Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun
Geoffrey Canada. 1995. Boston: Beacon Press. 179 pages.
Reviewed by Cheryl Russell
Remember how your parents and grandparents would talk about the good old days? Steak was a nickel a pound, people were more polite, and kids respected their elders. Remember how hearing those stories would make us feel nostalgic, thinking about how great things used to be way back when. It's not hard to do: steak is a lot more expensive, people are a bit less polite than they used to be....and kids? You know those kids today.

Geoffrey Canada, who currently directs several programs for at-risk youth and their families in New York City, remembers the good old days, too. However, his memories having nothing to do with the price of steak. His memories deal with violence-violence among young people, to be more specific. In Mr. Canada's "good old days," when you fought someone, the person you fought had to be approximately the same size. If you left a fight bearing more scratches and bruises than the other guy, you took your beating like a man and lived with it. The older kids established rules and kept the younger ones in check, making sure that things didn't get out of hand.

What Canada's recent book, fist, stick, knife, gun, does is offer an explanation of why things are now out of hand. In an account that is part personal memoir and part socioeconomic and political analysis, Canada adroitly explains how both the lack of quality opportunities for underserved youth and sentencing laws with perverse effects have led to increased youth involvement in the drug trade. This in turn has resulted in swifter, deadlier, and more widespread violence using guns.

The author illustrates how the presence of guns has changed the "code of conduct" on the street. Suddenly, one has to look over one's shoulder all the time, and the tiny guy you might have beaten up a few years ago could be packing heat and prepared to blow you away just for looking menacing. As Canada says, "you can dodge rocks, punches, bottles, and balls, but not bullets." As we learn from reading Canada's book, a gun is the premier equalizer.

Canada's solutions for reducing the prevalence of gun violence are not new. They include reducing the demand for drugs, recognizing and responding to domestic violence, and regulating both violence in the media and the availability of guns. He does not discuss the costs of these solutions. Moreover, discussion of the success of programs and policies that address these issues is largely limited to examples drawn from programs operated by the Rheedlen Center for Families and Children, of which Canada is president.

ÊÊStill, what fist, stick, knife, gun does, in a very engaging manner for a subject so brutal, is to remind us that we have a long way to go in curing the disease of gun violence. n

Cheryl Russell

Chicago for Youth Project, City of Chicago