When the musical West Side Story made its way to the silver screen in 1961, the Academy Award—winning film offered American moviegoers glimpses into the plight of impoverished urban teenagers. Many viewers saw the shocking reality of youth gang violence for the first time.

Yet, nearly three decades later—amid the squalor of America’s inner cities and an explosion of new and more sophisticated gang brutality—the sweet-spirited West Side Story seems like an ode to better days. As we enter the final decade of the twentieth century, we are living in a nation that from all appearances seems to be coming apart at its urban seams.

Witness these recent headlines:

• “Dead Zones: Whole sections of urban America are being written off as anarchic badlands, places where cops fear to go and acknowledge: ‘This is Beirut, U.S.A.’ ”

U.S. News & World Report

• “L.A. 1989 Gang Violence Death Rate Grows to 2 per Day in Wake of New Surge of Drive-by Shootings.”

Los Angeles Times

• “Menace in Fort Wayne, Indiana: Big city L.A. gangs fuel crack crisis.”

Chicago Tribune

An Orwellian Urban Nightmare

Across the nation, images of inner-city violence give the impression of cities under siege, of an Orwellian nightmare in which gangs of urban terrorists freely roam the streets.

Thirty-four-year-old Tone (pronounced Tony) Head, a member of the Chicago- and Los Angeles-based Crips gang for 25 years before coming to Christ, puts it like this: “The environment we live in is a murderous, dope-selling environment. I was hard as a rock. I didn’t care about my own life, let alone about anybody else.” Glimpses from TV news and print media suggest ...

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