ON VIOLENCE IN THE CITY: THE DESPAIR, HOPE, UNFULFILLED
EXPECTATIONS, RESIGNATION/DESPERATION SYNDROME
Winston A. Van Horne
Professor/Chair, University Library Committee
Department of Africology
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Prepared for The Golda Meir Library Feature Article in the Social Sciences.
Copyright © 2002 by Winston A. Van Horne
Much is known about despair, hope, unfulfilled expectations, resignation, and desperation in the everyday lives of individuals. This essay is distinctive in that it taps what is known about each concept individually to call out that together they form a syndrome regarding violence in the city qua city–regardless of the location of any given city on the planet. It shows how hope can readily degenerate into despair when expectations fostered by hope go unfulfilled, and makes plain that both resignation and desperation can, and do, emanate from unfulfilled expectations. Finally, it discusses the emanation of violence from desperation, articulates the costliness of this for the city, and outlines ways of contracting the domain of violence.
The public policy significance and value of the essay is striking, for in a very real sense this manuscript is a sort of white paper to policymakers globally, beset by the scourge of guncriminals (euphemistically called gunmen, a practice that should cease worldwide) and societal violence.
EXPECTATIONS, RESIGNATION/DESPERATION SYNDROME
As I sat in quiet reflection searching for how best to open this essay, which comes from my studies, reflections, and lectures for a course entitled Urban Violence that I have taught for more than a quarter century now, my mind's eye alighted upon the preceding lines. I saw in them the gloom of despair, the expectation of hope, the submission of resignation, and the fury of desperation. Through acts of violence–sometimes brutish, fearsome, vulgar, and vile–is the fury of desperation often made manifest.
Desperation and resignation are opposites that inhere in despair. Intriguingly, the acquiescence of resignation rather than the fury of desperation tends to mark despair in most human beings most of the time. John Locke was correct when he observed that “till . . . mischief be grown general, and the ill designs of . . . rulers become visible, or their attempts sensible to the greater part, the people, who are more disposed to suffer than right themselves by resistance, are not apt to stir.”
Instantiations of this observation are innumerable. In 1800, Richmond, Virginia, was spared the assault of Gabriel Prosser, a slave, and his men when the planned attack was betrayed by two fellow slaves, Tom and Pharaoh, to their master, Mosby Sheppard. Likewise, in 1822, Charleston, South Carolina escaped the large-scale insurrection which Denmark Vesey had organized when one of Colonel John C. Prioleau's favorite slaves, Peter Prioleau, informed him of Vesey's activities. Fearful of the behavior of slaves who were resigned to their lots, Peter Poyas, one of Vesey's principal lieutenants, told his agents to “'take care and don't mention it [the plot] to those waiting men who receive presents and old coats, etc., from their masters, or they'll betray us.'”
And though by 1829 chattel slavery no longer existed in Massachusetts, it is nonetheless the case that many black individuals simply resigned themselves to the inferior position vis-à-vis whites that was expected and demanded of them during bondage. In one of the most striking and powerful passages capturing a state of resignation that I ever have come across, David Walker (1829) writes:
The man with the boots strung over his shoulders, who gave the appearance of being contented with his wretched lot in life, stands as a timelessly poignant metaphor for the resignation of despair. Perceiving the powerlessness of black people, and attuned to his own limitations, the bootblack sought to make Walker believe that he was really happy with his social station. But Walker saw through the veil of putative contentment into the ignorance and wretchedness of despair which it shrouded.
To overcome the passivity and acquiescence of resignation, he summoned blacks to fight. Making plain that if there were an attempt at armed struggle they should be prepared to kill or be killed, Walker exhorted blacks as follows: “[H]ad you not rather be killed than be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man, who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty. . . .”
In the passages that have been cited from Walker, passivity, resignation, desperation, hopelessness, and hope all loom large. One discerns acutely the bootblack's passivity in resignation, as well as Walker's activity in desperation. Walker is a desperate man, for he knows well how heavily the odds are stacked against him, and by extension black people, but he nonetheless believes that he/they should, and must, act. He admonishes blacks that should they countenance armed resistance, it is imperative that they “do not trifle, for they [whites] will not trifle with you–they want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject us to that wretched condition–therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed.”
His desperateness notwithstanding, one perceives in Walker rays of hope in his conviction that blacks, through disciplined and concerted action, could foster fundamental changes in the structure of the society and thereby improve substantially their life chances. The bootblack, on the other hand, evinced no hope that the objective conditions of his life either would or could be altered significantly. Resigning himself to the severe constraints that shaped the contours of his life, he sought to secure for himself the greatest psychic and material contentment that he could, perceiving no opening to opportunities and resources that then were foreclosed to him. In a very real sense, the hopelessness of despair impelled him to acquiesce to the objective reality of being looked upon and treated as “nigger,” with all of its horrid cognates in the culture and political economy of American society.
This very sort of acquiescence was laid before young Malcolm Little (later Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) as an eighth grader and one of the top three students in his class, when his English teacher, Mr. Ostrowski, sought to very narrowly circumscribe his ambition by making it plain to him that becoming a lawyer was not a “realistic” aspiration for a black youngster. Ostrowski observed:
In the language of Ostrowski, the bootblack, being realistic about his life chances, set his aspirations accordingly low, and resigned himself to his perceived station in life. Such resignation was inconsistent with the personality of young Malcolm Little, who, in spite of the destruction of his family, hoped to better his lot in life substantially. Intuitively, he understood that Ostrowski's realism concerning the life chances of black people in the United States entailed black acquiescence to white dominance within a societal framework of the transgenerational inheritance of white-racial privilege. Hopelessness, masked by a veneer of contentment, suffused the being of the bootblack. Hope for that which was better animated the spirit of Malcolm Little, but that hope was to be crushed by the hard realities of the hustler's life that he was to lead, a life that made the gun attractive and prison all but inevitable.
Hope, that balm of life. Where hope abounds the people flourish; where hope evanesces the people perish. Hope imbues individuals with the feeling that they have some measure of control over their destinies. It stimulates in them a consciousness of their abilities, potentialities, capacities, and capabilities, opening up pathways of creativity nurtured by insight and foresight. Hope fosters in one a sense that one can master impediments in one's path, transcend given limitations, recognize possibilities where none had been discerned heretofore, and create satisfactory, perhaps even good, options where none appeared to be present. It gives one a sense of confidence to believe that one can make things happen, and that things do not simply happen to one. Moreover, hope affords reasonable grounds for that belief. Believing that one can make things happen, one is impelled willingly to make the sorts of sacrifices which are necessary to assure that they do come to pass, especially if they either are needed greatly or desired strongly. Hope thus kindles desire and ignites expectations, which, when satisfied, reinforce it.
Furthermore, hope renews and lifts the spirit. It gives one a feeling of rebirth in the midst of struggle, especially where obstacles seem to be insurmountable and all appears to be lost. Opening up to one reservoirs of energy within oneself of which one either might have been unconscious or only dimly aware, hope enables one to persist with vigor despite missteps, misadventures, and setbacks that ordinarily would sap one's will to persevere. There is no perseverance without hope, and in persevering one is stimulated by hope to feel that one's efforts are worthwhile, despite the costs that might attend that which one does. And even if the desired results do not obtain from what one does as one remains steadfast in one's purpose, where hope abounds one's spirit is not crushed and will trammeled, for there is always a sense that in tomorrow lay possibilities yet to be grasped.
In the Introduction to Global Convulsions I wrote: “If the radiance of hope quickens the spirit and encourages, the gloom of hopelessness deadens the soul and discourages. Even as hope lifts one up, hopelessness drags one down. Just as hope makes lighter one's difficulties, problems, troubles, vexations, cares and worries, hopelessness makes heavier whatsoever that weighs upon the heart. Hopelessness magnifies inadequacies and undercuts resolve. Corroding optimism, hopelessness diminishes effort.
“This is of the utmost importance, for where effort is lacking that which could be accomplished usually is left unrealized. Wherever a state of hopelessness obtains, individuals tend to believe that much is beyond their reach which actually may be within their grasp. Believing that they have little control over the present, virtually none over the future, and that it is useless to contend against that which is beyond their control, [they often resign themselves to that which serves neither their good nor well-being, as they settle for less than they either can, or ought to, obtain.]
“By constricting sharply images of the possible and conceptions of the probable, hopelessness undermines the willingness of individuals to make sacrifices in the present for gains in the future. Hopelessness thus fosters and reinforces present-oriented behaviors, as individuals discern rigid limits to their life chances. [Does the individual and societal significance of Walker and the bootblack not become most stark here? Hopelessness constricted acutely the vision of the bootblack, hope opened wide the eyes of Walker, and each behaved accordingly.] If wo'man is by nature a creature that works, strives, and creates [as I strongly believe s/he is], hopelessness wars against human nature. For it undermines the striving purpose of wo'man's very being, and so induces individuals to acquiesce to limits which they well may have the potentiality, capacity, and capability of pushing beyond. By suffocating creativity, as well as dulling insight and foresight, hopelessness diminishes individuals [as it] corrodes their self-respect, self-esteem, and dignity.”
The hopelessness of despair tends to numb and dull the senses and the sensibilities of the ones who suffer it. The numbing and dulling of their senses and sensibilities are coping mechanisms and survival techniques whereby individuals confront and attempt to negotiate seemingly insurmountable barriers, which appear to spread out across their daily lives. Some actually become deadened to the point where they are physically and/or emotionally unable to participate effectively in productive activity. Their capacity for work becomes largely inert, and their desire to create slumbers. The shocks of many negative reinforcements become increasingly less painful as their stimuli are perceived less and less. Wo'man's striving purpose ceases, for the most part, to animate their beings as they acquiesce to the stagnation of their everyday lives.
Undermined in self-respect, damaged in self-esteem, corroded in dignity, all too many in cities of the United States and cities elsewhere around the planet have been caught in hopelessness' spiral web and have resigned themselves to the emptiness of despair. Is the hopelessness of despair not palpable when by the age of twenty-four an unwed, unemployed, drug-addicted woman already had given birth to eleven children–one of whom was stillborn, and another did not live to see his first birthday? No hypothetical example is being cited here. It is, rather, the objective reality of the life of a young woman whom the Milwaukee Magazine of July 1993 identified only as Leslie.
Uneducated, troubled by a highly attenuated sense of her self, and caught in the spiral web of hopelessness, Leslie “found an understanding minister who helped her [to] set up [a] new household.” But he wanted sexual favors, which she refused to provide on the grounds that he was a married man. She then “enrolled in a class to get her high school diploma. The instructor gave her a ride home one night, stopped in an alley and tried, she says, 'to get into my pants. I got out and ran. First the preacher, then the teacher. I thought, no one thinks too much of former addicts.' Again, crack [cocaine] eased the pain.”
Neither the teacher nor the preacher acted in conformity with the ethical and moral principles that ground his profession. Their conduct was most reprehensible, vulgarizing the norms and ethos of their respective professions. Each perceived Leslie's despair, and sought to exploit her vulnerability. But though she was caught in hopelessness' spiral web and had compromised her self-respect and self-esteem before, she had not wholly lost them. Thus was she able, even for a little while, to assert the dignity of her womanhood.
But hopelessness severely tests character, and often undermines the integrity of one's being. Perhaps responding to human nature's impetus to create, Leslie created that which came easiest to her, new life. In her own hopelessness did she create new life though trapped in the belly of despair. Numbed by powerful anesthetics oozing from the many strands of hopelessness' spiral web, Leslie took flight from the hard and unyielding realities of her everyday life to a point where when she was pregnant “she didn't have to think about it,”
David's heart was sore pained within him as he grieved for the righteous, and felt the terrors of violence and strife, mischief and sorrow wrought by the oppression of the wicked. So pained was he that he would flee if he could, but he could not. Leslie grieved not for the righteous, but she also felt she could not flee. O that David had wings like a dove whereby he could fly away from the windy storm, tempest, strife, and violence in the city, and be at rest in the calm and safety of the wilderness. In the wilderness would he remain if he could, away from the hate and wrath of the wicked; away from the guile and iniquity of bloody and deceitful wo'men; away from the fear and trembling that so trouble everyday life in the city. But David had no wings, and he could not escape the high walls of the city–walls steeped in violence, stained with blood, fortified by guile and deceit, and shadowed by wickedness. Neither had Leslie wings whereby she could fly away from the grief that overspread her life within the high walls of the city. The pain of David's heart is felt by untold numbers of wo'men today, as they witness all around them torment that consumes ever so many who neither live out nor expect to live out half of their days, as they become swallowed up by the city's pit of destruction.
Never have I been so pained in my heart as on the evening of November 1, 1993, when Tom Brokaw of NBC Nightly News reported that The Washington Post, in a front page story the previous day, told of an eleven-year-old girl in Washington, D.C., who already had picked out her funeral dress. She did not believe that she would live to see her twelfth birthday. The brutal currents in the whirlpool of violence that swirled daily about her in the city cut short her expectation of her life's days. Distressingly, though, this was quite consistent with what I had observed on CBS' Sixty Minutes of March 5, 1979, which called out that girls as young as thirteen years old were selling their bodies as prostitutes, and being murdered in the streets of the United States. The report noted that most of these children did not wish to be on the streets, and many did not believe that they would survive the perils of the streets. Yet they remained there, for they had no wings of doves with which to fly away and find rest in some calm, secure, serene, and gratifying wilderness. Surely, surely, one's heart cannot but be pained by this, even as it also aches from the empirical fact that in the United States acts of violence are the leading cause of death of black and Latino males aged thirteen to twenty-four years. And how pained was my heart once again when I observed Judy Mueller report on ABC World News Tonight of Sunday April 14, 2002, that David “Oso” Alvarado, a twenty-year-old Latino male killed in January 2002, had planned his funeral, including the green casket–green being the color of his gang the Clovers–in which his dead body would go down into the ground. Vivid recollections of Brokaw's report concerning the eleven-year-old girl who desired to be buried in a white dress flooded my mind as I saw twenty-year-old Alvarado's green casket descend into the ground. Almost a decade had elapsed between my observation of the two reports, and yet it seemed to me as if time had stood still. I know not what became of the young girl of whom Brokaw spoke. I do know that David Alvarado did not live out half of his days. He imagined no future, only an untimely death.
What is there in the city that occasions this wretched and corrosive state of affairs? Whence comest the fearfulness and trembling that alight upon the innocent and the guilty, the righteous and the wicked alike? Leslie resigned herself to the hopelessness that enshrouded her life; Alvarado struck out in desperation's fury. And it is the sort of lives of an Alvarado and a Leslie, that so engaged the domestic spirit, if one may so speak, of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who knew of gangs but not of crack cocaine. Addressing the nation as city after city exploded in the violence of raw fury in the summer of 1967, President Johnson said:
President Johnson's observations resonated in the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which called out the sorts of societal conditions that fueled the desperation of many of those who participated in acts of violence that scourged city after city in the mid through late 1960s. The Report noted that
The astounding success of the American economy since the mid-1980s (the current recession notwithstanding), particularly the 1990s which saw the beginning of the longest period of continuous economic expansion in the history of the Republic, has had the salutary effect of affording “street corner men” and others opportunities to participate in the legal economy in ways and at rates that have not been a commonplace across the generations. Furthermore, the expansion of civil rights and civil liberties through an array of statutes, court decisions, executive orders, and administrative rules and regulations have had the effect of broadening opportunities for participation in the full scope of the political society. Thus have many of the frictions, tensions, vexations, and animosities signaled by President Johnson and the Report been blunted. Desperation wrought by despair has largely given way to hope as consumer confidence continues to energize the economy. Yet in 2000 there were over two million persons in the prisons and jails of the United States.
The unprecedented numerical size of the jail and prison population, running in tandem with historic economic gains, signals strikingly that many, all too many, do not discern prospects for significant social mobility and have given up on realizing the “American Dream” through legal and legitimate means, even though such means may well be open to them. It is not my purpose here to discuss why such prospects are not discerned, why individuals give up, or the psychological complexities of giving up. I note only that economic prosperity and abundance, though invaluable as means to a range of desired and desirable ends, do not in and of themselves banish from a social order either the resignation or desperation of despair that fosters behaviors which are usually inconsistent with the expectations that accompany economic good times.
And such were the times when President Johnson spoke to the American people. Still, violent disorders convulsed the political society. The “conditions that breed despair and violence” of which he spoke pertain not only to the United States but obtain far beyond its shores. In an all too troubling story entitled “Youths Adrift in a New Germany Turn to Neo-Nazis,” The New York Times called attention to the town of Chemnitz where the fury of desperation consumed many a youth. “People here have no jobs and no hope, and meanwhile our Government is giving money to foreigners for nothing,” observed on young man, whose sentiments resonated among those trapped by the hopelessness of despair. He continued, “It's time to stand up for Germany. We're going to clean up this country. No foreigners, no filth, no drugs, no pornography, and work for everyone. Germany is going to be great again.”
Such persons, regardless of their legal status, thus became easy targets for the fears, anxieties, uncertainties, frustrations, and vexations of these youths. Foreigners, immigrants, were taking from them what they thought to be rightfully theirs as the true sons and daughters of Germany. Before their very eyes, their purported birthright was being snatched away by individuals who were non-German, un-German, and did not belong in Germany. Such sentiments gave rise to the fire-bombings of a number of hostels for example, especially ones housing persons from Turkey, Iran, and South East Asia. Desperateness born in hopelessness accentuates difference, and in accentuated difference does many an atrocity lie. The atrocities of the fire-bombings, in which innocent persons were killed and maimed, scarred Germany's image internationally. And so, acts of violence fueled by desperateness emanating from despair rekindled abroad latent sentiments concerning German intolerance–even though among European countries Germany has been one of the most accommodating in relation to foreign nationals seeking asylum and/or residence.
Consider now the story entitled “A Brutalized Young Generation Turns Its Rage Against Whites,” which appeared in The New York Times concerning the town of Guguletu, South Africa. Squalid squatter camps and “marginalized young blacks” with few jobs and little hope, who thought they had “nothing to lose,” not even “prospects,” were called out as a commonplace.
In Guguletu and Chemnitz, the spiral web of hopelessness snared black youth and white youth alike. (The foreigner morphs into the settler, who, in turn, is transmuted into the foreigner, on and on.) Caught in hopelessness' vise, black youths and white youths homogenized the foreigner and the settler into one unitary image of undue advantage and oppression. Though there is no doubt that substantial and profound differences have obtained between “foreigners” in Germany and “settlers” in South Africa, not the least of which have been the transgenerational racial privileges that the latter have enjoyed, it is nonetheless the case that the desperation of despair has occasioned strikingly similar behaviors by white youths and black youths separated by space and culture. The scorn, resentment, hatred, and raw fury which white German youths have vented upon putative foreigners have been just as palpable as those which black South African youths have directed toward purported settlers, even though foreigners, for the most part, have not enjoyed the clout in the political economy and culture of German society that settlers have had in South Africa.
Despair is no culture-bound phenomenon, although particular instantiations of it can, and do, vary by culture. Wherever it obtains it distorts vision and skews perception. Those who despair are prone to all sorts of errors in their reading of the social universe in which they play out their daily lives. As one youth in Guguletu observed: “You see a car of white people. . . . You can't define, is it an American, or what, is it an oppressor or what?”
Hope is the antidote of despair. In his superb volume Strangers from a Different Shore, Ronald Takaki observes that after the 1922 Supreme Court's Ozawa decision, in which Takao Ozawa's petition to become a naturalized United States citizen was denied “because he was 'clearly' 'not Caucasian,'. . . and the 1924 immigration act [which effectively foreclosed immigration from Japan], . . . Issei [first generation Japanese in the United States] lives . . . seemed to be coming to 'nothing.'” He continues: “Over thirty years of hard work were 'ending darkly,' their accomplishments inconsequential, their fields ruins for melancholy ruminations. Alone Issei would sip their bitter sake, mumbling into their cups:
America . . . once
A dream of hope and longing,
Now a life of tears.
“Dispirited by prejudice and 'so much of the dark side of life' in America, a few Issei decided to return to Japan . . . . Others . . . gave up trying to become Americans. . . . Denied land ownership and citizenship, the Issei placed their 'only one hope left' in their American-born children.
Hope for my children
Helps me endure much from it,
This alien land.
“. . . . The parents were willing to give up their own comforts, even necessities, for the education of their children, for the future of the Nisei [second] generation.
Making effort faithfully
Till they all grow up.
Made bearable by the hope
I hold for my children.”
Alien hardships suffered by the Issei were made bearable by hope. Thus St. Paul was correct when he posited that “we are saved by hope.”
It is in this context that Johnson employed the full powers and influence of his office, not the least of which were the historical circumstances under which he assumed the presidency, in conjunction with the exuberance of his spirit, to secure Congressional enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as well as the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a host of programs including Head Start, Upward Bound, the Job Corps, Food Stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to education among others.
A fundamental aim and purpose of these laws and programs was the nurturing of hope by the expansion of the domain of social justice in the United States. If social justice recognizes that one wo'man's freedom and well-being are as valuable as any other's, then it is right, fitting, and proper that the good lives of all the members of a society should be respected equally by according them: 1) equality of treatment, where equality is tempered by equity; 2) recognition of their needs, capacities, contributions, merits, and deserts; 3) security, safety, and protection; and 4) opportunities to improve themselves by the provision of necessary and sufficient means to do so. Also, none should be injured, harmed, impoverished, or interfered with unduly, and arbitrariness should be abjured. Finally, agreements that have been made should be kept–unless it is palpably unwise to do so–fair play should be a commonplace, and opportunities to hold public office and participate in making and implementing public policy should be open to all. Through the expansion of social justice, Johnson sought to foster tangible and concrete improvements in the lives of those whom he saw in despair, by affording them the wherewithal to save themselves. By engendering hope, social justice was to be an instrument of social salvation in the Great Society.
A similar state of affairs was observed in Jamaica, West Indies, during the first premiership of Michael Manley in the early 1970s. Troubled by the injustice and despair which he perceived all around him, Manley acted with determination to expand the scope of social justice on the island. In the Status of Children Act was the centuries-old taint of illegitimate birth eliminated. With the Equal Pay for Women Act the value of women's labor and work was to be recognized properly. Through free education up to the university level, as well as national youth service, were the young of the island to be well-prepared for leading productive and creative lives in the society. By broadening, if not altering, the taste of Jamaicans in food, dress, and music was their sense of self and pride in Jamaican culture to be fortified.
These measures were taken against the backdrop of a 1972 campaign slogan, namely, “Better must Come!”, which Manley's party (the People's National Party–PNP) had used with telling effect against the government and its party (the Jamaica Labor Party–JLP). “Better must Come” was coined by the PNP to give hope in a context of widespread unemployment, victimization of workers, crime, corruption, and a sense that after ten years in power the JLP government had grown fat, lazy, solicitous of the rich, and indifferent to the poor.
Wherever despair abounds, there is, perhaps, an irresistible urge by officials who hold power, as well as those who seek it, to foster hope by promising too much. But in promising too much, they often raise expectations beyond their capacity to satisfy them. All too frequently, expectations are supercharged, both intentionally and unintentionally. Here distress invariably waits in the offing; sometimes to approach with clear and distinct warning, at other times to descend without notice. In Jamaica,
The merging of political violence and ordinary criminal violence is confined neither by time nor space. And so, for example, one observed Nelson Mandela, in the run up to the April 26-29, 1994, all-race national elections in South Africa, warning of pitfalls and dangers both to individual as well as societal freedom and well-being of acts of violence where the distinction between political and criminal behavior either is blurred or erased.
He was well aware of the potential costs to the society of the sort of sentiment which was expressed ever so poignantly by a black woman who, in a jubilant mood and with a broad smile on her face, told a television reporter: “Democracy is going to give me a better life. Democracy is going to give me everything.”
Just as Mandela sought to engender hope without intentionally supercharging expectations, so too did President Johnson. He set out to exacerbate neither racial nor class antagonisms, yet, regrettably, both seemed to become more acute as he stimulated hope. Legislative enactments such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act did alter the legal status of blacks and other nonwhites, and the sorts of social programs mentioned earlier did make a tangible difference in the lives of many. But Michael Parenti observed in 1974 that “[t]he much publicized 'war on poverty' of the 1960s brought no noticeable betterment to the estimated 40 million Americans living in poverty, nor to the 40 million others just above the poverty level.”
The great expectations of many who had supported Manley in the hope that better must come soon turned to surly disenchantment, as the resources available to him made it nigh impossible to satisfy a variety of demands emanating from the expectations he had ignited. In supercharging expectations, Manley unwittingly created all sorts of demands that he did not intend, had not the means to meet, but was nonetheless thought to be obliged to satisfy by some of his supporters. Many, then, were the expectations that were left unfulfilled–despite the substantial statutory and programmatic changes which he instituted. Hope and disenchantment began to collide ever the more, and by the mid-1970s the island was caught in the throes of unprecedented violence, especially in Kingston, the capital.
The violence that was observed in Jamaica in the mid- to-late 1970s (and again in the late 1990s and early 2000s) was preceded by a similar, though much more convulsive, spate of violence in the United States in the mid- to-late 1960s. There too, hope and disillusionment had collided. Some of those whom hope had impelled to set aside the acquiescence and passivity of resignation now lashed out with the raw fury of desperation. Others who had been inclined to take desperate steps, but whom hope had encouraged to look beyond the measures they had contemplated, now embraced what Malcolm X had termed “by any means necessary.” And still others, emboldened by the disorders that they perceived around them, engaged in varieties of acts of violence, oftentimes masking criminal conduct with putatively political purposes.
There were, of course, those who could not, and would not, countenance violent behavior, believing with Martin Luther King, Jr., that “not only [was] violence impractical, ... it [was also] immoral.”
As one peers out across the globe today–from the United States to Brazil; the Middle East to the former Soviet Union; South Africa to Algeria; the Balkans to Western Europe; Indonesia to the Philippines–one observes the despair-hope-unfulfilled expectations-resignation/desperation syndrome in play as violence scars beautiful city after beautiful city of the earth. Where despair obtains and the acquiescence and passivity of resignation are a commonplace, the city is usually not scarred by acts of violence by the ones who are trapped, though it invariably is marred by the waste of human capacities, capabilities, and potentialities. But once flickers of hope kindle desires and ignite expectations, whether these be modest and tentative or expansive and surefooted, it is the case that insofar as they go unfulfilled one can assuredly expect a mix of resignation and desperation. Which of the two weighs most heavily upon the city in any particular cross section of time always will be contingent upon 1) the culture of the city; 2) the role that leaders, both official and unofficial, play; 3) the temper of the times nationally as well as internationally; 4) the sort of stake that individuals perceive themselves to have in the extant political economy and culture; 5) perceptions pertaining to the willingness of the state to use its coercive apparatus, as well as judgments concerning the likely effects of that use; and 6) the availability of weapons.
For a midterm examination in my course on “Urban Violence,” I once asked my students to discuss the following: “O beautiful city of the earth, what scars thee so?” Of the scars that mar the city's beauty, despair, especially when widespread, is one of the ugliest. Dulling wo'man's striving purpose in passivity and corroding it in fury, despair warps human behavior, and in so doing etches upon the city marks that diminish it.
In an article entitled “A Testament of Hope,” published posthumously, Martin Luther King, Jr., observed: “I am not sad that black Americans are rebelling; this was not only inevitable but eminently desirable. . . . Black men have slammed the door shut on a past of deadening passivity. . . . [T]he sullen and silent slave of 110 years ago, an object of scorn at worst or of pity at best, is today's angry man.”
Etchings from that time, as well as new ones, call to the senses ugliness in the cities of the United States. The largely political violence of the 1960s has given way to the mostly criminal violence since then, as the violent fury of desperation has been redirected from intense political to ordinary criminal activity. Why has this redirection occurred? I submit, in part, as a consequence of too many expectations that have gone unfulfilled, and, for many, appear to have no prospect of ever being fulfilled–for example, “a real sharing of power and responsibility”
Desires once kindled and expectations once ignited should not be left to smoulder in disaffection. And so, both decisionmakers and the citizenry at large have a moral duty, as well as a societal responsibility, to take the sorts of actions that nurture hope within the bounds of reasonable expectations which can be satisfied within tolerable limits of time. Individual and societal well-being is served by this; for where sound, reasonable and well-grounded expectations obtain and are satisfied consistently, violent convulsions are rendered much less likely. Incidents that otherwise might have been telescoped into episodes of violence usually are kept constrained, tapping reservoirs of good will whereby they are circumscribed by the reasonableness of reciprocal expectations. Where such expectations obtain only nominally, or not at all, the obverse tends to be true. One need but recall the police beating of Rodney King in March 1991, and its violent aftermath in May 1992, for an instantiation of this observation in the city of Los Angeles.
Though the state is not the efficient cause of the creation and persistence of reasonable and well-grounded expectations in a society, it does have a critical role to play in the framing of contexts wherein such expectations become a commonplace. Here knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and plain old common sense are essential. Public policy should strive to maximize the participation of all who have the capacity and capability to participate in the productive activities of a society, to do so. Productive justice, distributive justice, retributive justice, rectificatory justice, and equity are all essential to the peace and good order of a civil society. But of these productive justice is especially critical, for it both grounds and opens up processes of legal and legitimate production and the benefits thereof to all. Leslie and Malcolm Little are stark exemplars of individuals who do not add value to their society by participating actively in its productive processes but who extract value from it through the cost of their behaviors–Leslie's passivity and acquiescence regarding her perception of her lot in life, and Little's willingness strike out violently against anyone who stood in the way of what he wanted.
Hope is the antithesis of despair. In the United States, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is fond of saying “Keep hope alive!”–for which he is sometimes mocked. Yet Jackson is on to something of fundamental and enduring importance here. If hope is kept alive despair is held in check, though it may not be checkmated. And insofar as despair is held in check, its offshoots of resignation and desperation are generally not nurtured. The societal value of this can be enormous, since energies that would otherwise dissipate in unproductive behavior can be harnessed and redirected into the productive processes of a society. By keeping hope constantly alive through maximizing the fulfillment of reasonable and well-grounded expectations, diminishing supercharged expectations, and minimizing the scope of unfulfilled expectations, a society invariably diminishes the scale and intensity of violence that obtains within it. The use of both public and private resources to engender hope and keep it alive and flourishing in the populace at large is the wisest thing any society can do in order to keep violence in constant check, with an eye towards its steady decline, even though its total elimination is impossible.
The despair, hope, unfulfilled expectations, resignation/desperation syndrome is an objective reality of life in the city. Wise leaders are ever mindful of the both the actual and potential cost of this syndrome to their society, and strive ceaselessly to take the steps that are necessary to keep its ill effects to the barest minimum possible.
Now it is all well and good to say what is actually pretty obvious regarding wise leaders, though it is well to remember the ancient adage that the obviousness of the obvious is not always obvious. But what actually should they do and how should they do it? I should like to suggest six concrete measures.
First, require everyone, excluding the very young–under age twelve–, the infirm, and the very aged, to participate in the legal and legitimate productive processes of the society, and reward them for their participation and punish them for their failure to participate where they have been afforded the opportunity to do so. The goods, services, rewards, and punishments that do, and can, attend processes of production are as varied and innumerable as the minds of wo'men can imagine. The crucial idea in play here is the drawing of everyone through productive justice (regardless of how great or small the contribution of each may be) into the processes, burdens, and benefits of production in a given society, by affording each opportunities, accompanied by fitting and proper rewards, to do so, and exacting an equitable penalty for the failure to avail oneself of them.
Second, construct and implement, without fear or favor, well-known and predictable grades of punishment–ranging from mild discipline to sure, certain, and swift execution for a narrowly and carefully drawn list of truly egregious offenses. Everyone should know and believe that one's social class, status, race, color, ethnicity, gender, standing in one's community, circle of friends, power and authority and influence, or lack thereof, will have no bearing upon the punishment that is meted out to one in virtue of an offense for which one's culpability has been established either by a preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt.
Third, those who lead should not occupy positions of leadership for too long a period of time. Leaders who remain in their positions for very extended periods of time tend to come to believe that they are entitled to the roles that they fill. The very worst form of leadership is what may be called leadership by arrogated entitlement, whether that entitlement is by law, custom, tradition, popular indifference, or just a commonplace acceptance. Within a not too broad cross section of time, leaders should once again become followers, become leaders again if they are called upon do so, only to become followers once more. This sort of circulation of leaders, drawn from the entire society and not just some narrow band of it based upon such criteria as gender, race, color, ethnicity, social class, wealth, etc., does not assure that the ones who lead will always be the best; it does assure that the best will not become the worst through the attrition of time. There is obviously a tradeoff here. Given that roles will not always be filled by those who are best suited for them, and though at times they well may be occupied by ones who are least equipped for them, the circulation of leaders within sensibly narrow cross sections of time diminishes the chances of irreparable damage being done, even as it enhances feelings of societal belonging through participation.
Fourth, the ones who lead as well as those who follow should pay the utmost attention to, and take the greatest possible care of, the physical magnetism of the environments in which they live, work, and play. Environments with a strong physical magnetism induce certain sorts of behaviors from the ones who inhabit them. There is a strong symbiotic relation between vibrant and healthy (physically, psychologically, socially, culturally, and in political economy) environments and robust and healthy persons. Depressed and depressing environments tend to produce individuals who all too often either become resigned to what they perceive to be their lots in life, or strike out with fury against what they deem to be the bad hand that life has dealt them. Either or both of these together are ruinous of the city, and a recipe for violence and strife.
Fifth, the fostering and care of the physical magnetism of the city presumes the will to act, the means to act, and a concept of how best to act. A high productive capacity creates the means to act, but it does not necessarily engender either the will to act or draw a concept of how best to act. Here mechanisms for the free, open, and unencumbered exchange of ideas, proposals, and plans are critical, along with a concomitant commitment by those who lead to see through to their consummation agreed upon projects, programs, and developments that stimulate and sustain the physical magnetism of the city and make jejune the conditions that give rise to a Leslie and a David Alvarado.
Sixth, and finally, are the perennial and intractable antinomies of we/they, us/them, ours/theirs that divide Homo sapiens sapiens, and impel one to fight another insofar as both deem that each together do not form “we.” The expansion of the domain of “we together” is the surest way for a society as a whole to foster hope and undercut despair. This means that whatsoever a society produces should be open to all, and none should ever have the right to appropriate so much of it that too little is left for another. No bland sameness nor stultifying mediocrity that stifles initiative is being advocated here. What is being called out instead is an Aristotelian-Marxian maxim that societally, a balance between extremes of too much and too little is usually best for all. This requires nothing less than the articulation, enactment, and very strict enforcement of policies,
The despair, hope, unfulfilled expectations, resignation/desperation syndrome is not the efficient cause of violence in the city–there is no single efficient cause of violence that plagues cities across the planet–but it most assuredly is one of the four decisive causes of violence that cities suffer, the other three being moral zealotry and moral indifference, profit, and entrenched animosities, which were not the province of this essay. Given the lethal and debilitating effects, both individually and societally, of this most deadly syndrome, crass self-interest and sheer common sense (if not more lofty elements of wisdom, understanding, and prudence, as well as high moral principles) signal strongly that the makers of public policy and those who have substantial resources at their disposal cooperate to create and sustain environments overspread with blockers to resignation and desperation. I do not believe that it is empirically possible for Homo sapiens sapiens to create any environment with empirically sufficient blockers to all forms and instances of resignation and desperation among individuals and groups. I do, however, believe strongly that is empirically possible to create and sustain varieties of environments in which resignation and desperation are kept to the barest minimum through the salutary effects of we together acting in concert for shared interests and common purposes. This, then, is one of the great challenges of cities across the planet as they press on into the twenty-first century.
It is well to close this essay by citing a compelling story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of May 31, 2002. The paper reported that “[y]ears before 20-year-old Laron Ball was shot and killed in a Milwaukee courtroom Wednesday [May 29, 2002], authorities warned that he was headed for 'major criminal activity unless the system can successfully intervene in his life. '” The Journal Sentinel pointed out that “[s]econds after being pronounced guilty [of murder], Ball scrambled over jurors to a window and tried to smash it. When [Deputy Sheriff Michael] Witkowski and [Deputy Sheriff Andrew] Halstead rushed over, Ball managed to grab Witkowski's gun, which went off, hitting Witkowski in the leg. Halstead grabbed the gun's slide, preventing any more rounds from reaching the firing chamber. Ball bit Halstead and pointed the gun. Milwaukee police homicide Detective Alfonso Morales shot and killed Ball.”
The paper observed that Ball was “a known gang member,” and called out that “[a] juvenile probation officer noted in a report dated Sept. 11, 1997: 'His mother has been in prison. His father has other priorities other than caring for or raising his son.' Records also indicate at the time that Ball could not read or write and that he did not complete a prescribed literacy program while on probation [for an earlier gun-related incident.] School staffers complained of a 'lack of family support' and how Ball's family 'faulted the school system' for his poor academic performance.” Additionally, the Journal Sentinel called attention to “Ball's juvenile court records,” which it said “illustrate how he became entangled in a web of violence and drugs at an early age.
“A psychologist linked Ball's problems to 'significant feelings of insecurity . . . which relates primarily to his intellectual/academic deficiencies. Because of feelings of insecurity, he may have been . . . motivated to engage in illegal activities as he attempted to earn respect and esteem from his peers,' the psychologist noted. 'Laron also appears rather immature, impulsive and may have significant unfulfilled affectional needs.' Ball seemed to make up for whatever he lacked in affection by keeping the company of women; he had six children younger than 3 by three different women and a seventh child on the way. [Besides] women, [g]uns and drugs were . . . [his] constant companions.”
In the short and sorry life of Laron Ball who, like David Alvarado, did not live out half of his days, is ever so much of this essay instantiated.
***I should like to say a very special thank you to Director Peter Watson-Boone, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, as well as my wife Mary Ann for their meticulous reading of an earlier draft of this manuscript. The present version is the better for the errors they caught and the suggestions that they made.