This paper is a study of crime in the United States through the examination of a quiet bedroom community in New York state called Maspeth. Crime, drugs, and the fear of becoming a victim are very much on the minds of Americans, even those who do not live in urban centers where violent criminal activity is an everyday occurrence. This paper interviews three residents of Maspeth, a police officer who grew up in the neighborhood and followed the family tradition by entering law enforcement, a recent immigrant who owns a small neighborhood store, and a former drug dealer who lives outside the neighborhood and works with a drug prevention program at the local high school as part of the conditions of his last sentence. The three represent the spectrum of attitudes about crime in America as a condition of day-to-day living in the late 20th century.
Despite the prevailing fear of crime, Americans tend to see the country as an essentially orderly society. Donald MacGillis records the prevailing view that Americans hold about themselves:
Of all the myths and illusions that distort Americans' view of criminal violence, the most deep-seated is certainly the notion that the country is by nature a peaceful land inhabited by a law-abiding Chosen People . . . [but] nothing could be further from the truth. The United States has an unacknowledged tradition of collective and individual law-breaking that stands out among the industrial countries (11).
National folklore has always tended to glorify criminals, a fact which is reflected in the popular success of American movies such as Bonnie and Clyde, the Godfather trilogy, and the recent Sleepers.
Sergeant Lynn DeLillo, a six-year veteran of the Maspeth police force and a third-generation police officer, observes, "Even if I'd wanted to do something else, I had to become a cop because, if you're from an Italian family like mine, everybody think you're in the Mafia otherwise." She not...