Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman. This is my first book of the summer. Sometimes I read it voraciously and sometimes by discipline. My reading style for novels is to become engrossed and consume them in a matter of hours. As soon as the hook is set, I am in "don't bother me I am reading" mode and it is best to solve your own problems and fix your own meals. But I deemed this to be worth the time and effort and considered it "development." I was going to say "professional development" as I am sure it will shape my approach to the classroom, but it is also personal. In particular this book addresses the policing of poor black neighborhoods and is a culmination of Alice Goffman's extensive research conducted in the inner-city of Philadelphia. While I am a fringes kind of gal in a lot of ways.... I don't easily engage in conversation, I like being a wall-flower... that kind of fringe...but also, I am not middle class, though I am white, but I am not quite ghetto either. I am more comfortable with others who live below the poverty line, but I have avoided some of the trials of poverty. Anyway... this fringe mentality (along with the fact that I spent a summer in SW Philly with Tony Campolo's EAPE summer camp project... many years ago) gave me a sense of identifying with the story, a buy-in, and piqued my interest. Alice researches the life of young men (and women) living in the ghetto by submerging herself in their lives, living near their neighborhood, spending time with them, becoming part of their families by befriending them, tutoring their children and offering support and other ways to help that those of us not living in the inner-city take for granted, like giving rides since she owns a car. There are several points in the book when I felt that the repetition was too much and I just wanted to move on, to learn more, to become more engrossed in the lives of the people and to learn about what might happen next. But the book is very eye-opening to the fact that a community that is heavily policed is in itself a problem.  Many of our own children, in middle class neighborhoods make foolish mistakes growing up and their teachers and principals don't generally send them through the court systems, locking up our youth as young as 10 or 11. The story that stuck with me the most was when one of the young men that Ms. Goffman befriended got pulled over driving his girlfriend's car. While I realize that it is no excuse for him to not have known the car was not legal to drive, his 10 year old brother was brought up on accessory charges, beginning his demise into the criminal justice system simply for being a passenger who was on his way to school.

When I first started reading this book, I was enamored, excited, and posting about it on social media. The question brought up was.... Where is the solution? Whoever brought this up seemed to think we've heard enough about the problem, we need to know what is next. However, I think that we lucky folks living in white suburbia have not heard enough and we don't understand the depth of the problem. On a side note, I backed into a car this week. It was parked directly behind my driveway and I didn't see it. The first thing I did was tell the lady at the residence, and then I called the police (and they graciously issued me a citation). But there was no fear involved. In fact, we chatted. The one officer used to go church with my parents and grandparents and we talked of times long ago and discussed neighborhood problems. There's been all this controversy on social media about the public villainizing our perfectly good policing system. This is coming from white suburbia where we are not afraid of the police and they truly are here to "protect and serve." Deep in the research in this book, the police brutalize men and women and destroy and make sure that the poor stay poor by confiscating their income and terrorizing them on a regular basis, making it hard to obtain or keep legitimate jobs. So I don't believe we are ready for the next steps yet. Those of us who are privileged to live in a white suburban neighborhood (whether or not we are white, but living in this type of society) are blind to life in the ghetto and what that looks like.  I too wish I knew where to go from here, what to do with the information I gleaned from reading this book. And yet I feel like my eyes were opened and I lived in a perfectly perfect community with a very contained poverty problem in our own little area of town that the poor refer to as the ghetto. And because of my fringe status, I have friends that live there and let me tell you, no one wants to live or circulate in the ghetto. Even in my perfect town. I feel like maybe I will have a little bit more of a perception of life below the line and a little more compassion as I will be teaching in a high poverty school. My next question would be, is this contained to black neighborhoods, or any minority neighborhood. In Kansas, the demographics are rapidly changing from predominantly white to Hispanic. In the next twenty years, the demographics in this town will change considerably. Towns to the west and south are very different from here already, demographically speaking.

I think the book is well worth the investment of time and although it gets redundant occasionally it is educational and interesting. This book increases understanding of life in the American ghetto and the police state that those who live there grow up in. While this is intended to curb the crime and drug trade, it contributes to the problem when young men become unemployable in legitimate jobs they turn to crime and the drug trade as ways to pay the bills and take care of their families. Some of my favorite reading was after the conclusion as Ms. Goffman is explaining herself and how she became part of the community and the lasting effect it has had on her as she finished her college classes and how it has altered her relationships and perceptions of police, and all white men, who represent the brutal policing force present in the neighborhood she was a part of.

This book probably is not for everyone, but for me, I think it will make me a better teacher to gain understanding of life outside of my perception of the American Dream. Particularly I would say hats off to Alice for truly submerging herself in the research and living out the life to give us a first-person view of life in an American City.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I thought I would have no interest whatsoever in reading this book when you first posted about it. But after reading your review it sounds like a good place to learn about an issue that is coming back into the spotlight, as it should. It looks like a good place to start learning. It's not a New York City or L.A. or "the south" problem, as we in the midwest thought for so many years.