This article was originally published by WireTap magazine.
April 3, 2009
(This story originally appeared on iLL Doctrine.)
The Bloods have a strict policy against domestic violence. That’s what a 16-year-old male affiliate proudly told me last year before a weekly “gang awareness” meeting of about fifteen teens, most of them Crips, Bloods or Latin Kings, at a high school in Castle Hill, the Bronx. That week, the topic was domestic violence, and several members of the group, including the 16-year-old, said that hitting a woman was never acceptable. Others argued that there were situations where it just couldn’t be helped.
The conversation turned to an article (PDF) I had written about domestic violence in the hip hop industry for Vibe. The rapper Big Pun grew up near the high school, and his devastating abuse of his wife (which started when the couple was just 16) was described in the piece. “I heard she cheated on him,” said the only young woman in the group, and others repeated some of the many rumors that swirled around Pun’s wife when she told her story (up until then she had been Soundview’s favorite widow). Several people enthusiastically launched into scenarios where it was OK to hit a woman. There were many. The bottom line: sometimes you’ve got to teach a woman a lesson if she gets out of line. It sounded like a man’s responsibility.
In the midst of the rationalizing, one usually talkative young man stood up and walked out. When he returned twenty minutes later, he quietly told the group that his aunt had recently been murdered by her abusive boyfriend. It was no longer a hypothetical conversation. The jokes stopped. Young men who were significantly invested in their inner gangsters gave them time off, and started talking about how domestic violence had affected their lives–and it had affected most of them. The young woman, who minutes before had been arguing in favor of beating females who didn’t know their place, talked about how despite the rules, male gang members beat up on female gang members. Behind her swagger, she seemed anxious.
Why discuss teenaged gang members when the issue at hand is a couple of unaffiliated celebrities? Because frank conversations like the one I described are rare, but they’re crucial to stopping relationship violence and healing the wounds it inflicts not just on its victims, but on their familes, and even on abusers, many of whom grew up in abusive households themselves. Because of one young man’s honesty about his own experiences, everyone else anted up. The conversation got past knee jerk reactions, and revealed some of the pain lurking behind them. It certainly didn’t resolve all the issues that came up, but it was a start that gave a group of teens an opportunity to share the conflicting emotions they had about the issue.