Most of us, being United States citizens, would like to believe that everyone in this country is living in conditions of utmost freedom and equality. Although according to the constitution this is true, anyone who has ever been the victim of oppression knows not to take equality for granted. Our society has slowly grown to accept the different types of people that live in our country; it is now a lot less common to see people s rights such as freedom and equality being abused. However, the influences of the past, when the living conditions were far less then equal for many groups of people, can still be witnessed today. A fine example of this could be seen through the way in which housing discrimination led to the colonization of Blacks into their own neighborhoods and communities, which eventually led to the creation of ghettos and gangs. Racism, in itself, is a belief that a person holds; it forces another being to be placed at a lower status within one s mind and in the society as a whole. Keeping Blacks and other minorities at a lower level was the principal state of mind for many of the whites during the early part of the twentieth century. This kind of mentality exists in our society till this day among certain groups of people. The cold and harsh manner with which the Blacks were treated takes us all the way back to slavery. Back in those days the majority of this country s population accepted it. The oppressed African Americans eventually began to become more organized and started to fight for the civil rights they deserved as citizens of the United States. Despite the attempts of the Civil Rights Movement, much damage was already done; unfortunately many minds were already tarnished with negative images of what the Black person was and could ever be. In spite of the fact that many Black people were working towards moving up and making a life for themselves, racism continuously kept them from advancing in the society. In the early part of the twentieth century racism placed a strong precedent for the way in which Blacks are today. After the civil war more and more free Blacks began to migrate north. They were seeking the possibility of better social and economic opportunities (Abrams 10). The high hopes were soon brought back down, as the Blacks were welcomed to the cities by the overwhelming mentality of the masters looking down on their slaves. They encountered landlord after landlord turning them away because of their unwillingness to rent to Blacks and other newly migrated minorities. It was this constant refusal to integrate housing that eventually caused the creation of minority driven neighborhoods. Since the majority of the whites turned their backs on Blacks and the other minorities, African Americans were forced into forming the types of communities that contained people of their race and poor financial state. Many of them came looking to move ahead in their new lives that they were recently granted by the constitution; but they were only pushed to join the fairly new neighborhoods, which were slums compared to those inhabited by the dominating white residences. The reason for this type of segregation could be explained as another tool of racism for the white man s advantage. The effects of these neighborhoods were more damaging then the simple prevention of Blacks and other minorities from integrating with the whites. By zoning the individual into compartments determined by color, it excluded the opportunity for a fusion of interests. By confining children to separate neighborhood schools and playgrounds, it sharpened the lines of distinction and developed illusions of superiority It was in housing that segregation received its greatest impetus and momentum. Once rooted there the segregation pattern spread unattested until the Negro ghetto became an accepted part of the American landscape (Abrams 7). Local authorities used every available weapon to keep the blacks divided; housing was simply the physical expression of this racial policy (Rudwick 10). Even if a family was able to afford housing in a predominantly white neighborhood, they were still not allowed to move in there. Despite the slow improvement of their economic status Blacks still possessed no freedom to move elsewhere. American slums (were) no longer exclusively the product of a discrepancy between rent and wages (Abrams 10). After being forced to confine themselves to such neighborhoods it was only a matter of time before it was not just the housing that was segregated, it was also an abundant amount of social segregation as well. Blacks came to larger cities hoping to find a piece of the pie and a deserving amount of acceptance, but instead they were given ghetto style housing environments and the same type of racist attitude they had previously lived with in the south. These people had no choice but to come together as equals within their own ghetto community where an abundance of acceptance and support might be felt. The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966, it was one of the first organized Black gangs . This organization was created to help in the efforts towards the survival of the black race (Meier 23). Despite the changes made as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and all its court cases very little was done to change the way in which the Blacks were seen. It was therefore up to the Black community to either continue being oppressed or to come together and help one another to fight back for equality and their rights. Emerging in the Fall of 1966 from the most depressed sections of the white police-ridden Black ghetto of Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party for Self-defense (had) in a remarkable short time been raised by its leadership to be an extremely significant force in the political battles against the American reaction (Newton 163). The soon to be Black Panther Party was formed from the people who were basically given no choice but to band together using the neighborhood that they were being restricted to as their only shelter. One big difference between the Black Panther Party and the gangs of today is that the Panthers originated with certain survival goals in mind. There were a total of ten points involved in the program that the Party initially worked for, ranging from freedom, to employment, to education, to military exemptions, all the way to equality in housing (Newton 31). In working towards these goals it was essential to pay close attention to the Panthers primary job, which was to provide leadership for the people (Meier 46). Leadership lessons had to be taught to the followers in order to gain a larger following through study, observation, and experience (Newton 14). The duties and goals that the Black Panther Party had sat forth for itself to pursue were overwhelming and for a time the Black panther Party lost its vision and defected from the community (Newton 45). Despite the fact that a giant step had been taken away from unity and away from the movement towards change and integration, the organization was still able to stay together. The Ten-Point Program was said to be the reason that the group was able to have survived those times and also because it (served) the true interests of oppressed people and administer(ed) to their needs (Newton 46). Another aspect of the Black Panther Party was the fact that it temporarily separated itself from the Black community so that it was a war between the oppressor and the Black Panther Party, not a war between the oppressor and the oppressed community (Newton 51). The Party took hold of one side of the battle in an attempt to be able to change the way in which the oppressor , or the white man, was working against the Black community. In a sense, the organization was a mediator in this fight for change. It was originally a political weapon of self-defense by Black people (Meier 23). When more and more Black people began to come together it became easier for them to fight for the causes that they believed in. It was easier to be noticed as an influential group and viewed as a possible threat when a large amount of organized individuals were pulled together to make noise and work towards change. We have drawn a line of demarcation and we will no longer tolerate fascism, aggression, brutality, and murder of any kind (Newton 21). The Black Panther Party in pursuing their goals also chose to be a Marxist-Leninist party; they chose to use both theory and practice (Meier 37). This approach had not yet been pirsued within the Civil Rights struggle and succeeded in gaining attention. The Blacks worked towards what were considered real goals: survival, liberation and freedom (Newton 189), rather then the often times unrealistic goals set forth by some other Civil Rights movements. The concepts that the Black Panther Party worked with were seen as threatening, but at the same time inspiring. After all, how could success not be reached when a race came together to fight against those who ridicule them and treat them unfairly. The efforts were many and they tried to work closely with the powers that could make the desired changes. Unfortunately not everything could be changed with the officials who sat in the higher levels of say. Furthermore, the environment that Black citizens were living in contained just too many economically and sociologically disadvantaged Blacks. A lot of these people failed to allow a grander and more permanent change within the ghettos that they called their homes. Today Blacks are often stereotyped as being useless trouble causing, gang affiliated nobodies. In some areas of the country the previous statement can be considered true. In many of the larger cities, such as Los Angeles, there are many gangs along with and problems associated with the majority of blacks and other minorities living in certain areas. Although these large cities are considered diverse, they are more correctly a haven and a melting pot for those people who have been permanently glued to the ghetto lifestyle. These neighborhoods are constantly being criticized and looked down upon. The individuals residing in these ghettos are stereotyped as hoodlums who will get nowhere. The faces that live within these ghettos and those that are part of the gangs of today can serve to explain why these stereotypes are so often true. Many of the people living in the big cities have no other place than the streets to turn to. In the streets they find other kids, much like themselves, who have formed a gang in order to survive. Within the gang all the members work together to take care of one another. In this ghetto city lifestyle support, even if it is in the form of a gang, is very important. Many city officials, however, are frightened by the figured that are related to the gangs. New policies are being discussed to determine what characteristics can be associated with possible gang members, in order to catch them. All this is done in an effort to reduce the amount of gang members wandering on the streets. In an extreme tactic it was suggested to close off entire neighborhoods to Black youths who have done nothing more than dress in blue or black clothing or associate with others who do so; they would authorize criminal penalties for ordinary, non-disruptive acts of walking or driving through a residential neighborhood with a relative or a friend (Shoop, Gang Warfare 12). Although most of the law officials in the San Jose area, where this proposal was first suggested are in agreement with this type of strategy, many activist groups are saying that this type of enforcement will cause fairly large restrictions on freedom (Shoop, Gang Warfare 13). It is not enough to have the law officials continuously trying to arrest and threaten a group of unguided kids, whose numbers are continuously growing due to the lack of community involvement and support. If the government wants to see change it must work with the cities to turn things around, starting at the bottom, or rather the beginning of the problem. I don t know how much can be done to move these minority groups away from the ghettos, but perhaps with some help something can be done to right the wrong that began over a hundred years ago (Shoop, Image of Fear 12). In similar case law enforcement agencies also developed profiles for youth that may be associated with gangs. Despite all the negative reactions to this idea, the law enforcement believes that it is a logical, efficient way to identify and mother dangerous youths (Shoop, Image of fear 12). Civil rights advocates who are against this proposal believe that the police will be finding and arresting more youth due to the fact that they fit their profile rather then whether or not they really do associate with a gang. It is believed that the profiles that these teens share are similar regardless of whether or not they are involved with a gang. Already teens have been thrown out of shopping malls, ejected from amusement parks, and stopped and searched by police, who may later enter their names and photos into the computer databases (Shoop, Image of fear 14). In my opinion this is definitely a violation of certain civil rights. Police are taking action before they have proper cause to do so. Although I do agree that much of the gang activity is becoming quite out of control, I feel that it is necessary to have a crime committed before going ahead and labeling these teens as gangsters just based on their appearances. It may appear to be easy for an outsider to suggest that these people should simply find their way out of these hopeless neighborhoods and cities and start new lives. Once again, as it was already proven in the past, this is not as easy as it may seem. The lives that these people are living are not ones that they were forced to accept and live with. Although the initial gangs were created as a type of defense, the gangs eventually escalated towards taking action on hate and tension that they have towards other rival gangs, even against gangs whose races are both primarily the same. The issue of civil rights and equality, which were the major factors, involved with the gangs of the sixties, evolved into the often materialistic issues that today s gangs fight and kill for. Territory and mere hate are the principal factors that are involved in the tensions between gangs today. Even if we were to understand the cause of what created these gangs, we are not guaranteed that we could find a solution to put an end to that sub-culture. There are no signs that the end of gang violence will be reached anytime soon. It is important to see that because the discriminations Black people had to deal with in the early part of the 20th century had a very significant effect on the lives of the future generations. Forced to live in designated neighborhoods, Blacks were never able to break the cycle of poverty that they lived in and continued to raise families in the same type of environment. Although gangs are a big issue in the ghetto type cities, it is important to understand and to realize that gangs were not placed there because a group of rebellious juvenile delinquents wanted to cause problems. They were eventually created because of the prejudice that another group felt towards their race and community.
Works Cited Books Abrams, Charles. Race Bias in Housing. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, Inc., 1964. Meier, August; Rudwick, Elliot. Black Protest in the Sixties.Chicago:The New York Times Company, 1970. Newton, Huey P. To Die For the People. New York: Random House, 1972. Rudwick, Elliot; John H. Bracey, Jr and August Meier, eds. The Rise of the Ghetto. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company Inc., 1971. Journals Shoop, J.G. Gang warfare: legal battle pits personal liberty against public safety. Trial. V34, n3 (1998):12-16. Shoop, J.G. Image of fear: minority teens allege bias in gang profiling. Trial. V30, n10 (1994): 12-15.