In Geoffrey Canada's Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, Canada points out, by way of an apology, that, in the minds of the American people, "Might does make right." People consistently witness the deaths of the innocent who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even heroes, like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, met violent ends, perpetuating the cycle of violence that pervades the streets. One of the major problems, as Canada sees it, is the fact that poor people are trapped in a hopeless present with no vision of the future. Although "war" as we know it, is not necessarily a threat, the war, for the "handgun generation" exists in their midst, an "urban war zone," making it impossible to escape.
Canada's earliest memory of the means by which conflict in the Bronx is solved- or was in his childhood- is recalling a story of his own brothers who were only five and six years old at the time, having to fend for themselves by any way possible, even if it meant having to beat up another child, so as to reclaim a jacket and so avoid a beating at their own mother's hand. Children understand that the only way to survive is not to become a victim and, at a very young age, the only way to do that, is through violence; sometimes even encouraged by a parent. Canada himself, after his six year old daughter was badly scratched by a seven year old girl, and despite having taught his children that fighting is wrong, encouraged his daughter to fight back. Although never said, the inference of what it means to "fight back" is clear.
After his own education in understanding the "codes of conduct" on the streets, Canada resolves, as an adult, to help the younger generation and teaches martial arts which allows young people to retain their dignity and avoid becoming victims themselves. The gun culture which has resulted, in part, from well-meaning efforts to rid the streets of drug dealers, needs to be contained as young people need role models who are dependable and street-smart but who also give them hope.
Children in these communities do not get the education they deserve because they must spend their time just ensuring their survival in areas where parents perpetuate violence;there are few, if any, opportunities; good food is scarce; parents, especially fathers, leave home resulting in hardship and a lack of role models and there is always a fear of some unknown threat. Drug dealers, in an effort to avoid prison sentences, recruit young people- often minors- and the results are devastating. With an elevated sense of their own importance, these young people are unable to contain themselves as their new lifestyle becomes ironically, glamorous. It also becomes easier to overlook the honor codes because they do not need to respect or fear someone when they can shoot to kill.
Canada suggests that even video games, with violent but exciting and even desirable results give the wrong impression. He proposes solutions that include his Harlem Children's Zone project and talks of how giving hope, jobs and a solid education go a long way. Opportunities, somewhere safe and a vision of a successful future are what is needed.