It is obviously unfortunate that the prison culture has inevitably influenced certain segments of our youth in the United States. This is evident in both appearance (i.e., wearing baggy pants around the waist, tattoos, etc.) as well as social interaction (i.e., the use of slang, aggressiveness, etc.). What is disturbing is that this type of negative mentality has surfaced within many of the relationships that exist between minority youth and authority figures. For instance, when crime occurs in certain minority neighborhoods, the authorities are often placed in a position in which they are dependent upon the citizens to assist them in solving major crimes. Too often, minorities may often fail to cooperate with the authorities; conveying a message that may be interpreted in a variety of contextual meanings and implications.
Meaning behind the Mayhem
Research reveals that the core issue related to the failure of cooperation is based upon the notion of mistrust. For some, this mistrust that stems from a cultural mindset that perceives formal authority as a threat. Examples of such include instances of police-initiated abuse and harassment. Despite the reality of these incidents, it is interesting how the media may sensationalize and spin these accounts in order to justify bias and divisiveness. In many cases, these depictions may actually serve as a catalyst which fuels the cycle of mistrust and suspicion.
In addition to the racial discrimination argument, there is also another element of mistrust that is often contemplated and yet rarely discussed. This mindset stems from a cultural idea that perceives cooperation with the authorities as an attempt to abandon their racial identity. In other words, seeking the assistance needed to protect one’s community comes with a price; the price of criticism, misunderstanding, and rejection. Despite paying taxes, any effort made towards working with “outsiders” is often deemed as disloyal and unacceptable, especially to one’s ethnic or racial background. This practice is obviously not uncommon within certain ethnic communities; however, most of these communities are not afflicted with high rates of violence and low rates of academic achievement. Within this environment (as in the prison culture), one is likely encouraged to go along to get along.
The Message of Mistrust
Regardless of reason, failure to cooperate with the authorities conveys a number of troubling messages within society. Specifically, concealment of pertinent information tells the perpetrators that criminal behavior is acceptable. It empowers their selfish and distorted impulses by giving them the impression that they are allowed to terrorize the community. To the members of the community, withholding information from the authorities sends the message that victimhood is the norm. The only neighborhood acquaintances are isolation, fear, and suspicion. Finally, the uncooperative mindset advises the victims of crime that their well-being and dignity is not worth defending. Like the Jim Crow era of the past, their concerns and voices are ignored. Unlike the Jim Crow era, this crime of silence is unfortunately self-inflicted.
In order to reverse this trend of violence and fear, there must be a commitment to affect change through honest dialogue and cooperation with the authorities. This will obviously require the courageous to engage in self-examination and social accountability. As with any noble efforts, obstacles will certainly present themselves. For some, the possibility of being labeled as insensitive and racist will stand in the way. For others, the possibility of being marginalized by members of their own racial and ethnic group may serve as a deterrent.
He that saith unto the wicked, thou are righteous, him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him.