One hundred and fifty young men (ages 16 to 24) with histories of violent behavior and residences in two New York City neighborhoods with the highest homicide rates were interviewed to obtain narrative responses about various variables associated with two violent and two near-violent events in which they were involved during the past 2 years.
The study found that respondents had been involved in a wide range of violent incidents in diverse social contexts. The violent events were linked to differing motivations, meanings, and outcomes depending on contexts. Eight differing contexts for the violent and near-violent events are listed in this report. Contexts included gang issues, disputes over girlfriends, the commission of property crimes, preemptive violence against potential threats, and dating violence. The most compelling motivation for violence was to achieve or maintain status as a "tough" person, which conferred social power and instilled fear in others in the context of a dangerous environment in which the weak were vulnerable to victimization. The influence of alcohol and drugs shaped the dynamics, decisions, and behavioral strategies of confrontations. The presence of guns in a potentially violent conflict apparently emboldened disputants, often escalating the intensity and potential lethality of a confrontation. The study recommends that adolescents be taught negotiating and conflict-avoidance skills under conditions that simulate the contexts of their "street" world. Role playing can assist participants in better understanding the provocative and motivating behavior of bystanders and other third parties. Bystanders can also learn how their behavior may increase the risks of lethal violence in a conflict. A listing of NIJ's Criminal Justice Videotape Series on Research in Progress Seminars
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