Low-income Neighborhoods and Crime
Michael Abdullahi 0770724
Wednesday, November 19th 2014
Professor: Jennifer Long
On February 13th 2013 the family of Jarvis Montaque was in great despair. The family who lived in Jamestown Crescent, a local public housing projects were notified that the 15-year-old boy, had been shot on his own doorstep. The boy was not part of any gangs, rather an unfortunate casualty of local gang warfare. The Toronto Police looked into this homicide, but the officers were not able to find eyewitness testimony as to who shot Montaque.
This would be the 155th victim of the same type of homicide registered through the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) over the past 10 years. Crimes in these public housing communities are known to happen quite often. Those who are involved suffer often, but the sad truth is that those who are not, in the case of Jarvis Montaque are also largely affected. The purpose of this paper is to derive what aspects of low-income housing may cause youth crime and delinquency. I believe that youth crime committed is largely due to the social isolation of the cities poor who are forced to live amongst violence and due to income disparities have no way of escaping.
Community housing is synonymous with those who are less fortunate in terms of income. In our multicultural nation those who make up a large portion of the community housing tend to be the minority groups who have recently migrated (Townshen, 2002). In Toronto a strong minority group within public housing is the black population. In a study based on the mental health issues amongst low-income housing members, the writer examined recent statistics of black youth in order to attain information on crime rates within community housing. The author was able to find, through the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC), that 48% of gang members in Canada are below the age of 18. 39% of those members were between the ages of 16 and 18 (Khenti, 2013). Deeper investigation into the demographics of these youth provided statistics on homicide rates amongst young black males in Toronto. In an article aimed at explaining gang violence amongst young adults, the author found that between 1992 and 2003 black youth were found to account for 30% of murder victims and 36% percent of offenders in Toronto area homicides (Bania, 2009). The focus on youth proved to be a gap on research due to the inability to compare numbers. Though the numbers show that black youth in gangs amongst Toronto neighborhoods were the cause of vast crime there was no distinct link towards community housing. Though in the article it was shown that “vulnerable neighborhoods” could be a large factor in the crime rates seen (Khenti, 2013). Within the original news article pertaining to the death of Jarvis Montaque statistics were found that would lead to the presumption that these crimes largely took place amongst community housing projects. Recent police statistics released in 2011 stated that 22% of homicides and 35% of Toronto shootings took place on or in close proximity to Toronto Community Housing Cooperation (TCHC) properties (Freeze, 2014).
Crime is a large factor within these communities, but the question must be asked as to why it is so common. In a research article based on finding the exact correlation between public housing and crime, a key factor found were the forces of social isolation. The researcher found that as subsidizing housing developments aged over time crime increased along with them. Due to this factor the researcher hypothesized that a strong indicator of crime may be the actual building and how well it had been maintained over the years. This proved to be a gap in his research because the true answer was not what he had focused on but rather social isolation. Results found that restricted activities and interactions of public housing residents lead to a more constrained social network (Lens, 2013). Due to these constrained social networks youth overtime were subjected to a different viewpoint of personal achievement.
Social Isolation proved to be a focal point as to the cause of crime within public housing projects. An article found explored the importance of social isolation to crime even further. The article intends to examine how social segregation amongst black in the United States aids in black violence. These statistics are found by measuring the spatial isolation of blacks from whites, contributing the segregation of blacks from whites as the cause for large accounts of black on black crime (Shihadeh, 1996). Isolation as indicated in this article can be seen as the main predictor of crime. Racial isolation in this article imposes negative effects onto African American lower income families. Segregation of low income African Americans can have vast negative consequences. Social isolation may lead to a lack of contact with mainstream institutions necessary for upward social and economic mobility. These institutions may include proper schools, or workforces. In extreme cases lack of access to these institutions can foster a self-image based on violence and reinforce a variety of behaviors that increase the local crime rates (Shihadeh, 1996).There is an evident gap in this research, the information comes strictly from United States and aims only at describing violence among African American rather than public housing projects as a whole.
The high rates of social isolation amongst these lower income neighborhoods can have a strict correlation with crime rates. Social Disorganization theory developed within the Chicago School, an incredibly influential sociology department within the university of Chicago can better explain the importance of location in the causes of crime. Social Disorganization theory focuses on the place as the exact link towards crime rates, building upon the Chicago School’s focus on the ecological importance of studying society (Kingston, 2009). “Social disorganization theory indicates how structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods, characterized by high levels of poverty, single-parent households, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, and residential mobility are likely to have higher rates of juvenile delinquency”, (Kingston, 2009: p. 53). In a study aiming to explain crime rates in structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods and the links between youth delinquency, researchers used survey research to find a correlation between the neighborhood people were raised and youth drug use and delinquency. When research was completed results showed that youths neighborhood constraints gave limited perceptions of future opportunities (Kingston, 2009). The research conducted was primarily conducted on community member’s views of themselves. A gap found in this research is noticeable in the methods used due to the fact that the researchers only did not find past data pertaining to cross-generational crime rates. Though with using Social Disorganization theory one can find that social isolation within communities causes social networks to form that reinforce youth delinquency across generations.
Due to social isolation and negative social networks that can be formed within public housing structures, contemporary theories have been developed in order to explain social tendencies enacted by individuals within. The most pertinent theory to public housing and youth being effected by the social forces surrounding them can be largely backed up by famed criminology researcher Robert Agnew’s general strain theory. The aim of Agnew’s work is to derive what social constraints affect crime and delinquency amongst youth rather than using what was popular explanation in 1992, that of social learning theory and social control theory. Agnew believes that deviance was a form of the individual as well as his or her immediate social environment (Agnew 1992). In relation to what is being discussed here, ones social environment may be seen as where one resides. Through Agnews theorizing we can find that the negative aspects within public housing may force youth to enact in crime. Within his research Agnew derives three major types of strain that may cause deviance. (1) Strain as the actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued stimuli, (2) Strain as the actual or anticipated removal of positive stimuli, and (3) Strain as the actual or anticipated presentation of negatively valued stimuli (Agnew, 1992). Each of Agnew’s strain theories can be directly related to certain aspects of community housing. The first being expectations of not being able to achieve positive stimuli can have direct relation to entrance into crime. Due to this realization that socially accepted goals may not be achieved through normative means, i.e. education and work, youth may partake in gang culture in order to achieve these goals. The second, the actual or anticipated removal of positive stimuli. This can be seen when young males who are raised in community housing by single mothers. These youth may be in need of a father figure and use gang membership to fill this void. The third factor is the actual or anticipated negatively valued stimuli. In public housing this in itself is the gang that youth partake in and commit crime. This negative stimuli gives the impression to youth that certain ways of achieving goals are the only possible way, and youth have a great amount of trouble escaping this mindset (Agnew, 1992). The cause of the crime that is found within general strain theory is the overwhelming feeling of anger within youth. “Anger results when individuals blame their adversity on others… it creates a desire for retaliation/revenger and energizes the individual for action…” (Agnew, 1992: p. 60) When anger is introduce gang violence within community housing neighborhoods may cause youth to perceive that rival gangs may be blocking their ability to achieve goals, and cause criminal action to take place. Agnew’s general strain theory though critically acclaimed does have gaps. Agnew focuses mostly on lower-income youth and does not find causes for deviance amongst higher income youth. Though this may be seen as a gap in his research for this paper his research proves to be a clear-cut picture as to the causes of crime within public housing projects.
In conclusion, social isolation, social disorganization theory, and general strain theory all depict the ways in which youth are raised to act in delinquent manors within lower income neighborhoods. Social networks developed in these communities with negative peer groups aid in the reoccurrence of crime and flawed goals. Negative stimuli in these neighborhoods will continue to corrupt children’s minds with alternative means to achieving these goals. Without proper community support networks within these communities the children will continue to act out in delinquent fashions and more and more youth like Jarvis Montaque will become casualties of senseless crime within these communities.
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