Fourteen-year-old Jamar lives in a high rise tenement in the heart of the city. For blocks and blocks all around him, the only thing he sees is more buildings like the fifteen-floor low-income building in which he, his mother, three brothers, and hundreds of people like him call home. Jamar’s father has been in and out of jail for as long as he has been alive, he hardly knows when he is out of jail anymore, he just assumes he is always locked up because he hardly sees him anymore.
Jamar is Black as you may have already guessed.
The playground is a single fenced-in area where groups of his contemporaries jostle for time on the basketball court in the summertime. All around the common areas, women with strollers lounge with little kids trailing behind them. On the many benches scattered around the courtyard sits other people, men & women, junkies, and low-level dope peddlers.
It is like a jungle made out of concrete, life exists for him within the confines of a few hundred feet outside of the building in which he lives.
Drug dealing, gang activities, prostitution, are what he sees daily.
His movements are restricted, straying too far away from his building can mean sudden death, even though he is not a member of any of the gangs that operate in the vast complex of buildings.
Just heading downstairs from the small two-bedroom fifth-floor apartment he shares with his mom and brothers could mean getting roughed up by local bullies, or beaten to a pulp by police officers who see him only as a young black male, tall and gangly, 6 – 2 and therefore a threat to be neutralized.
It is an existence that shapes how he views the world, it shapes the way he speaks or even whether he speaks at all.
His only safe space is inside the small apartment amidst the noise of his younger siblings and the cursing and yelling his mother does seemingly all of the time.
Across town, just three wiles across the city line, and just where the suburbs begin, the differences in lifestyles are night and day, they are so different than what happens in the seemingly never-ending tenements where Jamar lives, events may easily be construed to be happening in two different countries.
Joey is 16 years old he lives with his older sister who is a high school senior, she is getting ready for college. Joey and Beth live with their parents Karen and Ken, in a four-bedroom bungalow on a tree-lined boulevard where he and his friends ride their bikes, rollerboards, smoke weed, and drink alcohol. Joey is white.
When the police cruise by they wave to them and sometimes stop to chat.
Neither Joey nor any of his friends have ever been stopped much less roughed up or arrested by the police, even though they have done crazy things that could easily have landed them in jail.
Unless there is a strange twist of fate that seriously alters Joey’s life, he too will be attending college when the time comes, and he will graduate and live a life of purpose, all because of his environment and privilege.
Unless there are strange twists of fate that seriously alters the trajectory of Jamar’s life,(a) interactions with police who make it their business to ensure that he is arrested for even looking at them, after they have assaulted and abused him repeatedly,(b) the general environment in which he lives, are all but certain to ensure that he ends up in prison, like his dad before him, or worse, a statistic of gun violence, either by gangsters or the police.
It is an inextricable trap from which Jamar may never be able to extricate himself, all because of his environment and lack of privilege.
Mike Beckles is a former police Detective corporal, businessman, freelance writer, he is a black achiever honoree, and publisher of the blog mikebeckles.com.
He’s also a contributor to several websites.
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