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Crips and Bloods: Made in America

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Crips and Bloods: Made in America is a documentary about gang violence in Los Angeles.  The title makes it sound flashy, like a hard-hitting analysis of the hopelessness of the situation.  It's not.  It's a film that makes sweeping statements about the sources of the conflict, fails to back them up, interviews current gang members to no real end, and then comes to a wishy-washy conclusion. 

Well-researched or not, it did bring a few points up that I thought were noteworthy.  It makes the assertion that urban gangs sprung up to fill the vacuum of black urban organizations like the Black Panthers.  (According to the movie, the dissolution of these organizations is blamed on J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which may or may not be true, but is poorly justified.)  This cause-and-effect relationship was one I had never considered.  It's a seductive claim.  After all, the Panthers and the corresponding Black Power movement were major cultural forces and it makes sense that a void could be created when it receded into the background.  But I can't really see the link between that and the rise of African American gangs.  Why would the splintering of a party focused on high-level and political activism result in a highly self-destructive pattern of violence?  The idea seems to be "Well, fighting the man didn't work, so now I'm going to resort to crime against my neighbors."  No, it's not that simple. 

Instead, I think it is part of a larger pattern that we experienced in the 80s.  Our culture experienced a rubber-band effect in Reagan's 1980s America that threw away idealism for greedy individualism across our entire culture, across economic and social boundaries.  The fall of an idealistic movement like Black Power and the rise of drugs and violence were both symptoms of that greater cultural shift, not a simplistic cause-effect dynamic.  After all, we saw the same increase of drugs and violence along the same timeline in other cities across the nation that didn't have the same racial profile.  Miami is the most glaring example, where an even more dramatic uptick in violence and drug trade occurred, and little of that violence was black-on-black.

The other point that the movie made that I found worthy of thought was the economic timeline of African Americans in Los Angeles.  Put briefly, the post-war economic boom saw a lot of manufacturing jobs open up in Los Angeles, which caused many black GIs returning from the war to move to LA.  Due to a prejudiced culture, enforced through racist home-selling policies and police brutality, these citizens clustered in a few small neighborhoods.  When the manufacturing jobs started to dry up as our country transferred to an information- and service-oriented economy, these neighborhoods were hit much harder.  These neighborhoods experienced disproportionate unemployment, which led to higher crime.  This explanation makes much more sense to me.  It doesn't rely on the 'violent culture' crutch, instead making solid economic arguments for the increase in crime.  I have heard similar arguments in the past, but to hear it all laid out in a clear example was enlightening.

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