might be seen as running from the scene of a crime.” Or, “I have to be careful about how I use my body in public spaces.”
Think about all the opportunities adolescents have to figure out who they are and try different things. These kids don’t get that same freedom to do that. To try different looks, to range farther from home, to be around different types of people. That’s not a mark of their adolescent experience, and it ages them.
In my estimation, it makes them skip that step of exploration, because there are consequences to stepping outside of those boundaries, or perhaps being received in a certain way by authoritative figures in what could be free spaces, like in school or particular neighborhoods.
While the attention urban neighborhoods receive may typically focus on large or traumatic events, Shedd and a number of other scholars have revealed day to day life and its consequences.
This reminds me that one of the goals of relocation programs – like Moving to Opportunity – was to provide better opportunities for kids. Some of the research has found such moves help.