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Code of the Street and African-American Adolescent Violence

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2009
26 pages
Publication Series
This report examines the results of research into the validity of the “code of the street” theory developed by a Yale professor explaining high rates of violence among African-American adolescents.
The results were generally consistent with Elijah Anderson’s “code of the street” thesis. They suggest that family characteristics, racial discrimination, neighborhood context, and street code values are significant predictors of violence. Findings include: (1) being raised in a “decent” family appears to lower the risk of being involved in violence; (2) the “street” family variable was not related to self-reported violent behavior 2 years later; and (3) reported experience with racial discrimination significantly predicted self-reported violent behavior. The results suggest that neighborhood structural conditions may influence violent behavior. Lastly, the study shows that an individual adolescent’s adoption of the street code is a powerful precursor of violence. Anderson’s thesis bridges the environmental-cultural divide inherent in many urban violence studies. The “code of the street” theory, developed by Anderson presents an explanation for high rates of violence among African-American adolescents. Anderson saw that economic disadvantage, separation from mainstream society, and racial discrimination encountered by some African-American adolescents might lead to antisocial attitudes and to violent behavior. This report presents research exploring Anderson’s thesis. Repeated interviews were conducted with more than 800 African-American adolescents and their primary caregivers in Georgia and Iowa over a 2-year period. Exhibits, notes, and list of additional readings

Date Published: February 1, 2009