Last year I spent hundreds of hours on the streets of Cincinnati working with an agency that attempts to stop violence and to help people get a job. During this time I documented numerous encounters, observations, and events. I spoke with many active and “retired” offenders. I marched in rallies, protested on street corners filled with drug dealers, and spoke with mothers who had lost sons to street violence.
As any cop or social worker will tell you, men and women “in the life” can be remarkably cruel. I saw this many times. There is no love on the streets. None.
Today a student of mine brought to my attention a recent case in Louisville, KY where two young teens were beaten, stabbed to death, and their bodies set on fire. The story, however, is far more disturbing.
From what has been reported, the mother of the boys has a long and extensive criminal history and had posted on her Facebook page pictures of her flashing guns/money while flashing gang symbols. In videos she shouted obscenities and racist taunts. This women was/is in the life and if you listen to her interviews (posted below) you can hear the language those in the life use.
Her sons, age 14 and 16, had witnessed a murder and were in fear for their lives. Instead of leaving town, moving, or, heaven forbid, helping the police, she instead did nothing. Her kids, she said at one point, “were doing work” and had to “make their names.” When you hear someone use these phrases, they mean engaging in crime and earning a street rep.
The boys left home Saturday and did not return. The police, finding their charred remains, had a sketch drawn up and circulated. A teacher at the boy’s school recognized the faces and called the police. Mom, as the cops point out, did nothing. Immediately afterwards, however, she went on TV to plead her case......as she has done twice now.
Thug life is brutal and despite all the rhetoric of “I’ve got your back” you can never really trust anyone. You do not find honor on the street. You find savagery. Their alleged killer is a man named Brice Rhodes, AKA “Rambo.” Rhodes is an aspiring rapper, apparent drug dealer, and the likely murderer of 3 people.
Posted below is a rap video that includes “Rambo” and the two boys. In typical fashion, we see images of violence, guns, money.....and are treated to a litany of vulgar language. I’m posting the video so you can see for yourself the dynamics involved here.
I’m also posting the links that include extensive interviews with the mother. One is over 20 minutes. Listen carefully to the content of what she says and to the various distortions that flow from her mouth.
These kids didn’t have to die.
I also want to say something that may seem self-serving and that does, given the context, make me a bit uncomfortable. Nonetheless, it goes to the heart of how criminologists understand--or misunderstand--behavior.
Recent criticisms of our book, which will be published soon, take great umbrage at our call to study individuals and their traits. Doing so, our critics argue, is misleading because it dismisses social inequality and draws attention away from social conditions. This is the familiar and tiresome refrain of sociologists and radicals. It’s almost like people don’t matter.
Let me be clear: The social conditions that killed these two young boys was a culture that glorifies crime and violence, that rejects all social conventions and morality, and that embraces thuggery as a lifestyle. Thugs, like Brice Rhodes, are part of the tapestry of criminal influences that converge to destroy lives--mainly young, black lives. They attract lost boys, mentor them in the life, use them like bait, and discard them when done. And you don’t want to know what they do to girls and women.
Studying people like “Rambo” and the mom tells us a lot about the depths of pathology found in the criminal underclass. None of it is pretty. None of it is moral. None of it vanishes if we ignore it.
I suspect a lot of criminologists know this........especially those who have worked in the field or who have studied crime beyond confines of their office computer. Few, however, speak honestly or candidly about crime--especially black crime--for reasons that are complex. Part of me, however, believes they don’t want to know how bad, how vulgar, and how horrible people in the life really are. Knowing this may shake their assumptions that criminals are victims or it may change their minds about the necessity of incarceration. They certainly don’t want you to know how bad it is because they fear you more than they fear thugs like “Rambo."
Here are the links to the interviews of the mom (www.wdrb.com/story/32065600/mother-tells-wdrb-why-she-believes-her-two-sons-were-murdered)
Here is “Rambo” at court:
Here is the video of the 14 and 16 year old boys and their alleged killer:
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology