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Of all of my preconceptions coming into this experience, the dynamics surrounding gangs and cops have been the most surprising. What is painted, in large part thanks to the media, as a starkly black and white–metaphorically and racially–issue has turned out to contain more gray than I ever imagined. Before exploring my experiences and observations about the role of cops and gangs in da ‘hood, I’d like to first expound upon my preconceptions and the role that the media played in shaping them.

My preconceptions, formed and reinforced by the media, figure gang bangers as corrupt, imperial dictators who exert control through fear. Evil to the core, their reign is secured by bloodshed and drugs. They wear gold everything, drive low-rider Caddies with chrome spinners, and shoot random people for fun. Cops are warriors for justice, saints who struggle against such forces of evil to bring peace and justice to the streets. The confrontation is a classic conflict of good vs. evil. These portrayals are so numerous, I won’t bother to cite examples. They dominate the media landscape.

Media occasionally offers an alternative view of the police. Films like Training Day offer an image of the “corrupt cop.” Like the gangsters he deals with, he is evil to the core. Such films portray the confrontation as evil vs. evil. However, such films usually paint the corrupt cop as a lone wolf who eventually gets what he deserves.

Crash probably offers the most realistic rendering of the situation as I have experienced it. Matt Dillon’s character is a racist, sexist cop who uses and abuses the power needlessly. Nevertheless, he isn’t the incarnation of evil. He shows compassion for his unwell father, and eventually reconciles for a previous abuse of power. He’s bad but not rotten to the core. The confrontation is much more complex than good vs. evil or evil vs. evil.

However, to my knowledge, the media never portrays gang bangers in a positive light. This representation is also false in my experience. I’m not suggesting that the media portrayal be inverted (good gangsters vs. evil cops). A more accurate picture would paint the conflict of good vs. evil within each side. Both cops and gang bangers contribute to and detract from peace and justice in my neighborhood.

Finally, the nature of the violence as portrayed by the media is severely skewed. The media seems to glorify innocent victims while completely overlooking gang-on-gang violence. If a gang banger is shot, they might get a brief mention in the evening news. If an innocent child on the way home from school gets shot, they get splashed all over every major media outlet for days or even weeks. If the majority of media coverage pertains to innocent victims, one might conclude that the majority of violence is random or targets the innocent and uninvolved.

As my only significant source of information, the media greatly shaped my preconceptions of violence, gangs and the police. My subsequent experience leads me to believe that reality is much more complex than the perspective offered by Hollywood and CNN.