This study was ending just at the approach of the tenth anniversary of the Bentley shooting and will be released around the time of the tenth anniversary of the Sumpter shooting. Much has changed in those 10 years, including in East New York. A hopeful article in The New York Times pointed to dramatic changes in the neighborhood, both in terms of the decline of the negative and the growth of the positive.111 In the following paragraphs, we explore four issues: the connection between ecological transition and the evolution of the street ballet, the brief career of the violence epidemic, its lasting impact on a cohort that was in its teens, and the lessons for the future of schools.
We have suggested that East New York was the product of contagious urban decay. The loss of housing, the displacement of large segments of the community, and the increasing isolation of East New York from the rest of the city all contributed to the conditions that resulted in the shootings at Thomas Jefferson High School.
In essence, East New York became a marginalized community in the period between 1970 and 1990. The withdrawal of many city services, ranging from firefighting services to sanitation and trash pickup, was among the many markers of this marginalization. During this period, many of the community’s residents rarely ventured beyond its borders to visit other neighborhoods, other communities, or other boroughs of the city. Increases in joblessness and the concentration of poverty in East New York exacerbated the community’s social isolation. Inevitably, the processes that created this marginalization would have an impact on families and on youth.
Childrearing practices are inevitably affected by the social structure of neighborhood life and by the opportunities that exist for adults and family members to participate fully in the economic and social life of the city. As East New York became increasingly disconnected from the rest of New York City and as the drug trade became more prevalent, community values shifted dramatically. As noted earlier, guns became more prevalent, shootings and gun-related homicides became commonplace, and community residents became more and more inured to the violence that surrounded them. More importantly, many accepted gun-related, violent behavior as a sad but inevitable aspect of community life.
The impact on the community’s values was also dramatic. Many of the residents whom we interviewed described the value and importance of being perceived as tough, of having a reputation for being tough, of