Youth Violence in the District of Columbia – A Culture of Crime

I’ve been pondering how I could help society understand the dynamics of youth violence and the anesthetic attitude young people tend to have toward violence, death and crime. I can imagine that for some people this notion is foreign. I remember participating in an Alternative to Violence Project while I was incarcerated, and someone mentioned that there are actually people in the world who would not stoop to violence even if their life depended on it. I was stunned. How is that possible, I wondered? Adaptation is the greatest technique of survival known to

man, so in my community violence is common and prevalent. It’s survival of the fittest….

The inner city streets are often wrought with violence because there is an abnormal acceptance of crime culture that has been passed down from generation to generation. There are hand me down conditions and traditions. My guess is that much of it stems from the media consumed that depict violence as the norm (be it hip hop, video games and/or movies). I also believe a lot of this is a response to feeling oppressed and an overall sense of powerlessness and lack of self-esteem. Many young people lack the guidance of caregivers and have never had established, appropriate principles and guidelines for behavior due to the absence of positive role models. In most cases, people in my community live by the “Eye for an Eye” theory.

I ran from my first fight when I was a young girl and when my father caught me he scolded me and threatened me. He demanded, “If someone hits you, you better not run. You better fight back, and if you can’t beat them you better pick up a bottle, a stick, or a brick, but you better not run.” He was squeezing my little arms as I winced in pain. I didn’t heed his words right away. I continued to run from fights. As I grew up through my elementary years, my adolescence, and during high school, I was warned time and time again, by my older siblings and the boys in my neighborhood, that I should learn to fight back. Finally, I began to fight back. I learned that defending myself might actually help me survive. My desire to survive physically and mentally led me to build up an image, and I sought to live up to it. I wanted everyone around me to fear me. I became determined that I would not be consumed by those who were more prone to violence. I wanted to live.

My image served to protect me until I ended up in prison for murder. Once in prison I rehabilitated myself to the fullest extent. Every so often when I witness the prevailing violence all around me in these same turbulent streets where I grew up, I wonder, how is that possible? When people look at my past, peruse my rap sheet, and hear war stories about the person I used to be, I don’t think they believe me when I say I absolutely detest violence. They doubt me because I used to be one of the worst people you would not want to meet.

I always have disliked violence to the fullest extent.  I was never anesthetized to violence. As a young girl when I was approached with a fight I would close my eyes, duck my head, and just begin swinging. As I got older I almost had to turn off a switch and become someone other than myself and let loose the goon who seemed to enjoy hurting others. In the end I destroyed my real self. I know firsthand that many young people who appear violent, angry and aggressive are truly just scared.  I am so grateful that I was able to rehabilitate myself, but the truth is that the person I am now is who I was always destined to be. Being uprooted from my community allowed me to develop the best in me and strive toward my higher potential. I’m still a work in progress, but there are two things I don’t do anymore no matter what’s going on around me: I don’t fight and I don’t follow.

You might be interested in:

Living in a violent neighborhood is as likely to give you Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as going to War.

American Street: Inside the most dangerous neighborhood in America Video






About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 

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