In the social sciences, “innovation theory” refers to the ways in which a new idea spreads throughout a specific population and over time becomes adopted by that population. The “Code of the Streets” is a key example of this because of how and why it spread throughout low-income urban communities.
The “Code of the Streets” developed as a form of local justice in communities where the justice system has historically not been trustworthy. Years of police violence against people of color has created a common belief in inner-city communities that the police do not act in the interest of its residents. It is also common for police to not respond when called in such areas. The sense of a lack of police protection created a need for people to defend themselves. This led to the development of a street code—informal rules defining behaviors and social interactions. The code establishes a sort of street justice, in which punishment and violence is understood as a result of violation of the rules.
The diffusion of the code through inner city communities reflects standard understanding of innovation theory. Once it was developed, following it became increasingly important for survival. Thus relative advantage motivated the adoption of the code.
Although the Code of the Streets developed in response to police violence and bias, in many cases it heightened police interference in inner city communities. The code created a sense of justice many felt was not accessible from the social systems that were supposed to provide it. Yet in doing so, it justified inner city violence that prompted more police involvement in these communities.