Words to live by

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 9, 2010

Throughout Living the Drama, David J. Harding uses transcripts from his interviews so that we can hear the boys of Boston speaking directly about their lives. In these excerpts, four of those boys (Harding changed their names to protect their identities) describe the expectation of violence, simply from knowing the wrong people, living in the wrong place, or venturing onto the wrong turf.

READ: "Dead Kids," by David S. Bernstein.
INTERVIEWER So how safe do you feel on the streets in the neighborhood?
SIMON (16) I don’t feel safe at all. Well, probably a little bit, like in my neighborhood it’s all right. But other places? Noooo, I don’t really go out of my area that much . . . People, just from looks, get murdered . . . Because you're like an alien, you’re not known over there. So the first thing you do when you walk through there, all eyes is on you. And it’s not friendly, like a “Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood.” It’s not like that. [Laughs] So it’s like, “Where you from?” and if you say the wrong area . . . If they got problems with that area . . . They just set it off with you right there . . . That’s happened to me a lot of times.

INTERVIEWER So what’s your strategy for staying out of trouble?
SIMON Basically, there’s not even a strategy. You just have to watch the streets, you have to duck. The best thing to do, if you’re not with people you know, you have to be at the [local community center], because that’s the most safest thing. That’s about it if you're not with a lump sum [large group] of people.
MANUEL (14) Just from us living around here, sometimes it’s a safety issue, because we gotta watch our backs. [People from our development] step on a lot of toes, and get a lot of people riled up against them. So they want revenge in any way. And they don’t care if you hang with them or you don't hang with them — as long as you live around here, you’re a target to certain people.
JEROME (13) You can’t go on that side of the street. We can’t go on a certain side of a street or you can’t go out across that street. Can’t do nothing about it. For example, “This is my territory, and if you step over my territory, I have the right to beat you up.” That’s what they [are] trying to say.

INTERVIEWER Why wouldn’t you go over there?
JAMAR (14) ’Cause they’d probably try to jump me.
INTERVIEWER If they didn’t know you?
INTERVIEWER Does the same thing happen around here? Like if somebody from down there came up here, would they get jumped?
INTERVIEWER What about gangs and stuff like that? Is that the issue?
JAMAR Nah, it’s just territory.

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