Social Issues / African American &Amp; Societys Influence

African American &Amp; Societys Influence

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Autor:  anton  18 October 2010
Tags:  African,  American,  Societys,  Influence
Words: 2138   |   Pages: 9
Views: 569

I. Introduction

We can begin to draw comparisons and highlight distinctions about the meaning

attached to youth violence, from the modern era to present day. Based on this meaning,

we are able to understand the myriad of ways delinquent juveniles are affected by certain

policies. Specifically, African Americans are over-represented in the juvenile justice

system of Cook County, Chicago. Thus, they are a vulnerable population that is singled

out by the system, and this further exacerbates and stigmatizes them.

II. Historical Background: Children As Villains In Modern America

Until the late 19th century, children were tried in criminal courts with adults. According to common law, the law regarded children under the age of seven, as still in the infancy stage of moral development, while those over the age of fourteen, were morally developed and thus responsible for criminal offenses.

An early response, to the reasoning of juvenile delinquency, was that the blame was directed at the child. Children faced harsh punishment, such as prison and death. Eventually, reform efforts were established to provide a more acceptable approach. The Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, viewed delinquents as needing a place to rehabilitate, and punishment was built in (Shepherd). As a penalty, the children worked an 8-hour day at trades and attended school for another 4 hours. Records reveal that many of them had not committed any criminal act, and a number of juvenile delinquents could be categorized as committing status offenders (Shepherd). Juveniles were susceptible to court hearings that were informal, and the ideology was based on the principle that judges will act as a parental guide, and provide an approach to guide children.

In addition, another response to the growing concern of youth delinquency was with the establishment of the first juvenile court system created in Cook County, Chicago. This act was unique, since it attempted to reduce the stigma of juvenile crime and create a new approach for the process of offenders. They philosophized that children were not to be treated as criminals but in need of encouragement.

III. Current View of Juvenile delinquency

Over the decades, the perspective of juvenile delinquency has seemed to intensify,

as it has been regarded as an epidemic. Youth violence has appeared to proliferate in

some areas, such as Chicago, Illinois. For the urban African American youth in this

segment, violence is the context of daily life. The Youth in this region witness it, barely

escape it, and become caught up in it. They are vulnerable to the disorganized

community they live in, since deteriorating buildings attract criminal behavior.

One of the most critical inter-group tensions is gang violence. There are some

predominantly African American gangs in Chicago that constantly fight one another.

Some of these gangs include the “Gangster Disciples” and the “Black Disciples”

( These two gangs occupy the Southside neighborhoods and are

constantly at war with each other. This means they are involved in fighting, violence,

and even murdering one another. These gangs on the Southside account for the high

numbers of murders in this area. In 2002, there was an average of five murders each

month in this area alone (Sheney, 2004). It can be deduced that many of these murders

were gang-related.

As crime has sharply proliferated in Cook County, there are organizations that have created a mission statement to support and dedicate their time and energy, in the hopes of deterring youth from criminal activity. The National Black Association of Chicago provides several programs to cater to the needs of African American youth. Such programs provide educational support, professional development, and several other outreach initiatives. This indicates that Chicago cares about the current perception of delinquent youth, and desires to offer stable programs to engage them in more productive activities.

IV. Conservative & Liberal Perspective’s on Juvenile delinquency

From a conservative perspective, they would label Juvenile delinquency as a deviant act. Juvenile delinquents have created a subculture that provides them with motives, reasons, and justifications that enable them to account for their involvement in proscribed activities. Within this subculture they have developed a rational to justify their misdeeds, during times when they are brought under scrutiny by police, courts etc. For instance, when youth engage in a crime, and are charged with a criminal offense, they deny their involvement. What youth fail to realize, is that as they engage in criminal acts, they disrupt the fabric of society.

In this respect, youth have not been able to take good advantage of the bountiful resources that Cook, County Chicago has to offer. It appears that youth in this community, are failures in academia because they lack effective coping mechanisms to pull themselves together during difficult times. There are always safety nets for these youth to be cushioned by, although they are easily lured into a lifestyle of crime.

On the other hand, a liberal perspective would criticize the social problems as inherent in the stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory tendencies, which are embedded in institutions encompassing Cook County. These youth are not provided with appropriate tools to succeed in life, education etc., because structural disadvantages exist. There are too few positive stimuli, such as community resources, and far too may negative stimuli, such as the deteriorating community. If we can develop programs to intervene at an early stage, than we can unite the community to understand that juvenile delinquency is preventable. Prevention is the most efficient means, both in terms of cost-effectiveness, and providing a nurturing environment for youth to grow. Ultimately, if we change the philosophy of the institutions, residents will become more productive, and this will enhance people’s lives.

V. Literature Review Addressing Social Problems

Quite often what is missing in conceptually understanding youth violence is the acknowledgement that certain factors place children, youth, and families at risk for violence. Special attention is directed at the effect of poverty, character of the neighborhoods, character of the family, peer influence, and particularly the influence of street codes (Bennett & Fraser, 1). Youth residing in Cook County are both directly and indirectly affected by the socially disorganized neighborhood. The devastating portrayal of Cook County, provided by The Chicago Reporter, indicates that potential indicators of social disadvantage exert both direct and indirect influences on youth. Estimates show the 60624 zip code (Cook County) had the fourth-highest percentage of households headed by single women with children, the third-highest unemployment rate and the third-lowest per capita income. Single parents who are poor often have less contact with neighbors and are less likely to monitor the activities and associations of their children (Bennett & Fraser, 2). Thus, the combination of single parent-hood and poverty reduces the resources available to children and indicates the potential to disrupt effective parenting (Bennett & Fraser, 2).

In addition, due to the lack of a positive male role model in an adolescent’s life, Bennett and Fraser indicate, “rates of offending by African American juveniles {are} strongly influenced by variations in family structure” (3). Adolescents begin to internalize and normalize images of black men as perpetrators, and this internalization is a contributing belief that they perceive, change is beyond both their control and the community’s control.

As there are many factors, which have contributed to Cook County developing into an impoverished neighborhood and in turn a growth of youth violence, the most daunting is the reality that it exacerbates fear and withdrawal, and as isolation grows, it further breaks down cohesion (Bennett & Fraser, 4). As social disorganization intensifies, homicide, robbery, gang violence, drug and alcohol use, etc. are symptomatic of such a community. When a community is characterized as such, residents often view the larger society as uncaring, hostile, and unwilling to assist.

VI. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act: Victims or Villains

According to the article: Urban Violence among African American Males: Integrating Family, Neighborhood, and Peer Perspectives, it suggests that the roots of violence may be embedded in the structural disadvantages that African-American youth experience in their neighborhoods. For instance, there have been many attempts by Legislators in Illinois to amend racially biased policies and laws. These Legislators have voted to change the state law that automatically transfers juveniles to adult court for dealing drugs near schools or public housing. In May 2000, The Chicago Reporter indicated that from 1995 to 1999, 99 percent of the 363 Cook County teenagers transferred to adult court for drug offenses were black. To alter the amendment, House Bill 4129, was implemented and it was a change to the Juvenile Court Act of 1988. It would still send offending 15- and 16-year-olds to adult criminal court, but it gives them the right to petition judges to go back to juvenile court (The Chicago Reporter).

In addition, this policy addresses the disproportionate representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. Minorities stand a much greater chance of being arrested than white individuals. Particularly, African American minorities are vulnerable to ending up in the juvenile justice system. The rationale provided for a high proportion of African Americans in the system, is the tendency for probation officers to see the crimes of youth as caused by personal failure, and inadequate personality verses the crimes of white youth caused by poor home life, and lack of positive role models (Collins & Hawkes, 23). Thus, the way in which African Americans are viewed by the juvenile justice system further exacerbates racial disparities in Illinois.

VII. Draw conclusions about the U.S. approach to children living in poverty, and what gaps exist in meeting their needs.

If we assess poverty in relation, to juvenile delinquency we may want to examine

historical policies that laid the framework for future policies to develop. The Elizabethan

Poor Law of 1601 can be examined to understand later U.S. interventions. The aspect of

differential treatment, relates to the “deserving” vs. “undeserving poor”. Based on this

historical information, we can draw inferences that, today’s juvenile justice polices are

reflective of this philosophy. The juvenile justice system severely penalizes the poor

African Americans (Undeserving poor) in Cook County, although the poor Caucasian

(Deserving poor) youth do not receive the same negative treatment. Since the laws and

policies around the juvenile justice system are construed to benefit Caucasians, there

appears to be a resentful undertone in regards to this difference in treatment.

In addition, the United States approach to addressing poverty remains to be a highly debated social justice issue. There is much controversy over the implications of giving resources to poor children, since they do not have an active voice in society. They are often referred to as “them” vs. “us” and applying this term leads to stigmatizing. Based on this exclusion, there are many gaps that exist in meeting their needs, and to list a few, they include lack quality healthcare, education, and housing.

Thus, the United States approach to children living in poverty is to have poor families assume personal responsibility, and this indicates that they should be able to provide their own sustenance. This philosophy is indicated in the ways legislators have effectively construed policies to provide a limited amount of resources, such as TANF, and food stamps, to maintain them for a designated amount of time. Maintenance is not a justifiable means for changing the system, this approach only fails to recognize the full breadth of the seriousness. Thus, it is important that these gaps exist and will continue to exist if recommendations are not provided to legislature, that the nation’s poor children are inadequately being taken care of. Consequently, there is the possibility that America’s poor children will grow up in a socially disorganized neighborhood, and ultimately they will be exposed to violence. As they grow up, they will attach meaning to the surroundings and people around them, and depending on the resource in their life they will eventually become molded.


Bennet, J. and Fraser, L. (2002) “Urban Violence among African American Males:

Integrating Family, Neighborhood, and Peer Perspectives”. 1-2.

Chicago Gangs. Retrieved December 13, 2004 from

Collins, J.W. and Hawkes, E.K. (1997) “Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform:

Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention”. 21-24.

Dumke, M. (2000, September. Race, Poverty, & defining failing schools. The Chicago

Tribune. Retrieved December 5, 2004, from

Sheney, R. (2004). Armed and Dangerous. The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December

12, 2004 from

Shepherd, R. Jr. “The Juvenile Court at 100 Years Back: A Look Back”. Retrieved

Decmber 13, 2004 from

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