or an individual behavior. From our interviews, we came to think of wilding as a state in which the urge to act out, most often in a violent and disruptive manner, overcame the young person’s consciousness. It was a state of altered consciousness, described by our interviewees as a state in which “you have no idea what is going on. You of sort black out.” Perhaps because of the lack of control people experienced in the wilding state, they often made conscious choices in setting the stage for their wilding, avoiding groups and places that were wilder than they wished to be.
At the heart of the act of wilding was the creation of fear in other people, which was experienced as very pleasurable. Interviewees tended to describe their own wilding with a certain amount of happy indulgence: “We would beat people up for fun” was a typical description. The wilding of others was viewed with more concern, edging toward a sense that they had entered a berserk state, that is, they were out of control in a deeper and more frightening way. Khalil Sumpter, some thought, may have “wilded out” when he killed Tyrone and Ian.
The language of the youth, including such complex terms as wilding, beef, and reputation, was highly developed and very specific (hence our effort to provide detailed definitions). The rules of behavior were well codified, and strictly enforced. In sum, it was impossible for a boy to grow up in East New York without participating, however obliquely, in the culture of violence. Although personal characteristics played a part in the unfolding of situations, an enormous amount of behavior was driven by the stringent rules around confrontation and reputation on one hand, and the single form of release, wilding, on the other.
In the systems hierarchy guiding this study, school and family are placed subordinate to the larger systems of community collapse, the drug wars, and the street culture of violence. Carol Beck’s impressive effort at reanimating Thomas Jefferson High School provides a case in point. She generally directed her efforts at creating a positive alternative to the streets. She suppressed violence in the schools. She attempted to be a positive role model and to bring in others who were also positive. This was a strategy that was highly admired by other adults, leading to her receiving the Readers’ Digest American Hero in Education Award in 1991.99 These actions, however, were distrusted by the youth, who had little faith that the world she described either existed or was attainable by them. They put much more faith in the immediacy of the violence that surrounded them and defined their minute-to-minute existence. One young man told The New York Times, “It’s like this. If you were some