COMPTON, CA—Gloria Harper, a Compton-area mother who has openly condemned inner-city violence in the past, spoke out yesterday against the recent outbreak of hitting in her community. According to Harper, a single working mother of three, other residents are also fed up with the increasing incidence of hitting, not to mention occasional shoving and scratching.
“The violence here has gotten out of control,” Harper said. “Everywhere you look, young people are hitting each other. Many times late at night, when I’m lying in bed, I can hear the sound of closed-fist punches coming from right outside my window.”
According to neighborhood parents, hitting has always been a problem, but it was typically gang or drug-related. Now, Harper says, kids don’t even need a reason to hit. What’s worse, she insists, certain types of “rap” music popular with area youth often glorify hitting, along with some forms of light kicking.
Harper points to an incident last week when a local boy was struck on the upper arm by an open-handed slap. What makes this case so alarming, according to Harper, is that the blow was delivered by one of the boy’s school classmates.
“When I saw that happen,” she said, “I ran down the front steps screaming. But it was too late to stop it. By the time I got there, he was already lying on the ground, holding his arm and saying, ‘Ow.’”
According to one neighbor who witnessed the incident, the young boy had been hit “two, maybe three times.”
Gang members, whom Harper and others blame for the recent escalation of hitting, say that the violent realities of their community offer no alternatives to hitting. Members of several area gangs did not return phone calls when contacted by this paper.
“We need to reclaim our community,” Harper said. “We’re seeing younger and younger kids shoving and kicking. Some of them are just babies.”
Other area residents echo Harper’s sentiments, adding that they don’t feel safe anymore. However, past attempts to curb the hitting epidemic have met with indifference and even resistance from law enforcement officials, who say they have more pressing concerns.
Police Chief Ron Davenport cites a recent outbreak of biting in East L.A., which left one young man with teeth marks on his leg and discolored skin around the area of the bite. One mother even reported that her 17-year-old boy had his skin broken, and that blood appeared and almost rose to the surface.
To minimize the risks of being hit, Davenport recommends people wear sweatshirts, or, ideally, cushy, down-filled jackets.
“This will prevent a hit from really hurting,” Davenport said. “It can also help minimize the risk of getting a bruise.”
Sociologists from the University of Southern California say the dramatic rise in hitting incidents could be a cyclical phenomenon without a clear causal relationship.
“As far as we know,” said Eugene Phelps, a professor of Urban Sociology at USC, “hitting—when accompanied by reckless pushing and aggravated poking—may be cyclical and would best be remedied by ignoring the undesirable behavior and rewarding the behavior that fosters constructive, cooperative solutions to problems.”
Compton’s problems have not gone unnoticed in Washington, D.C. The recent shoving of a 7-year-old girl prompted outrage on Capitol Hill. “Children in Los Angeles live in a prison of violence and fear,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said. “At some point, we’ve got to get a hold of these gang members and tell them to cut it out.”