In the Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and Moral Life of the Inner City, Elijah Anderson compiles his research, which in a large part is composed of extensive interviews with people who live in the area understood as “North Philadelphia” that he designates as a “hyperghetto” and those that live in “the well-to-do areas of Philadelphia,” to formulate an ethnographic investigation of the inner city life.
Anderson effectively argues that in some of the “most economically depressed and drug- and crime-ridden pockets of the city,” the rules of civil law have been diluted and substituted with what Anderson coins the “code of the street. “2 In the end, this ethnographic investigation complimented by social theory illustrates the problems of the inner city and the struggles that pervade the lives of the inner city habitants but does not explicitly and efficiently communicate any implications for public policy.
This paper will investigate Anderson’s work and ethics theory to present an argument that favors more aggressive government action to produce a more suitable and equitable situation in the inner cities of America. Specifically, this essay will emphasize how gang life permeates the inner city, how the living conditions of the inner city harvests such a life, and how the government, according to justice theory, has an obligation to reform the conditions of the inner city. Gang life is a subculture that arguably permeates the life of the all American neighborhoods, whether they are lower, middle, or upper class.
This point needs clarification because it is often assumed that gang life is an urban phenomenon, but a thorough historical inquiry proves otherwise. The employment of violence and drug dealing may manifest itself in differing methods (i. e. the smuggling of drugs from New York City via four small minivans versus the extensive smuggling of drugs via mob heads methodically positioned throughout the world) but the end results remain the same: a number of deaths by way of guns and drugs among numerous other things.
With that said, the urban gang life attracts the youth of inner cities through the promises of alternatives and opportunities unavailable through the traditional methods of life (i. e. employment and recreation). As a result, the gang’s behaviors-attitudes and activities-typically reflect the failures and lack of opportunity in the social and economic structures of the American inner city. Once youth have entered gangs, their attempts to escape will unequivocally be plagued by threats of violence to them, their friends, and family among numerous other methods of intimidation.
Despite the repercussions, many youth live the life because it impresses their peers, especially the women in the minds of men, because they can live the “cafi?? life. “3 These “cafi?? life” men match well against more decent men because they have found access to a life-money which produces accessible needs and wants-that is stricken from other men in these cities. Acting as if you are not affiliated with the lifestyle or a specific gang can easily get you killed as if you were a part of one. Anderson illustrates this situation with the death of Michael.
Michael-the ideal type of kid who excels in sports, earns great grades, and actively engages in community service-encounters the questioning of the Greene Street gang on his way to a get-together. 4 After Michael continuously asserted “I ain’t in no gang,” one gang member held a gun to Michael’s head and another stabbed him continuously, leaving him to die on the street. 5 According to the Elijah Anderson’s interviewee, the largest gang is the one where were you say “I ain’t in no gang. “6 According to W. E. B.
Du Bois’ positing of social organization, the city is essentially composed of four classes. 7 The first were the well-to-do; the second, the hardworking, decent laborers who were getting by fairly well; the third, the “worthy poor,” those who were working or trying to work but barely making ends meet; and the fourth, the “submerged tenth,” those who were in effect beneath the surface of economic viability. 8 Anderson argues that “so-called ghetto underclass” in essence is the manifestation of today’s submerged tenth.
In The Philadelphia Negro, Du Bois emphasizes the problems that prevent young black men from obtaining jobs: the lack of education, connections, social skills, and white skin color, as well as the adoption of a life outlook that envisioned a hopeless future. 9 Anderson contends that the same predicament pervades the life of the contemporary black man. Anderson critiques leave little to the imagination. The discrepancies between inner city life and the rest of America become apparent with a simple surface investigation of the inner city life.
Anderson does not explicitly concern himself with the ramifications of this inspection on government policy and the possible remedies for the situation. However, Anderson does provide us two significant causes for the situation from which we can offer reasoning why the government needs to intervene and how it could do so. The first cause is absence of jobs and education, which are the ideas that have consumed the majority of this discussion to this point. The second cause is racism and the subsequent racial discrimination that Du Bois and Anderson observe as prevalent in society.
Inner city families, as a result of racial discrimination, believe that there exists two systems of law-one for whites and one for blacks. Therefore, if the whites have the power block in America, blacks must endorse a different lifestyle to obtain what they need and want. The typical policy maker would appeal to the discriminatory aspects of American society to argue for more aggressive policy, but in this case, appealing to the absence of jobs and relating it with the egalitarian theory of John Rawls produces a compelling case for a re-evaluation of the American system.
Rawls’ theory is more applicable because it avoids the questions of redistributive justice that often stifle policy progression because of its controversial attributes. Rawls puts forward two conditions that provide the basis to the principle of justice. First, each person must have an equal claim to the basic liberties that are compatible with a system of liberty for all. 10 Second, the social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both to the highest benefit of the least advantaged and attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.
In the case of the inner city, the aforementioned application of Du Bois social organization implies that the first and second conditions of Rawls’ theory are not being applied. Behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance, which characterizes the original position where individuals are unaware of facts about themselves and their situation, one can suspect that a rational and reasonable person would agree that education and economic opportunity should be basic liberties of all persons. 1 A simple surface investigation of the education system in the inner city compared to that of well-to-do areas illustrates otherwise. American courts have ruled that basic education does not include college which in arguing this point, I am willing to concede. However, the courts, like those in New York, that have argued that basic education only includes that up until eighth grade are way off-base. What constitutes a basic education may be the breaking line between dissenters and asserters on the implementing of system that ensure a basic education.
Even if so, it is fair to assume that behind the veil of ignorance that the American society would choose an education that went through, at least, twelfth grade precisely because Americans understand that a high school education is, for all intents and purposes, very much insufficient in garnering a well paid job but is the cut off line for obtaining a survivable-economically and socially meeting the basic needs-job. Appealing to Rawls’ second condition, the argument is fairly apparent. As the United States has expanded in economic wealth and social opportunity, the poorest of the poor have become essentially poorer.
In other words, the growth of the United States has had a disparate impact on the least advantaged, overwhelmingly burdening them with the growing inequalities and disparities in the system. Government policy via affirmative action policy appeals to the inference of disparate impact. However, is appealing to the methods of redistributive justice and their affirmation via the criticism of racial discrimination the most efficient method for addressing the problem? John Boatright presents the compensation argument as one of the premier arguments for the implementing of affirmative action.
The compensation argument holds that preferential treatment is owed to the members of a certain group as “compensation for the injustice done by discrimination directed against them personally or against other members of a group to which they belong. “13 Rawls reasonably and most articulately despises retributive justice because it does not efficiently address the flaws of the system. In this case, affirmative action works to sugarcoat the unequal system and re-present it to the least advantaged instead of aggressively attacking the core of the system.
How to attack the boil that has persisted for years appears obvious but arguably, however understandably, is expensive. The situation necessitates that the government implement a system that pays and provides for an intellectually strong education of inner city youth and the growth of new jobs that are available to those of higher education and high school education. This system particularly does not have to resemble a socialist society as many academics and policy makers may think. The system needs, at least, to forcefully address the problems of inner city life before more youth are lost to the depths of gang life.