ond, we explore the context in which those events occurred. Third, given that this paper is written 10 years after the events, we take a retrospective look at the meaning of the events.


This project employed situation analysis,1 a theoretically derived qualitative method, to conceptualize data collection and analysis. For these purposes, a “situation” is defined as a complex interpersonal episode. Situation analysis is used to specify the setting, the actors, their roles, the rules governing their behavior, key scripts they follow, and cultural assumptions governing action in order to arrive at a “definition of the situation.” A central theorem governing situation studies is the Thomas theorem, which states, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”2 Accordingly, perception is accorded great weight in understanding the processes that drive human behavior.

Triangulation is a key method in situation studies. The mathematical concept of triangulation refers to using trigonometry to locate a third point using bearings from two known points, a fixed distance apart. As applied in situation studies, triangulation refers to the collection of different kinds of data, from different points of view, in order to arrive at the “definition of the situation.” Typically, such exercises are guided by theory: in this case, the work is informed by George Engel’s biopsychosocial model,3 which postulates that illnesses and disorders occur within nested systems, hierarchically ordered such that higher-level systems control lower-level systems. The systems we investigated, from highest to lowest, are: the city, the neighborhood, the small group, the family, and the individual.

For purposes of this study, a multicultural team, including three young people literate in “hip hop” culture, was organized. It was assumed—correctly as it turned out—that young people would be essential to the effort of comprehending the culture of the place and the time.

The team collected information from multiple sources representing divergent points of view. Box 7-1 is a chronology of the events described in this case study. We spoke formally and informally with many people who were aware of the incidents and/or life in East New York in the period of interest. Formal interviews were conducted with 55 people, including Khalil Sumpter, Jason Bentley, and Joseph Fernandez, then Chancellor of New York City Schools. We were heartened by the helpfulness of many members of the East New York community, as well as by the high level of cooperation we received from all of those involved with the legal system: judges, attorneys, and members of the police force. A few people who held key positions of responsibility at the time of these events refused to speak with us, including: David Dinkins, then mayor;

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