Thursday, February 17, 2005


Dissecting Devin Brown

In the latter part of the 20th century, daily accusations against the Los Angeles Police Department began to surface in allegations of police brutality. In a story that was thought to quiet most of the cynics, Rafael Perez was brought up on charges of corruption in LAPD's Rampart Division, which resulted in now infamous consent decree the LAPD faces until 2006. Perez alleged that over 70 officers in the LAPD's CRASH unit, an elite anti-gang task force, were responsible for widespread corruption, racial profiling, and killings by the department (Boyer, Kirk, 2001). Even with the combination of the consent decree, Perez's jail sentence, and an intense investigation, the LAPD still faces charges of bias almost on a daily basis, the newest one being the case of Devin Brown, who was shot by LAPD officers on February 6th, 2005.

On the morning of February 6th, at approximately 4 o' clock in the morning, officers spotted a late-model Toyota Camry run a red light in South Central Los Angeles. Suspecting a drunk driver, they tailed the car and eventually initiated a traffic stop (FOX News, 2005). Instead of pulling over, the driver of the car led the officers on a three-and-a-half mile chase through South Central, cornering himself on a tight street. With a stopped car, the officers got out and requested the driver exit the vehicle. The driver threw the car in reverse, launch at the officers, who opened fire, which resulted in the death of the driver. The driver was later found to be 13-year old Devin Brown, accompanied by an accomplice of near-age, who was not killed in the incident.

Various factions in Los Angeles have come together to confront the LAPD, questioning what processed the officers to shoot a 13-year old boy. The ANSWER Coalition, a neo-Marxist group who leads civil marches to advocate communism and anarchism, issued a release stating, "From these incidents, and countless others like them, it is clear that police brutality against African-American, Latino and other oppressed communities in Los Angeles is the norm, and not the exception. This is the case not only in LA, but in poor communities across the nation. Such a widespread and consistent problem isn’t caused by a handful of 'bad cops.'" (ANSWER, 2005) While the civil rights issue of the story is grabbing headlines across the nation, the crux of the matter is not whether the officers were correct or not in their decision to open fire, but why a gifted 13-year old felt obligated to steal a car (CNN, 2005).

Looking into the psyche of a criminal is a task that requires a mixture of theory through hypothesis, a strict adherence to reality, and the ability to restrict oneself from questioning the actions of those who cannot be held accountable through control factors. Of the available criminological theories, the Strain Theory holds true in this account of why a 13-year old from South Central Los Angeles would subject himself to possible death by stealing a car, and then making an attempt to escape by using the car as a battering ram against officers.

When Robert K. Merton created the theses that later became the Strain Theory, his initiate hypothesis was that "good can cause evil," (Abadinski, Winfree, 2003), does not prove to be true in an exact sense, although the theories provided do explain how a 13-year old could lead police on a 3 1/2 mile chase while most people are still asleep.

Taking a look at the legitimate opportunities, it's easy to see that a gifted student, who obviously has a higher IQ than most his age, would have a grasp of the world around him that realize that a regular nine-to-five job would provide for a paycheck that could suffice for his desires in life. But, given that FOX News reported that the young man had fallen-in with the gang activity that runs rampant throughout South Central Los Angeles, one can understand how Devin Brown became disenchanted with any possible legal forms of income, trading them in for what he believes to be a more fashionable form of making money. In this case, that form ended up being the theft of automobiles. Although an ends-means schema does not apply in this situation, as Brown knew that as a gifted student, the world was open to his demands as he furthered his education, the constant peer-pressure from his fellow gang members could act as a sort of brainwashing. The brainwashing, which pushed him to believe that no other means could suffice for his desires in life, led him on this pathway that soon ended it. This is the exact strain that is spoken of between goals and means, as outlined by Merton.

One thing we have to take a look at is how Brown was effected by the overwhelming influence the gang members put on him, and which one of the three adaptations of anomie he fit into. We could take a look at the rebel form, but the fact that he was out stealing a car would not allow him to fit into that mold, given the current information that we have available to us in regard to his history. True, he might have been out the night before spray painting and tagging walls, but we do not know that for sure. And, he might not believe that African Americans have any place in corporate America, and was continuing with his education in order to keep a low profile, but there is no proof of that either. The same factors apply to whether or not we can call Brown a retreatist. Once again, he was in school and apparently excelling in his studies, being that he was in the gifted program, and there was no evidence that he was abusing drugs. Taking it a step further, he did not withdraw from family life, and he still enjoyed playing basketball with the locals in his age range.

With only one option left, it's apparent that Brown was an innovator. Brown believed that a societal defined goal was not only quick and easy money, but also the approval of his peers. This approval, which must be obtained at any cost, and puts the acquisition of money second, drove him to the point of stealing a car, and backing it into the radio car of officers, who were forced to open fire in order to protect their own lives. There was not a real legitimate lack of experience on Brown's part, the young man was 13-years old, three years away from the age of being able to get a part time job, something that could easily be obtained considering the fact that he was a gifted student. A 16-year old gifted student could be given a part-time job at a corporate entity on an after-school program, or even a summer job as an intern. However, due to the gang influence, Brown did not believe these options were available to him, thus making him turn to a life of crime.

These illegitimate opportunities that present themselves to the youth are magnified by what they see in the media, who their heroes are. From a theoretical standpoint, the blame can be rested on society, who failed to properly educate the child on morality, which led to his involvement in gangs. But at the same time, our separation of church and state does not allow for morals to be taught in our public education system, and a daily withdrawal of the difference between right and wrong do not provide for a blueprint or outline to guide kids such as Brown. While many point to the LAPD and put the blame on them for the shooting, a realist must look from the point of view of the chain of events and ask why Brown was there in the first place, and what was running through his head in order for him to put the car in reverse and aim for the LAPD radio car. While the answer to exactly what he was thinking can never be known for sure, the Strain Theory answers our question as to the profile of the child at the time of the incident.

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