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by Peter Moskos

April 30, 2015

The "ghetto"

I use the word "ghetto" because it is the vernacular of police officers and many (though by no means all) of the residents. Here's what I said about "ghetto" in Cop in the Hood:
In any account of police work, inevitably the noncriminal public, the routine, and the working folks all get short shrift. Police don’t deal with a random cross-section of society, even within the areas they work. And this book reflects that.

The ghetto transcends stereotypes. Families try to make it against the odds. Old women sweep the streets. People rise before dawn to go to work. On Sundays, ladies go to church wearing beautiful hats and preachers preach to the choir. But if you’re looking for stereotypes, they’re there. Between the vacant and abandoned buildings you’ll find liquor stores, fast food, Korean corner stores, and a Jewish pawnshop. Living conditions are worse than those of third-world shantytowns: children in filthy apartments without plumbing or electricity, entire homes put out on eviction day, forty-five-year-old great-grandparents, junkies not raising their kids, drug dealers, and everywhere signs of violence and despair.

...If you’re not from the ghetto, and though it may not be politically correct to say so, the ghetto is exotic. One field-training officer accused me of being “fascinated by the ghetto.” I am. There are very few aspects of urban life that don’t fascinate me. But it is not my intent to sensationalize the ghetto. This is a book about police.

If you want to read about the ghetto, good books are out there. Ghettos are diverse and encompass many cultures and classes. Some object to the very term “ghetto.” I use the word because it is the vernacular of police officers and many (though by no means all) of the residents. If you really want to learn about the ghetto, go there. There’s probably one near you. Visit a church; walk down the street; buy something from the corner store; have a beer; eat. But most important, talk to people. That’s how you learn. When the subject turns to drugs and crime, you’ll hear a common refrain: “It just don’t make sense.”

1 comment:

Doug McGinnis said...

Thanks for this. I appreciated this when I read your book and it's definitely worth highlighting as we, as a nation, grapple with what's going on in places like Baltimore.