Crime and (Criminal) Justice,

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Reaction Paper #3 – Due Friday April 6th via Blackboard (Turnitin)
You may choose ONLY one of the two topics for this reaction paper.
In a 3-4 double spaced page paper (word doc) with 1.25 inch margins, in 12 point font.
 
In considering Crime and (Criminal) Justice, we have seen that what we consider crime/criminal activity is quite complicated. Moreover, it has become clear that what we see as crime/criminal behavior is classed, raced and gendered and has changed over time.
 
Similarly, although “Justice is (supposed to be) blind”, there is ample news coverage and evidence illustrating how class operates to the benefit of those of higher class position, and to the detriment of those of lower class. Can you demonstrate this? Likewise, can you illustrate how race and gender bias have operated not just historically but currently.
In this regard, how does our treatment of drug abuse/Opioids exemplify the ways in which the law is raced and classed? (Should we supply some additional resources to help them flesh out their thinking and analysis of these topics?) You are not restricted only to sources we have directly mentioned. You can find other articles & analyses, which may help you, make your points better than the ones we’ve offered. In that case make sure to properly footnote and supply proper attribution to your sources. We encourage you to expand your horizons and to search for and utilize additional resources to make a convincing case
 
Contexts
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http://ctx.sagepub.com/content/11/1/48
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1536504212436496
Contexts 2012 11: 48
Victor M. Rios
Stealing a Bag of Potato Chips and Other Crimes of Resistance
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48 contexts.org
stealing a bag
of potato chips
and other
crimes of
resistance
by victor m. rios
Artwork by Andrew Huerta
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winter 2012 contexts 49
to wear fitted khakis, rather than his customary baggy jeans.
He agreed, on the condition that he would wear his white Nike
Air Force Ones, a popular basketball shoe at the time. These
shoes had been in and out of style in the urban setting since
the early 1980s. By 2002, a famous rapper, Nelly, created a
popular song named “Air Force Ones,” and famous basketball
players such as Kobe Bryant wore these shoes during games.
Black and Latino youths in Oakland sometimes even wore them
to more formal events such as high school proms, quinceañeras,
and weddings. I asked Ronny why he insisted on wearing
these shoes in a professional setting. He replied, “Because
professionals wear them.”
Many of the boys I worked with in my research believed
they had a clear sense of what courteous, professional, and
“good” behavior was. Despite their attempts to present
themselves with good manners and good morals, their idea
of professional behavior did not match mainstream ideas of
professional behavior. This in turn created what I refer to as
misrecognition. When the boys displayed a genuine interest in
“going legit,” getting a job, or doing well in school, adults
often could not recognize their positive
attempts and therefore criminalized them.
The boys had grown up in an environment
which had deprived them of the
social and cultural capital they needed
to progress in school and the labor market.
Therefore, they developed their own
alternative social and cultural capital, which they used to survive
poverty, persist in a violent and punitive social ecology,
prevent violence, avoid incarceration, and attempt to fit into
mainstream institutions. Education scholar Tara Yosso develops
a framework for understanding and using the capital marginalized
communities develop—what she calls community cultural
wealth. She argues that marginalized communities have always
generated community cultural wealth that’s allowed them to
survive and resist. Sociologist Martín Sánchez-Jankowski has
recently discussed poor people’s ability to organize their social
world and maintain social order as “persistence.” According
to Sánchez-Jankowski, contrary to the popular academic belief
that poor people live in a disorganized world where they have a
limited capacity to generate “collective efficacy” (the ability of
a community to solve its own social problems), the urban poor
shape their behaviors around making sense of and creating
social order within a marginal context. Organic capital, then,
is the creative response the boys in this study developed in
the midst of blocked opportunity and criminalization. Despite
being well-intentioned, though, these efforts were often not
well received by mainstream institutions.
Ronny’s story is indicative of how many of the boys
attempted to tap into mainstream institutions but failed. As
they encountered rejection, they returned to the resilience and
survival strategies that they had developed in their neighborhoods.
I continued to prepare Ronny for his interview, helping
him develop “acceptable” cultural capital. We prepared with
mock questions: “Why do you want to work for us?” I asked
him. He responded, “I am a hard worker.” “That’s a good
start,” I said. “How about expanding that and telling them
that you’re also a team player and that you enjoy the restaurant
atmosphere?” Ronny nodded. The day of the interview, I
walked into the restaurant separately from Ronny. To calm his
nerves I told him, “You look great, man. This job is yours!”
He looked sharp: a professionally dressed, athletically built,
charismatic, tall, African American young man with a charming
Organic capital is the creative response
the boys developed in the midst of blocked
opportunity and criminalization.
Ronny was called in for a job interview
at Carrows, a chain restaurant that served
$9.99 sirloin steak and shrimp. He called
me up, asking for help. I loaned him a
crisp white dress shirt, which I had purchased
at a discount store when I worked
as a server at a steak house during my
undergraduate years. I convinced Ronny
Contexts, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 48-53. ISSN 1536-5042, electronic ISSN 1537-6052. © 2012 American
Sociological Association. http://contexts.sagepub.com. DOI 10.1177/1536504212436496 Downloaded from ctx.sagepub.com at UNIV CALIFORNIA SANTA BARBARA on July 15, 2013
50 contexts.org
dimple every time he smiled. I was certain he would get the
job. I sat down for lunch at a booth, in an attempt to observe
Ronny being interviewed. I looked at the menu and, with a
knot in my gut, nervous for Ronny, ordered what I knew would
eventually give me a worse stomach ache: a Mile-High Chipotle
Southwest Burger. I sat about twenty feet away from the table
where Ronny sat with a manager.
Ronny tried to use his charisma to connect with the manager,
but she kept her distance and did not look at Ronny,
seemingly uninterested in what he had to say. At the end of
the interview, Ronny stood abruptly and walked away from
the manager, with no handshake or smile. He went outside.
I ordered my burger to go, paid my bill, and met him in the
parking lot. As I headed to the door, I turned to look in the
manager’s direction, and she was greeting a White male youth.
She smiled, gave him her hand, and offered him a place to sit.
Ronny’s first contact with her was not this friendly. I walked
outside to meet Ronny, who sat on the hood of my car.
I asked for a debriefing. He told me that he had a good
feeling and that the manager had seemed to like him. I asked
him to walk me through the interview. He had followed the
plan flawlessly. I was proud of him. “You followed the plan.
You did a great job,” I told him. “Why didn’t you shake her
hand when you left?” I asked. “’Cause,” Ronny replied. “Why
not?” I scolded. “Because it was a white lady. You not supposed
to shake a white lady’s hand. They be scared of a nigga.
They think I’ma try to take their shit or fuck ’em. I just said
thanks and walked out.” Ronny did not get the job.
Ronny did all he could to land the job, but the limited
resources at his disposal for showing respect may have kept him
from getting the position. In this case, he believed that not shaking
the manager’s hand would show respect; instead, Ronny
may have been perceived as a rude kid not able to hold employment
in a restaurant environment. I asked Ronny to tell me how
he learned about not shaking white women’s hands. He told
me that his white female teachers had asked him to keep his
distance, white women on the street would clasp their purses
when they saw him walking by, and white female store clerks
would nervously watch him when he walked into an establishment.
Ronny had been socialized from a young age to overcompensate
around white women to show he was not attempting
to harm or disrespect them. This behavior may have been a result
of the stereotyped expectations of black men as criminals and
sexual aggressors, deeply rooted in American culture.
Ronny applied for multiple jobs. After about a dozen
applications and three failed interviews, he became discouraged.
He reported being asked by other managers about his
“drug habits” and “criminal background.” Ronny decided to
abandon the job-search process and instead invested $20 in
pirated DVDs; a few hours later, he’d made $50 from the illegally
copied movies. He reinvested the $50 in a backpack full of
pirated DVDs, and after a few weeks, Ronny had made enough
to buy a few new pairs of glossy Air Force Ones. However, the
six to ten hours he spent in front of the grocery store, waiting
for customers for his DVDs, made him a measly $20 or $30
a day—certainly not worth the risk of getting arrested for a
federal offense.
Still, Ronny, like many of the other boys, preferred to take
on the risk of incarceration and the low wages that this underground
entrepreneurship granted him in order to avoid the
stigma, shame, and feeling of failure that the job-application
process produced for him. Misrecognition of genuine attempts
to do well in school, the labor market, or their probation program
led to frustration—and to producing alternatives in which
the boys’ organic capital could be put to productive use.
resistance identities
In feeling excluded from a network of positive credentials,
education, and employment opportunities, young
people develop creative responses that provide them with
the necessary tools to survive in an environment where they
have been left behind and where they are consistently criminalized.
Resistance identities, according to sociologist Manuel
Castells, are those created by subordinated populations in
response to oppression. These identities operate by “excluding
the excluder.” Some, like the boys I
studied, develop practices that seem to
embrace criminality as a means of contesting
a system that sees them as criminals.
Similarly, sociologist Richard Quinney
argues that poor people engage in crimes
such as theft as “acts of survival” in an
economic system in which their well-being is not fulfilled by
other collective means. He further argues that some poor and
working-class people engage in “crimes of resistance,” such as
sabotaging workplace equipment and destroying public property,
as a form of protest against their economic conditions.
The young men in this study constantly participated in
everyday acts of resistance that baffled teachers, police officers,
and community-center workers. From the perspective
of the adults, these transgressions and small crimes were
Feelings of exclusion from a network of positive
credentials, education, and employment
opportunities led to resistance identities.
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winter 2012 contexts 51
ridiculous: the risk of being caught was high and the benefit
derived from the deviant act was minuscule. This frustration
led adults to abandon empathy for the boys and to apply the
toughest sanctions on them. “If they’re going to act like idiots,
I am going to have to give them the axe,” explained one of the
gang task-force officers.
Many of the adults I interviewed believed the boys’ defiance
was “stupid.” Sarcastic remarks often followed when a
youth purposely broke a simple rule, leading him to be ostracized,
kicked out of class, or even arrested. Why would the
boys break the simplest of rules knowing there would be grave
consequences? For the boys, though, breaking the rules was
resisting a system that seemed stacked against them. In many
ways, criminality was one of the few resources the boys could
use in response to criminalization.
the stolen bag of chips
One fall afternoon, I met with fifteen-year-old Flaco, a
Latino gang-associated young man from east Oakland. We
joined three of his friends as they walked to their usual afterschool
hang out, Walnut Park. They decided to make a stop at
Sam’s Liquor Store. I walked in with them, noticing a sign that
read, “Only two kids allowed in store at one time.” I realized
they were breaking the store rule by entering in a group of four Illustration by Ryan Kelly
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52 contexts.org
and pretended to walk in separately to see how the store clerk
would respond to their transgression. I stood in the back of the
store as Flaco walked up the candy-bar aisle—keeping a good
distance between himself and the Snickers, Twix, and Skittles,
to show the clerk, who was already staring him down, that he
was not attempting to steal. He grabbed a candy bar, held it
far away from his body, walked a few steps, and placed it on
the counter. Many of the boys in this study often maintained
their distance in the candy or soda aisles at stores to show they
were not attempting to steal. Store clerks in the neighborhoods
I studied were always apprehensive of customers: they
watched people from the moment they walked in, had surveillance
cameras set up, and one clerk had taped up pictures of
himself holding an AK-47. The clerk at Sam’s may have been
concerned that too many kids in his store meant that he could
not keep an eye on all of them.
A balding, middle-aged, Asian American male, the clerk
pointed to the door and yelled, “Only two kids allowed in the
store at a time!” The three youths in line to pay for their items
looked at the clerk and at each other. Mike, closest to the
entrance, responded, “We ain’t doing shit.” The clerk replied,
“I am going to call the police!” Mike grabbed a twenty-fivecent
bag of Fritos Flamin’ Hot chips, lifted it up in front of the
clerk’s face, and said, “You see this? I was gonna pay for it, but
now I ain’t paying for shit, stupid mothafucka.” He rushed out
of the store with the bag of chips, as the clerk called the police.
The rest of the youngsters dropped the snacks they were in
line to purchase and ran out. I walked up to the store clerk and
gave him a quarter for Mike, who had stolen the chips. Infuriated,
the clerk said, “It’s too late. The police are on their way
to get the robbers.”
I was not able to track down the boys until a few days
later. When I ran into Flaco, he informed me that the police
had arrested Mike that day for stealing the twenty-five-cent
bag of chips. After interviewing the boys and observing the
store clerk’s interactions with them in the days and weeks after
this event, I found that Mike’s “irrational” behavior had actually
changed the way the store clerk interacted with the boys.
The boys believed the clerk had begun to treat them with more
respect—he avoided provoking negative interactions with the
boys, even if it meant allowing a few more youths into the store
than policy allowed. While even Mike’s peers believed that his
actions were “crazy,” they also acknowledged that something
significant had changed. For example, Flaco thought Mike had
overreacted, but because of Mike, Flaco felt respected by the
store clerk the next time he went in the store: “Mike fucked up.
He was acting hyphy [crazy] that day. He should have paid the
guy… But because of what he did, me and my dogs go into the
sto’, and the guy don’t say shit. We all go in like five deep—like
‘what?’—and dude don’t say shit no more.”
When I asked Mike why he had stolen the bag of chips, he
responded, “That fool was trippin’. He should’ve come correct.
I was gonna pay him. You saw, I had the money in my hand….
That fool knows not to fuck with us anymore. …I did get taken
in for that, but it don’t matter. They gave me probation and
shit. I’ll just keep it cool now since that fool will keep it cool
now too.” In Mike’s worldview, fighting
for dignity at the cost of giving up his freedom
had paid off. Though Mike’s actions
resulted in his commitment to the criminal
justice system, he was very aware of this
risk when he stole the bag of chips. He had grown frustrated at
the treatment he had received at school, by police, and then at
the store. This frustration, and a deep desire to feel respected,
led Mike to willfully expose himself to incarceration. In the end,
Mike lost his freedom, coming under the supervision of the
criminal justice system. Nonetheless, Mike gained a sense of
dignity for himself and his peers.
I also asked Mike, “Why didn’t you steal something more
expensive?” He told me that he thought about it, but, in the
moment, he didn’t care what he took. He wanted to prove a
point to the clerk: “Not to fuck with me.” It wasn’t about saving
a quarter, accumulating the most valuable commodity he
could get his hands on, or stealing because he was poor and
wanted to eat a bag of chips. Although he may have had a
desire for any or all of the above, he stole the chips to redeem
himself for being shamed and feeling disrespected. In the end,
despite facing further punishment, Mike and his friends felt
that their actions were not in vain; they had won a small battle
in a war they were so tired of losing. Authority figures expected
the boys to follow their rules, and the boys expressed a deep
desire “to be left alone” and remain free; one of the only
resources they had to feel respected within the system was to
actively engage in behaviors that defied the rules of the game.
This, in turn, led to further misrecognition and criminalization.
defiance as resistance
Defiance constituted a temporary success to the boys.
Watching interactions between the boys and authority figures
was often like watching a life-sized game of chess, with a rook
strategically moving in response to a queen’s movement. A
police officer would get out of his car, the boys would posture;
an officer would grab a young man, his friends would prepare
This self-defeating path led to trouble but also a
sense of agency and dignity.
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winter 2012 contexts 53
to run; an officer would humiliate one of the boys, and the
boy would respond by not cooperating or by cursing back. As
one side moved to repress, the other moved to resist. The boys
were almost always captured and eliminated from the chess
board, but not before they had encroached on the opponent’s
territory, changing, if even subtly, the game.
Mike and Ronny were searching for something beyond
immediate gratification. They did not want to follow the rules
to gain social rewards like a good grade, a legitimate bag of
chips, completing a probation program, or becoming a “normal”
citizen. Instead, the boys chose a road that at first seemed
futile and ignorant, a self-defeating path that led them into
more trouble but eventually provided
them with a sense of agency and dignity
against criminalization.
In mocking the system, these young
people gained a sense of empowerment.
However, these same strategies added
fuel to the criminalization fire. Many
realized that they were actively stoking
that fire, but they believed it was worth the negative consequences.
Maintaining a sense of dignity—feeling accepted and
respected—was a central struggle. The boys consciously chose
to fight for their dignity, even if it meant risking their freedom.
crimes of resistance
Many of the young men self-consciously “acted stupid”
as a strategy to discredit the significance of a system which
had excluded and punished them. These deviant politics garnered
attention from the youth control complex, frustrating
its agents: the police, school personnel, and others. This frustration
led to more punishment, which led to a deeper crisis
of control in the community. In the end, it was this crisis of
control, when institutions were not able to provide a sufficient
amount of social order, the young men consciously perceived
to be a successful result of their defiance. As Flaco put it, “They
trying to regulate me, right? So if they can’t regulate me, then
that means they not doing their job. So my job is to not-what’s
that word?-confirm [conform].”
The boys consistently chose to act “bad” in circumstances
in which adults expected them to act “good.” Almost all the
acts that led to an arrest for violating probation were committed
as conscious acts of resistance; in the boys’ accounts,
they knew they were facing severe consequences but decided
to break the rules to make a point. This may have been their
way of resisting what they perceived to be unfair treatment
and punishment. These transgressions served as a resource for
feeling empowered and for gaining redress for the humiliation,
stigma, and punishment they encountered even when they
were being “good.” Because they reported that they committed
their transgressions as a way of “getting back at the
system,” as Ronny explained, I am calling these acts deviant
politics, by which I mean the political actions—the resistance—
that youth labeled by society as “deviant“ use to respond to
punishment that they ubiquitously encounter.
Boys who resisted often suffered real and drastic consequences.
Sometimes, they did not even realize that they were
resisting. Often, they were simply, as they called it, “getting
stupid,” meaning that they acted “bad” for the sake of being
“bad.” These kinds of practices had few long-term positive
outcomes for any of the boys in the study.
In an environment in which there were few formal avenues
for expressing dissent, which the boys believed to be
extremely repressive, they developed forms of resistance they
believed could change, even if only temporarily, the outcome
of their treatment. The boys believed they had gained redress
for the punitive social control they had encountered by adopting
a subculture of resistance based on fooling the system.
Their crimes of resistance, which made no sense to the system,
were fully recognizable to those who had been misrecognized
and criminalized.
Victor M. Rios is in the sociology department at the University of California, Santa
Barbara. This is adapted from his new book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black
and Latino Boys.
Breaking the rules meant resisting a system;
criminality was one of the few resources the
boys could use in response to criminalization.
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