In one of my much earlier posts I wrote about growing up in the Bronx and not really having any coming-of-age rites that celebrated the transition from adolescence to adulthood. I went on to say that, instead, throughout our lives, we majored in survival. And then, a “Flash Debate” occurred in the comments section. In this post I’ve copied and pasted that “Flash Debate,” and I’ve also included my commentary on, and analysis of, the verbal exchange. Here’s how it unfolded:

Un-named Debater: “You’ve communicated your sense of not having the same coming of age rites as — presumably — most people. (I didn’t have any of those either until I was 21.) In fact, you make it sound like that would be true for pretty much every kid growing up in the Bronx. I’m sure your perception of your environment was shaped by your personal experience, and I don’t doubt your reality.

You made me wonder about the actual percentage of Bronx residents who serve time. According to a January 2016 article in the New York Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/people-city-jails-bronx-neighborhoods-article-1.2501101) : “Crotona Park East and Morrisania … have the highest rate of incarcerated residents … On average, 371 of every 100,000 of the neighborhoods’ adult residents were locked up in a city jail on any given day during 2014 …” That’s 0.371%. A little over one third of 1%.

What should New York and the Bronx be doing to change kids’ perceptions that physical violence is the path to adulthood?”

My Analysis (Now): In the second sentence of her initial paragraph she begins with, “In fact, you make it sound like…,” which, with those words alone, immediately puts me on notice that she’s going to make a statement about what she perceives to be a discrepancy between the way I “make it sound” and reality. And, though she concludes the first paragraph with, “…I don’t doubt YOUR reality,” she goes on to cite statistics from an article in the NY Daily News that, on first glance, SEEMS to corroborate HER perception of reality, which is, that “371 of every 100,000” people is a very small number, “A little over one third of 1%,” but she ignores the words “on any given day.” By ignoring those words she’s altering the REALITY of the statistics in order to substantiate her position. However, although I recognized her misinterpretation of the data, I did not initially address it because I was primarily concerned with the implication that 371 people is an insignificant number. I took umbrage to this because, well, we’re talking about PEOPLE, not baseball cards. And to minimize or underplay the lifelong negative consequences of incarceration in ONE life just because, well, it’s ONE LIFE, is an atrocious and uncivilized rationale. I felt she was being dismissive of 371 lives, sidestepping the conversation we should be having about racial disparity in arrests and the disproportionate amount of arrests from one neighborhood to the next. So, using the data from the same article she cited from, I pointed out that it’s 371 of 100,000 in one neighborhood and 5 of 100,000 in another neighborhood.

My Response (Then): Hello. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I believe that my coming-of-age rites were different from most others who were not raised in a neighborhood like mine. It’s a very short piece in which I stated that maybe “getting arrested and going to prison qualify as rites of passage.” I never stated that those were the ONLY rites of passage, just that (maybe) they qualify as rites of passage.

I read that article you supplied the link to. And yes, 371 out every 100,000 residents is “a little over one third of 1%,” but by no means is it a small number. The article also states that the neighborhood with the lowest number of incarcerated people has “an average daily jail population of just 5 per 100,000 adults.” That’s 0.005%, 1/200 of 1%, a very significant discrepancy. We’re talking 5 people versus 371 people. That’s a 7,320% increase from one neighborhood to the next. That’s a discouraging, haunting reality.”

Un-named Debater: I agree it’s a discouraging number, but do you also see my point that more than 99% of the people in your neighborhood apparently found some other way than majoring in survival? It looks to me as though the neighborhoods in question have failed to provide options for too many of their youth. That also means something more positive CAN be done to change that statistic if enough people can find the will to act on it.

I do wish you the strength to continue on the journey you’ve chosen and create the life you envision for yourself and your own children. Maybe you’ll be the one who can inspire people to make the changes that have to be made to change that haunting reality into a better reality.”

My Analysis (Now): She did agree that the disproportionate amount of arrests from one neighborhood to the next was “haunting,” but then she moved right back to her own understanding of the numbers, not realizing that her argument was based on a misinterpretation of the statistical data. I don’t believe she was trying to be deceitful with the numbers. I believe she was genuinely mistaken, so I felt it necessary to point out exactly where she’d gone wrong. 

My Response (Then): “Yes, I do see the way you’re looking at the percentages. Just because 99% of the people aren’t incarcerated on a “given day” does not mean that they’ve “found some other way.” These statistics we’re referring to are statistics for “any given day.” Every day some get released and others fill those spots to create that “any given day” statistic. How many is that per year? We can’t tell by the data we’ve gotten from the article. What we can say is that, “on any given day,” 99% are not incarcerated, which in no way means that 99% have NEVER been incarcerated. If we look at it the way you’re suggesting then we’re altering the reality of it, making the threat of incarceration appear much less menacing than it actually is.

Here is what ‘less than 1%’ really looks like:
1 in 3 Black males (33%) will go to prison in their lifetime
1 in 6 Latino males (17%) will go to prison in their lifetime
1 in 17 White males (5%) will go to prison in their lifetime

I got the above figures from:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/04/racial-disparities-criminal-justice_n_4045144.html

Given the new light in which we’re viewing the numbers, it’s probably a bit more understandable why people from certain neighborhoods “major in survival.” But, in truth, majoring in survival isn’t something peculiar to people from rough neighborhoods, self-preservation is a basic human instinct.”

FINAL THOUGHTS: This exchange of views, I call it a “Flash Debate,” was actually fun. It’s a healthy thing when two people can express opposing views and disagree without resorting to derisive remarks and abusive behavior. The “Un-named Debater” presented her views in a well thought-out manner. Her arguments were nicely organized and she expressed herself with great clarity. I appreciated that moment we had to share our thoughts and views.

The issue that gave rise to this little “Flash Debate” was something so seemingly small and inconsequential, those four words “on any given day.” It may have been that the “Un-named Debater” accidentally missed those four words when she read the article -an honest mistake- but that tiny oversight dramatically changed the implications of the data. I guess what I want you to pull from this post is that just because something APPEARS to be minute and insignificant (like 371 of 100,000) doesn’t mean it is.

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