Behind the Walls of the Ghetto
Essay Preview: Behind the Walls of the Ghetto
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Professor Terry Thuemling
5 November 2004
Behind the Walls of the Ghetto
Commenting on the famed Los Angeles ghetto in which he grew up, gangster rapper Ice Cube asserts, “If you aint never been to the ghetto, dont ever come to the ghetto” (Cube, Ghetto Vet). But why are American ghettos filled with so much violence, drugs, and inopportunity? In John Singletons powerful drama Boyz N the Hood the harsh reality of youths growing up in South Central Los Angeles, a place where drive-by shootings and unemployment are rampant, is brought to life. Shot entirely on location in South Central LA, Boyz N the Hood presents its story with maximum honesty and realism. The movie is a prime example of how American ghettos are dead end environments with minute chances for survival. If we are to put an end to the destitute, prison-like ghetto environments, we first need to take a look at what goes on there.
One can point to many initiating factors from racism to property owners aspirations of gentrification that create ghettos. Furious Styles, the strong and intelligent father of the films main character Tre, addresses the issue of why these areas are in such a dire state when he says:
 How do you think the crack rock gets into the country we [black people] dont own any planes, we dont own no ships…we are not the people who are flyin and floatin that shit in here […] why is it that there a gun shop on almost every corner in this community? […] For the same reason that theres a liquor store on almost every corner in the Black community, […] they want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills you dont see that shit, the best way you can destroy a people is if you take away their ability reproduce themselves. (Singleton)
In this passage, Furious presents ideas of white property holders looking for the best way to exterminate the Black and Hispanic communities in their area. The late rapper Tupac Shakur once declared, “We [Black people] aint meant to survive cuz its a set up” (Shakur, Keep Ya Head Up). As far-fetched as these notions may seem, they may hold more truth than one thinks. Questions arise as to the relation between the ghetto and the upper class areas. Oddly, these communities, though only miles apart, are completely detached. In a study on ghettos in America, Ed Glaeser writes that:
These districts commonly called ghettos, function culturally, intellectually, and economically apart from the busy downtown. The distance from Wall Street to the South Bronx, along these dimensions, is greater than that between New York and London or Tokyo. (Glaeser 1)
The isolation of these areas seems to be the main element that is fueling the influx of violence, drugs, and unemployment. The area of Los Angeles in which Boyz N the Hood was filmed, deemed South Central, is a mere 12 miles from the downtown area. Its hard to believe that only 12 miles from one of the cities that virtually defines American culture; gunfire, drugs, and retched living conditions, are commonplace. The upper class provinces of LA such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, which are quite differently a prime area of opportunity and big business, are the first thought of when describing the cultural make-up of the Los Angeles area.
The structural characteristics of the ghetto are a reflection of its situation. Fortification appears to epitomize the ghetto in America today, just as back alleys, crowded tenements, and lack of play areas defined the slum of the late nineteenth century. In an essay dealing with the fortification of ghettos, Camillo Jose Vergara points out:
Even in areas where statistics show a decrease in major crime, fortification continues to escalate, and as it does, ghettos lose their coherence. Neighborhoods are replaced by a random assortment of isolated bunkers, structures that increasingly resemble jails or power stations, their interiors effectively separated from the outside.” (Vergara 1)
Some hypotheses assert that people buy weapons and install security devices in response to growing fears of crime and a declining lack of faith in agencies, such as the police, to protect them (Hagan 2). Fortification is seen when looking at the South Central neighborhood that was filmed in Boyz N the Hood. Complete with bars and walls, this wasteland of a neighborhood gives the impression that the residents of the area are on their own when it comes to guarding against the unforgiving conditions they live in. Along these lines, a lack of municipal infrastructure is apparent in the film during such scenes as the one where a young Tre and his friends decide to go and look at a dead body that has been sitting long enough that it has begun to stink (Singleton). The fact that nobody came to retrieve the body or even worry about how and why it got there in the first place, shows that the people of these neighborhoods are pretty much left to there own devices to deal with situations such as this. Vergara continues:
In South Central Los Angeles a basic fortress is a bungalow with a small green lawn. The dwellings first line of defense is an iron door, usually painted black. Metal bars on the windows add further protection, changing the once-friendly character of the wood and stucco houses. Less visible are the iron spikes to ward off trespassers. (Vergara 2)
These types of precautionary structures say something about the virtual war zone that exists within ghettos. These precautions seem necessary in a place where police are perceived as uncaring and distant, taking a long time to respond to calls if not refusing to come at all.
Toward the beginning of the film, there is a scene where a burglar breaks into Furious and Tres house narrowly missing two bullets from Furious 357 Magnum in his escape. In response to the incident the police take over an hour to arrive. Casually stepping out of the squad car drinking coffee and eating a doughnut, one of the policeman remarks, “So nothing was stolen? […] Good, then we dont need to make out a report. […] You know its a shame you didnt get him, be one less nigger out here on the streets we have worry about” (Singleton). The police lose nearly all faith and credibility placed in them as they demonstrate an innate lack of concern for the people in these areas.
For several reasons, procedures used by police to respond to disorder are often ineffective. According to one journalist reporting on crime and delinquency, one reason is the ambiguity of disorderly conduct rules,