Commenter Peep writes:
I had a similar experience about 25 years ago in the South Side of Chicago, and I recall that the group of kids that attacked me when they first started to cluster around me, asked something like, "Who do you know?" -- which sounds like they were thinking along the lines TNC is saying here. Of course, I had the street savvy of Little Lord Fauntleroy, so I just shrugged my shoulders and walked along until they pulled out chains and clocked me in the head a few times...and then they ran away....
This reminded me of something I left out of my post--the ancient idea of "turf." I think this is as old as American cities, or maybe even cities, period. I remember interviewing my Dad for the book, and everything he said about Philly, when he was coming up in the 50s, sounded so much like Baltimore in the 80s--if more intense.
There was a point where he was trying to explain why he felt like he had to leave, and he talked about how, at 16, his acquaintances started dying off. And then he talked about, beyond death, just the general sense of violence which hung everywhere. I don't have the quote handy but he basically said that every where he walked the word was, "Hey Motherfucker, where you from?" That really resonated with me. In my time it was like all you were was the block you represented. And if that block had a rep as bad-asses, that rep bled on to you. And if they didn't, that bled on to you also.
Eventually you tire of the whole dynamic. At least those of us who aren't built like that, do. And make no mistake, most of us aren't.