Notes & Quotes: Citizen Outlaw by Charles Barber

The following are my favorite quotes from Charles Barber's Citizen Outlaw: One Man's Journey from Gangleader to Peacekeeper:

  1. At age seven, [William] Outlaw so much admired one of the officers, a strapping man who would go on to become New Haven's first African-American police commissioner, that he wanted to become a policeman. But by age ten, Outlaw had seen the behavior of other officers, who took bribes and slept with the single moms, and he grew to hate everything about the New Haven police department.
  2. At the heart of his story is an unrelenting paradox. It is a story of doing unremitting damage and then trying to undo that damage, which of course is not actually possible. But these days Outlaw relentlessly spends his hours undertaking the insurmountable task of trying to overturn what has already been done.
  3. Even at his young age, Outlaw sensed that his father's rage was somehow misplaced. Sure, Outlaw had done something wrong; sometimes Outlaw himself believed he deserved punishment. But he could feel in his heart that there was no love behind his father's so-called discipline.
  4. The framers of the public housing movement made a critical error as they conceived of their master plan: they prohibited tenants from owning their apartments, and therefore residents had little personal investment in the properties in which they lived. The buildings were owned by city authorities and often poorly maintained. The projects were frequently opened with great optimism and fanfare, but then quickly fell apart. And just as often, in creating the new projects, entire neighborhoods--many of them containing handsome historical structures alongside the squalid tenements--were razed. These processes created deep-seated feelings of dislocation and alienation among long-standing residents. In New Haven alone, 20 percent of the population was forced to move out of their homes between 1956 and 1974, all in the name of purported urban renewal and progress.
  5. Research shows that gangs thrive in areas of wide income disparity, and Connecticut had among the highest income disparity in the United States.
  6. Outlaw perfected this style of business in the gang's first two years, all before his sixteenth birthday. It powered the Jungle Boys into becoming the largest gang in New Haven, and made Outlaw a local celebrity wherever he went.
  7. Just as he arrived, an explosive element came along that changed the New Haven--and American--drug scene forever. Cocaine.
  8. A few weeks after [Len Bias's] death, both Republicans and Democrats forged the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which fundamentally transformed the law enforcement community's response to drug abuse from a rehabilitative approach to a punitive one. Soon afterward came further legislation, which called for new prisons and mandatory minimum sentences for drug violations. The new laws made punishments related to crack up to a hundredfold higher than for cocaine. Nancy Reagan, who led an anti-drug campaign from the White House, deemed the legislation a personal victory.
  9. By the 1960s and 1070s, amid rising crime and high rates of criminal recidivism (nationally, about half of inmates released from prison were incarcerated again within three years), the Bureau of Prisons largely abandoned any interest in rehabilitation, replacing that ideal with the liberal use of solitary confinement and lockdowns.
  10. The "Cure Violence" health model, originally developed by Dr. Gary Slutkin of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, identifies three principles employed to combat epidemics of disease and applies them to youth violence: 1. interrupt transmission of the disease; 2. reduce the risk of the highest-risk cases and; 3. change community norms.
  11. In 2016, when a New Haven dealer was sent back to prison, he sold his cell phone to another dealer for $30,000. The contacts on his phone amounted to an instant book of business.
  12. There was one thing that had not much changed upon Outlaw's return: the homicide rate. Twenty-two murders were perpetrated in New Haven in 2008; 12 in 2009; 23 in 2010, and an astonishing 34 in 2011, numbers that had not been seen since the 1980s. In 2010, not one of the murder victims in New Haven was white. 22 were black, and one was Hispanic. Twenty two of the 23 people killed were male. Between 2003 and 2015, among the 1225 victims of gunshot wounds treated at Yale New Haven Hospital, 84 percent were either black or Hispanic, and 93 percent were male. The statistics mirrored national numbers: black men comprise 6 percent of the United States population but half of all homicide victims. Five thousand black men perish in gunfire annually.