Following my review of Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, I had a tweet from Larry Davis, who suggested I read his book, America’s Conduct: Inner City Escort. When an author takes the time to contact me to suggest I read their book, I will always endeavour to read and review their works as soon as I can.
As a UK citizen, any knowledge I have of American gangs is what I have seen in films and documentaries. This book takes the reader into the heart of American gang culture and explains how the gang members became a part of it in the first place. However, Davis takes this one step further in his book. He outlines the impact that their history has had on the decision-making processes of African-Americans and how he feels that while racial equality is promoted outwardly by the American authorities, this is not actually the case at all and that African-Americans are still facing prejudice by a system that has apparently been amended to abolish slavery and unfair treatment of African-Americans. Indeed, Davis often quotes relevant legislation that was put into place supposedly to make things fair for all American citizens, regardless of colour or creed. As the title of the book suggests, Davis feels that America should be held accountable for their conduct towards African-Americans which has led to many choosing a lifestyle which is ultimately self-destructive.
Whilst this book is largely autobiographical, Davis goes a few generations back to explain his family history and the prejudices that his family had experienced before him to illuminate that the situation hasn’t really improved over the years. This gives the reader a more complete picture of the depth of prejudice displayed by those who felt they were superior to African-Americans. Davis endeavours to explain how he was filled with hatred, largely as a result of his family’s history, and how he completely rejected the system that claimed to treat all men equally whilst demonstrating that this was not the case at all.
Davis writes his life story very well and his frequent quotes from various constitutional amendments further enforces the point that he is trying to make. He makes clear links between his own experiences to those of his family members from years earlier that also reinforces his argument. There seemed to be a tendency to stereotype, but perhaps this was not intentional and that he was presenting his argument with an unspoken assumption that not all white people were prejudiced against African-Americans and not all African American’s who embraced the system for better or worse were in denial and were wrong to do so. I also found it difficult to assimilate the person who was undoubtedly let down by the authorities and the person who speaks of stabbing and beating up people without any evident emotion for the purpose of furthering their standing within their gang. I struggled to see how one situation justified the other, although, at the end of the narrative, Davis acknowledges this to some extent. I also understand that in many cases, it was a case of attacking as the best form of defence.
I can see how Davis was drawn into gang culture. He grew up in the midst of a surrogate family of gang members who provided support to each other no matter what and fought for their beliefs against a corrupt system. To be part of this extended family must have been quite appealing to a boy who lost his beloved father at a young age and who was encouraged to make his own way in the world and not allow himself to be prejudiced against, having witnessed prejudice first-hand. Davis is evidently very intelligent despite his rejection of the education system; his writing style is testament to that. This book is intended to deter other young men from taking the path that he chose to take. He acknowledges the effects that his decisions and actions had on those around him; his family and friends and those who he attacked/maimed as a result of his ambition to represent the East Side Crips at the highest level. Whilst there is no evidence that the system is any less corrupt, Davis wants any potential gang members of the future to understand how it is self-destructive and not worth the potential end result: either being killed or incarcerated.
In consideration of the narrative itself, whilst it is very well written, I did find myself getting a bit lost when trying to keep track with who was who. There are so many elements to the gang structure and so many (often similar) names to attach to the various groups that I found it quite difficult to follow at times. However, as they all played their part in Davis’s story, this was likely a necessary evil to contend with and does not reduce the effectiveness of the narrative.
Overall, Davis makes his argument well, and I can see how anyone in Davis’s position, who felt that the system that was supposed to help him was actually working against him despite its promotion to the contrary, would attach themselves to a collective who can exert control and provide young men with a purpose, a support network and a way to fight back against a corrupt system. East Side Crips provided Davis with something to believe in and with a sense of ambition for the future. There were (and still are) errors on both sides. Crimes should not go unpunished, but without absolute proof that the person in the dock committed the crime, they should not be incarcerated for it either. I can’t quite get my head around the violence between the rival gangs when ultimately it seems that their “enemy” was the same, i.e. the American justice system and the white Americans who continued to show prejudice against them. I could not offer any properly informed opinion on the subject matter of Davis’s book other than to say that I will never understand why people are treated any differently purely because of race, colour, creed, sexuality etc. I commend Davis for writing a fascinating, eye-opening narrative which has dual purpose: to show that while we may imagine that we are nearer to racial equality, this is not the case, and also to provide any young African-American with ideas of becoming a gang member a description of what the reality of this choice would be. I would recommend this book as an interesting, honest account of life as an African-American gang member who has suffered the injustices of a corrupt system, and who admits his own accountability for the choices he made and asks America to do the same.