Stephanie Lamorre realized an incredible documentary on women in Los Angeles gangs. I couldn’t believe some scenes, wondering if it was “scripted reality”, indeed, who would admit being a Pimp in front of a camera, how could a gang member break a top gang rule and wish she never joined the gang (letting her gang fellows presume she will flake on ’em), and who would beat someone to blood in front of a camera?
I found out that Most [gang members] (79.6%) would quit gang life given the right circumstances of being given a”second chance in life” […] In that survey, it seems that the main reason for a quarter of ’em for joining the gang was making money.
Crawling the web with the key “gang member life expectancy”, I could find: “The average life expectancy of an active gang member is: 20 years, 5 months”
But there don’t seem to be any reliable source or survey behind this assertion.
Actually the exact facts don’t really impact what I am trying to understand here, most gang members expect their life expectancy to be shorter than the national average, some have joined with the expectation to make money, but I presume joining a criminal gang implies at least a rejection of the studies/diploma path to make money. I’ve randomly heard that a young checking for the dealers if the police was coming in a Parisian neighborhood would make 100€ a day, not the best incentive for him to attend school…
This leads me to believe the scenes in this documentary: with the above assumptions I can only imagine that a criminal gang member is only left with a “nothing to lose” approach to life.
The protagonists express many regrets and explains how enticed by the gang financial and group protection they overlooked that joining a criminal gang would shatter their civil life prospects.
The documentary starts with an explicit Nicki Minaj song: Did it on ’em, the lyrics reflect well the hate atmosphere among a gang against any outside organization, regardless of it being another gang or the police.
I will try to demonstrate how, in my view, this documentary add to the theory that violence is actually generated among peers rather than coming from social superiors.
Back in 1991, Boyz N the Hood opening scene stated “One out of every twenty-one Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime.” and “Most will die at the hands of another Black male.”
In this movie, there is a scene that depicts some paranoid thoughts about a grand scheme from american society that would want the afro-american community to destroy itself:
“why is it that there’s a gun shop on every corner here? […] like there’s a liquor store on every corner in the black community. […]They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills, you don’t see that shit. They want us to kill ourselves.”
In 2008, the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America studies the historical conditions in Los Angeles that have led to the birth of criminal gangs. Two of the reasons put forward have caught my attention: afro-american families could only rent houses in a limited number of neighborhood in LA due to landlord discrimination leading to ghettoization and afro-american children would be refused in the boy scouts groups motivating them to create their own youth groups that would later turn into criminal gangs.
Now reading Pierre Bourdieu, French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher it rang a bell when he developed his theory of internalized social structure. Bourdieu defined fields (art, education…) and explained how social dominants use strategy to avoid conflict with inferiors in any field. This is through legitimation and symbolical violence where individuals internalize the social structure which lead them to oppress themselves and their peers.
Under the light of this theory, when a character in Boyz N the Hood keeps repeating “The want to kill ourselves.” or when the lady recruiter tells Lamorre: “That bitch gonna get hoed […] Not even knowing […] She said she wanna make some money. She a hoe. And I recruit hoes […] Being a pimp is better than selling drugs […] A drug dealer can get caught with one lil’ funky rock and being jailed for a long time […] I don’t understand why the government, why the state feel like ‘it’s OK for hoes to hoe.’”
So on one side the protagonists fool their peers by recruiting, threatening, harming or killing their peers and on the other side they realize the atrocity of the situation but put the responsibility on an exogenous force that in their words ‘feel’, ‘think’ and ‘act’.
To finish the picture, I have to understand why actors that refused the civil society scheme still abide to rules that lead them to oppress their peers in what seems to me an organized way. In Shawn Carter alias Jay-Z book ‘Decoded‘, his confessions struck me how business oriented and capitalist minded he was as he sold death around his project (Jay-Z used to be a crack dealer). Jay-Z even quoted the best-seller Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner): [The gang leader’s] hourly wage was $66 … the foot soldiers earned just $3.30 an hour. In other words, a crack gang works pretty much like the standard capitalist enterprise: you have to be near the top of the pyramid to make a big wage … so if crack dealing is the most dangerous job in America, and if the salary is only $3.30 an hour, why on earth would anyone take the job?”To answer that question they use the parallel with the capitalist organization of society where people accept low wages with the hope to make it to the top (and access top wages). As this structure is pyramidal, if you want to climb up you have to beat the one currently occupying your level…
In the old roman legend, the Sabines women were originally abducted by the Romans. Legend has it that later when the Roman and the Sabine tribes planned to fight and kill one another, the women stood in the middle appealing to their husbands on the roman side and fathers on the Sabine side to stop the fighting’s.
Unfortunately, watching the gang girls in the Stephanie Lamorre documentary and the thoughts I gathered from reading Bourdieu, I get no feeling that women soften the violence between L.A. gangs.