Monster Reaction & Analysis … Book Report
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¶ … Monster: The Autobiography of an LA Gang Member" as authored by Sanyika Shakur. The book tells the rather bloody story of the author's life in the infamous gang known as the Crips. The book is very much an autobiographical record of how his life in the gang starts at the very young age of eleven and then culminates with a seven-year prison sentence that was levied due to Shakur assaulting a crack dealer. The book is rife with metaphors to being a "soldier," the cause and aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in 1992 and many other facets of his life such as when he was suspended very early on as a Crip due to flashing a gang sign for one of the school's photos. That picture snafu as well as many other parts of the book lay bare just how committed and affixed Shakur was to the gang life.
One thing that becomes quite clear early on is that Shakur was extremely immersed and laser-focused on his upcoming or current status as a gang member quite early on. The aftermath of the gang sign in the class photo makes that clear as the boy was already in quite a mess. Even so, they still had a party for him but he was not concerned at all about that. Even with his parent's assertions that he clean up his room, he was out of his white suit and out of the window of his bedroom almost right away and off to his initiation into the gang. The graduation, school and the other parts of "normal" life were just an annoyance to Shakur as he was entirely focused on becoming and being part of the gang. The world of "no snitching" was quickly made clear to him and Shakur was immersed in a world of violence and harsh camaraderie before he knew what he was truly in for. As noted in second chapter, his "medium" of communication became that of gunfire rather than simple words and statements. The title of the book emanates from the fact that he engaged in acts of violence and brutality that were off-putting even to his fellow gang members, hence the term "monster." The book was written while Shakur was confined to solitary as part of his prison sentence. The timeline in question is about sixteen years as this was how long he was a gangbanger in the Los Angeles scene. Part of the story to be told is that Sanyika Shakur was not his given name. His given name, of course, is Kody Scott. His current name stems from his evolving from a Los Angeles Crip to a member of the Black Nationalist and New Afrikan Independence Movement. This part of his life is covered in the latter part of the book. Entire chapters of the book are centered on the love of his life, Tamu, whom he married after getting out of jail and Muhammad Abdullah, a prominent figure in both the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party at different stages in his life (Shakur, 1993).
As for the major themes of the book, one that screams out to any reader from the very onset of the book is that the gang life drives out everything else and that they view themselves as soldiers in a war and that nothing else takes precedence over loyalty to the gang and the actions that need to be taken as part of being in that gang. Even before he was jumped in, it is clear that Shakur was intoxicated by this loyalty and practice as he was a committed member before he really even started as part of the gang. Once he was in the gang, there was nothing that was "off the table" to Shakur and he even repulsed some of his fellow gang members with his unmitigated brutality and violence. This loyalty and adherence remains in place throughout the book but eventually shifts to the black nationalism movement that Shakur aligns with once he gets out of jail and gets away from the gang movement that got him into so much trouble in his earlier years. He also ascribes a ton of loyalty and love to Tamu, to whom he gets married to after he gets out of jail. In short, Shakur is a very loyal and passionate person and his loyalty knows no bounds and this absolutely included the time of his life when violence and depravity were to be his calling cards. He not only took on the mantle of needing to be violent, he did so with a vigor and dedication that was unmatched by most of his peers. The paradigm shift that occurred within the mind of Shakur is that rather than fighting other Crips or people from other gangs, he chose instead to fight against the perceived oppression and control levied by the United States and other levels of government. The fact that this book was written in the direct aftermath of the Rodney King verdict and the ensuing riots (which Shakur's gang mates were DIRECTLY involved in), Shakur's anger and passion shifted from being a gang member fighting on the streets to being a man that fought against a system he perceived to be entirely and wholly focused against, rather than in favor of, the black community. Indeed, people like the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers are very strident and clear when they say that the entire system of government and society of the United States treats black people as second-class citizens and there is no interest in helping anyone from the black community due to the perceived second-class status that they hold given the crime, poverty and other problems that pervade black society. However, one simply cannot ignore the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and other parts of United States history that have systematically ignored or suppressed the black people of the United States and Mr. Shakur was certainly not blind or ignorant to that (Shakur, 1993).
If there is one weakness of the book, the first half of the book walks a very thin line between painting a picture of how things were with the gang life and glorifying it. Further, Shakur's self-description as being a man whose brutality was unmatched sometimes seems like more of a boast rather than something he was truly sorry for. As for the second half of the book, there is absolutely no doubt that problems exist between the black community and the rest of the country. There is no doubt that slavery put black people behind the proverbial eight ball in so many ways. However, the confronting and sometimes extremely heated rhetoric that comes from those movements (and those like them) is probably not as helpful as they may think (or want?) and it might help to paint a more constructive picture in terms of tactics, just how widespread racism really is and so forth. A major strength of the book, and one that Shakur points out himself, is that you cannot be a gang "expert" without having been in the gang. Anyone else is just pretending.
The above section points to the context section of this report and that will be mentioned more here. Indeed, the years since this book was written have proved that not much has changed over the years, at least not enough. While the LA riots of 1992 have not really happened since at any location in the United States, there are still some very troubling trends and events in the news. The newest movement of black people or those that campaign against racism levied towards the same is the Black Lives Matter movement. There have also been a number of shootings and/or deaths involving unarmed black men such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray. The perceived improper reactions to those events has caused riots and destruction the cities of those events. Indeed, Sanford, Florida (Martin), Ferguson, Missouri (Brown) and Baltimore, Maryland (Gray) have all become hotbeds for anti-racism movements. However, there has also been a lot of violence and the amount of gun and other deaths in those areas has spiked. Sadly, most of the new violence is causing more black to be victimized. Even when that is not the case, the victims are often people who have little if anything to do with what caused the riots to pop off in the first place.
Shakur is right to say that not nearly enough is being done to confront and correct the racism that is often at the systemic level in the United States. However, there is a difference between civil unrest/protests and being violent in return. The latter serves no good purpose and only serves to confirm the racist or stereotypical views of the people that control or view the situation from outside the battle zone. Further, a lot of the injuries and problems with the black community are self-inflicted. Shakur… [END OF PREVIEW]
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