It’s always difficult to insert into a conversation the interconnectedness of personal agency and structural limitations. I was speaking today with a college professor doing a literary project on a particular gang-related murder in the ‘hood and the question that struck me the most was “didn’t these young men have a choice to murder an innocent person?” Yes, they absolutely did. However, what’s also a significant piece of the conversation is what did or didn’t this society do for that to happen; what exactly set the stage for violence and murder?
Oftentimes such a follow-up question is read as legitimizing such actions. Nope, it’s far too easy to saturate the discourse with this idea that there are bad people (of color), bad neighborhoods (of color), and bad choices (by folks of color out of ignorance or an inherent savagery). Let’s ALSO talk about inequities in education, health, income, housing; a history of colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and displacement. Lets talk about internalized hatred, building and supporting productive, healthy alternatives; and restructuring the prison industrial complex. If we continue to blame people and individual choices and ignore structural limitations instead of focusing on how we could make better communities for all of us unfortunately violence will continue to be a staple in many people’s lives. In other words, the stigmatization and criminalization of our youth of color, our Boricua youth will only beget more violence.