The relationship between race, stigmatization, and criminalization is the central thematic thread of Victor Rios’s (2011) Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. The writer traces various forms of non-physical violence against Black and Latino youth, based on their race. Criminalization is one of the most serious and painful issues discussed in the book: in Chapter 1, Rios (2011) presents several examples of ubiquitous criminalization and the results of his research in terms of criminalizing the young Black and Latino males. The entire analysis of criminalization and its impacts on Black and Latino males draws from the stories and voices of males, who have actually suffered from the imbalanced attitudes of the local police towards their racial backgrounds.
The results of this analysis confirm that Black males in Oakland are facing severe criminalization and bias. Moreover, Rios (2011) has found that Black males are facing much severer forms of criminalization and abuse, compared with their Latino peers. At this point of analysis, Rios (2011) provides abundant information about the things that happen to Black and Latino boys in the Oakland neighborhoods, as well as the things these boys say about their daily experiences with the local police and the White population. The examples provided in Chapter 1 create a compelling picture of criminalization in Oakland, but they do not provide any systematic explanation to the causes and impacts of such racial violence. Simultaneously, delving into Blacks and Latinos’ life stories is one of the best practices and most effective methods of research Rios (2011) could have chosen for his book. It is the voice of the multiracial youth from Oakland, California, that speaks in Chapter 1 and shapes the basis for the analysis of the major social issues facing Blacks and Latinos. There seems to be no method of sociological analysis, especially, in terms of criminalization and discrimination, better than the voice and expression of the victims. The result is obvious: the most essential thing to say is that criminalization experiences face Black and Latino youths on a daily basis, with almost no chance to escape them.
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In this context, one of the main questions is how the Black and Latino youths, who have experienced the pressure of criminalization and discrimination, actually react to these experiences. Rios (2011) tries to answer this question in Chapter 5: it appears that boys have already developed “the creative social and cultural capital [… ] in response to being prevented from acquiring capital to succeed in mainstream institutions” (p.98). Thus, the central theme of this discussion is the fight of the Black and Latino citizens in Oakland for their rights. Again, from the perspective of the Black and Latino youths, Rios (2011) discusses the so-called “dummy smart” subculture, which empowers the young people and provides them with the emotional and mental resources to separate themselves from the mental and social degradation. From this perspective, Rios (2011) draws a vague but essential boundary between protecting individual rights and fighting for dignity.
Certainly, the cycles of violence described by Rios’s (2011) cannot be entirely attributed to victimization and abuse. It is possible to suggest that Black and Latino youths living in Oakland develop misplaced perceptions of reality, as a result of the violence, discrimination, and victimization they face and discuss in Chapter 1. At the same time, between Chapter 1 and Chapter 5, an important layer of information may be missing. Rios (2011) leaves no room for doubting that the criminalization of Black and Latino youths is a pervasive phenomenon. It makes young people socially incapable of fighting with the major troubles of life. In the meantime, victimization does not grow from nothing. Definitely, it can also be interpreted as a response to certain social trends. The reality in which Oakland’s multiracial community lives is not purely black and white, and numerous other factors mediating the relationship between race, stigmatization, and criminalization should also be explored.
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