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“Fist Stick Knife Gun” by Geoffrey Canada

The Book “Fist Stick Knife Gun” by Geoffrey Canada is a biographical account of his childhood in the south Bronx. He and his 4 brothers were raised by only their mother. She would survive on no more than ten dollars a week. He moved several times as a child until finally landing on union avenue, the place were many of his life lessons were learned and at times applied. He learned about the ranking process of kids on union Ave. and how the only way to improve your status was to use your fists to fight your way up the chain. Looking back Geoffrey Canada notices the major shift in attitudes concerning the rules of the streets.

What once was harmless fist fighting has now turned over to guns. His opinions can be seen in his title “Fist Stick Knife Gun”. One of the earliest lessons he ever learned was from his mother. She told all four of her boys to never let people think they were afraid and that they were never to become victims. This is shown with each word that Canada uses in his title. The first phase of his life consisted of “Fist”. He recalls the time when he first moved to Union Ave and he was trapped inside his apartment because he hadn’t established himself in the neighborhood.

He would sit up in his 3rd floor apartment and jealously looked on, as all the other kids would play in the streets. One day his older brother John had enough and walked outside to face his fate. The rest of his brothers followed and eventually each got beat up as a pass to the streets. None of them showed their fears or their pain, a lesson that they first learned from their mother. This was only one of many steps/ factors in becoming an established individual not to be reckoned with. Age was the other factor to be considered. The older you were, the more respect you got from others.

There were the young adults, who were the biggest and badest on the block. They weren’t usually around to defend their turf because they all belonged to a gang, however everyone knew they ruled all. Next were the mid-teen boys who were the “real rulers of Union Ave (18)” They were the ones who enforced the rules. The lower categories were the early teens and the pre teens. The early teens were just learning the rules whereas the pre teens couldn’t go off of the sidewalk. Geoffrey belonged to the lowest rung, the sidewalk group. As time went on he got in many fights, sometimes with friends just to dig himself out of the bottom group.

He soon became the kid not to challenge because he learned how to fight. The next was “Stick”. Their wasn’t much mention of this phase in his life, but he does mention the fact that in certain circumstances, a broken bottle or a stick can be used in self defense when the opponent uses a weapon. The place where this would happen is at school. The rules of the streets still applied but the problem was many different “gangs” associated and congregated at his junior high.

So everyone their follows different rules, some “gangs” might think the use of weapons is acceptable, so Union Ave. ople have to adjust these circumstances and use a stick or a broken bottle to defend themselves. As he grew even older he began to notice other gangs tendencies of carrying knives. He realized that this fact changed the code of conduct. No longer would be a good fist fighter keep you from confrontation. Even the most unskilled fighter could win a fight and be on top if they knew how to swing a blade. One day Geoffrey lucked out, because he found an old rusted up knife in the gutter. It was his pride and joy. He could never afford one, so he went to many lengths to get it in working condition again.

Once he returned it to its original shine, he perfected his techniques of swinging it. The gun gave him a new sense of protection. He walked with a sense of certainty that if anyone were to mess with him, they would be sorry. One day however, he realized the realities of what a knife could do. While attempting to shave time off his “draw”, he ended up seriously cutting his finger. It now is crooked and a constant reminder of that time in his life. The final phase of Geoffrey’s ghetto life was Gun. This was a step that was brought upon politics rather than society.

A man named Nelson A. Rockafeller was responsible for this huge shift toward eliminating drugs in communities. The plan was to deter dealers by giving harsher punishments when caught. On the surface this seemed like a reasonable approach to the problem, however there was no comprehension of what was going to happen because of it. This new get-tough attitude was the main contributor to the “Gun” phase of Geoffrey’s life. The harsher punishment for dealers made them think twice about their approach to doing business. Instead of risking getting caught, they decided to sink to an all time low and use children as their runners.

These kids were given a tremendous amount of responsibility with the amount of money they would have on them at a time. To protect themselves from thieves they all went out and got the only thing they could think of to ensure safety, a gun. Now all of these kids had guns for protection, but from what? Other kids with guns that got them for protection? This is a vicious cycle that trapped many people of that time. The problem could be easily solved if everyone just went back to the original code of conduct that Geoffrey first learned, fists only.

To Geoffrey, the “codes of conduct” were like these unwritten laws that everyone knew about but no one knew where they came from. Geoffrey had to learn these rules as the days went by, some he learned by mistakes and others he got a little help from his friends. The rules went as follows: no crying; you fight when called upon, never show fear, and always have heart. Showing heart was the basis for all of the other rules because it showed that the fighter was dedicated to the code and respected where it came from.

You could get beat up beyond recognition, not cry and still be considered tough. If one was to break these rules, the consequences could be either a brutal beating or even as severe as being shamed. Geoffrey was very concerned about being respected so even when the situation was bad and all odds were against him, he still obeyed these rules to avoid being shamed. Many people have often wondered why kids in the inner cities act as violently as they do. Questions always arise when hearing of gang initiations that require getting beat up and why people would go through with it.

To me the answer to all these questions lye in the codes of conduct of the streets. Many of the youths living in places such as the south Bronx don’t have many opportunities of being successful. The odds of someone from an area like that are almost impossible. To compensate for that void, these nobodies in the eyes of society create their own conditions for success. To them, being successful doesn’t mean having a lot of money, it’s all about respect and the only way to obtain this respect is to live and die by these rules.

They may seem unfair and even ridiculous to us outsiders, but that’s because we have more options of obtaining success than those caught in the belly of the slums. These codes are all that they have and without them, they would have no meaning in their lives, nothing to live up to day in and day out. They give these people a reason to wake up in the morning and a sense of pride that can’t be provided in any other way. Geoffrey Canada gives his readers a rare opportunity to look inside the life of a ghetto kid and what they have to go through just to survive.

He also provides answers to the many questions asked of why certain things happen the way they do in the Bronx. He used his childhood experiences and turned them into a unique tool when helping the youth of today. Now that he works as a youth councilor he sees that the problem in the slums has gotten dramatically worse with the emergence of guns. It used to be about pride and status, now any thug with a gun can be feared in the community. This, to Canada is a major problem because guns gives kids a sense of power, a strong feeling that is often abused and results in someone, even an innocent person dead.

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