Some Thoughts on the Ride or Die Mentality

Working in the criminal justice system, I often see women supporting boyfriends and husbands who are violent, career criminals. Sometimes the women are proud of themselves for “sticking by” their man through all of his legal troubles. They feel proud that they are “riding” for him like a “real woman” would do. I have personally witnessed women going above and beyond for men who, by my personal estimation, do not deserve it. I’ve watched women fill out mounds of paperwork for their man (sometimes while he sits there and flips through his cell phone), pay his restitution and fines, argue with his probation officer, attorney, or even the judge on his behalf, attend all of his court dates, and do so much more. Sometimes I have to prevent myself from asking the woman, Do you really think he’d do all of that for you? In most cases the answer is a resounding N-O. How many Black women have been given lengthy prison sentences as a result of their affiliation with a boyfriend or husband who was a criminal? And how many of those men stood by them? How many men put their lives on hold, raised children by themselves, and made other sacrifices out of sense of loyalty to their woman? I don’t have any hardcore data but I can take a guess…

More importantly, it seems many people in the Black American (BA) and Black West Indian (BWI) community view the support of known and sometimes violent criminals as something honorable. Rather than admonish the person for their criminal behavior we’re enabling them and even convincing them, what they did is “not that bad.” Let me give you an example: A couple years ago, I was attending the Felony Arraignment Court. There was a case where a young man shot into a crowd and killed an innocent bystander. He stepped over the innocent bystander as he continued pursuing the person he was actually trying to kill. The young man’s family- some of whom had come in from out-of-state- and baby’s mother were present in the court. (They took up and entire side of the courtroom.) When his case was called the judge made the decision to place his bond in the millions. The family became indignant. I even heard people yelling “This is bulls@#^!” When the deputy came to take the young man back to his cell, some of the family members yelled out “I love yous” and blew him kisses. Others yelled words of support. Immediately, I wondered if they had ever thought about the person this young man had murdered. Where was the support for him? If I remember correctly, the victim was walking with his friends and fiance when was shot in the back.

If you had been observing the arraignment, you would’ve thought the young man was being wrongly and unfairly prosecuted. You would’ve thought he was a noble young man who was facing a stiff penalty for a petty crime- not a person so inhumane that he would shoot an innocent person and actually step over him in order to kill someone else. I asked myself, why is that some us (Black people) are treating criminals as if they’re political prisoners? What has happened that we celebrate and revere people who are wreaking havoc on our communities? When does a person deserve to be shunned by the community and by the family?

Yes, the criminal justice system has a bias against people of color. Many of us get a raw deal. Many of us fall victim to the prison industrial complex while our White counterparts receive a slap on the wrist. But what about the BAs and BWIs who live a life of crime? What about the Black men who harm other people and undermine the growth of their community for the sake of personal gain? What about the children who are left fatherless because daddy chose to make foolish decisions? And how can women, who are often left to pick up the pieces, support these men? Who trained us to believe this was acceptable? Sometimes I want to tell the ride or die chicks, you are no Betty Shabazz, Myrlie Evers-Williams, or Coretta Scott King. Let’s stop all the foolishness.

I tell you right now, if my husband chose to go out and commit crimes, trying to live the gangsta life, and found himself locked up, I WOULD NOT be a ride or die chick. If he wasn’t a political prisoner of some sort then I’d be gone. Insha’allah, I would not spend my time, energy, money or effort pacifying him as if he is Nelson Mandela. As the old saying goes, you commit the crime, you do the time.

May Allah NEVER test me with such a thing. Ameen.

Big up Urban Futuwwah for the conversation that sparked this post.

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22 responses to “Some Thoughts on the Ride or Die Mentality

  1. Good Post. My ex-husband got in trouble with the law (while we were married) and because I refused to lie to the police to protect him, I was cussed out by his family for not ‘standing by my man’ . He did the crime and I wasnt going to lie and end up as his accomplice. I thank Allah that I am out of that situation, Ameen.

  2. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    A couple of weeks ago a lady died who had been the wife of a man jailed, probably wrongly, for involvement in a robbery in England in the 1970s. The case turned into a huge campaign and the man was freed. However, six months later he was caught red-handed holding up another bank, and that time he tried telling his wife he’d been fitted up by the police, and she responded, “and I’m the Queen of Sheba!”. She said she’d never been a gangster’s wife, and got a divorce from him and he went back to jail.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/03/obituary-rose-davis

    I’d be upset if my sister stuck by a boyfriend or husband who was a thug, because I don’t want a thug in the family (I had enough of them at boarding school) and you don’t want your kids looking up to them. In many cultures it’s a matter of shame if you’re related to a criminal, even distantly.

    (BTW, it’s “wreaking havoc”, not reaping. To reap means to gather a harvest, as in “you reap what you sow”, i.e. to take the consequences.)

  3. “Sometimes I want to tell the ride or die chicks, you are no Betty Shabazz, Myrlie Evers-Williams, or Coretta Scott King. Let’s stop all the foolishness.”

    And ain’t that the truth!?! Excellent post. There are so many things popularized and glamorized in the BA community, and this is just another one that hurts women and families. We’ve taken the psyche of an oppressed people and turned it into this underdog culture where no matter what we’re doing wrong, we’re really right because it’s Us vs. The Man. We’re so so stubborn about things that don’t matter, insisting on wrong just because ‘that’s how we do.’

  4. The women you have described suffer from low confidence and self esteem due to growing up without a father i suspect. Without a loving stable homes/families there will be no community that will shun and hold accountable lowlifes and and criminals.

  5. Beautiful post may Allah reward you.Let these characters sink if they want to gangsters.How many times we see brothers come home and want to tell everybody what to do in the Masjid.Next time you turn this same person is backl in the slammer.That not to say there not some brothers who sincerly turn there life around.I know of case were I’m told that the prision guards at local county jail call this one indivual Ramadan because he is usually in jail that time of year.

  6. JamaicanHijabi, Good for you! I am not perjuring myself and going to jail to cover for someone either. I don’t view lying to the court or police as “standing up for your man”, I view it as enabling him.

    Yusuf, Thanks for sharing the story and thanks for the grammatical lesson, lol. I wrote this post in less than 30 minutes while I was on my lunch break- I was so afraid I would forget what I wanted to say.

    Roberta, you said “We’ve taken the psyche of an oppressed people and turned it into this underdog culture where no matter what we’re doing wrong, we’re really right because it’s Us vs. The Man.” I think you words summarized the point I wanted to make in this post. The sad part is the same level of support is not given (at least on a regular basis) to those who are trying to better themselves. In fact, some people view the men who are going to school and staying out of trouble as “soft”, “trying to be White” or “thinking he’s better than the rest of us”. Sad, sad, sad.

    Kalimat, I do think there are issues related to self-esteem when it comes to the women that stand by career criminals. More than that though, I think they are responding to the kind of underdog culture Roberta is mentioning. Right and wrong has become confused. Victim and perpetrator has become become confused.

    Kwame, you’ve touched on another subject- the prison brothers returning to the Muslim community. I am so biased on the topic that I’ve deliberately stayed away from discussing it, lol.

  7. Salaams Dear Sister:

    I work in prison with women and there are also a lot of these kinds of women who are also white and Hispanic. Many of the Hispanic women actually take a case for their husband, BF, or son, etc.

    You are right that the men do not stick by the women when the women are incarcerated. It’s very sad. When I worked in the men’s facility, I saw women ride with a man for years only to have him split on her once he was released. She may have her phone cut off due to too many collect phone calls, pay a lot of money traveling long distances to visit, etc. For what? He calls and she’s not home (probably went to the grocery store or something) and he goes into a rage. Ya Allah!

  8. I stood by my criminal ex for a long time because he was abusive and I was more afraid of what he would do to me or my family if I left him and he got out or if I told about what he was doing. I kept mouth shut out of fear long after our relationship was over. I did not really stick by him. I just endured it all.

    I never was a ride or die chick but I have seen a lot of them. I wonder how many put on that face to hide their fear and uncertainty.

    He has now spent the last 8 out of 10 years in jail, missed his kids life. He has only been here for them for six months out of 8 and 6 years. All for the pursuit of fast money. I did not let myself get sucked into that, alhumdulilah. But it’s been hard to dig out of all the crap he has left behind. I am just now getting free of it all.

  9. Salam Jamerican,
    I was just talking about this with my little brother. We were watching the show “First 48” on A&E and there was this dude who killed his step brother over some dumb stuff. His family refused to give him up to the police. I was so shocked. And even when he got caught they still were showing him love and support…pfff

  10. Safiyyah, I was looking for stats on female prisoners and visitation but wasn’t able to find it. I’ve heard that their level of support and visitation is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than men.

    curiousmuslimah, Thank you for sharing your story. I never thought about the fact that some women might be afraid and so they go along with the husband or boyfriend. I don’t know why I didn’t think about that aspect since I know it to be true when it comes to domestic violence. May Allah make it easier for you. Ameen.

    Diali, I don’t understand families who support criminals either. I saw a case in court where a mother helped her son who raped someone escape to another state. Fortunately, he was caught in Illnois and extradited. I wondered how a woman could do something like that…

  11. I am the family outcast. That is ok. I have relatives, all male, who are murderers of more than a few. One of which is my brother and the other is my first cousin. I am the rotten fruit that fell from the tree. WHY? I refuse to visit, take collect calls, help in any defense and have assisted in their respective capture and deportation. (I am not lying to the FBI.) I have children and I see clearly, that what may have been in my relatives best interest was not in my children’s best interest. If you are thief and a murderer, you have not one thing that I want. I am always looking over my shoulder, not for a foe but for family.
    It was ride or die for me. So I rode right out of the state. The USA is a big place and sisters need a drivers’ license, a car and the will to go. As my best friend said “I GOT GHOST”.

    Z

  12. asa. you should talk about the ride or die mentality in the muslim community. it’s there. not only when you have ex-cons cycling in and out of the masjid but when they are influencing the direction of their communities from the mimbar as well.

  13. Salaams Sis:

    on stats and visitation – I’m sure that every prison keeps them. Inmates must request clearance for all visitors. And when people do come to visit, they are processed, they sign in, etc. Prisons keep VERY close track of these stats. If an inmate escapes, that’s the first place they go: to the visitor, and then to mail and phone contact.

    Not sure what the breakdown is. Would make a nice research project for a college student.

    I can tell you that our visiting room is FULL on a daily basis. But the visitors are usually parents, children, grandparents, siblings, etc.

    Some women get visits from their husbands/boyfriends. But they are usually the short timers.

    Many of the women get visits from men, usually older men, that they come to know as a result of placing an ad in the local paper. We are in a rural area and some lonely geeser usually responds to the call. They are the real ride and die type. They put money on the woman’s books, buy her sweets and sodas in the visiting room. Yet other inmates will “sell” the phone numbers of sugar daddys they know or other tricks. When I worked in the male facility, guys would sell a woman’s phone number for the price of cigarettes or candy bars. They would start a relationship and pretty soon the guy was calling her his fiance, lol. With the women, they are usually using the guy as a sugar daddy, promising him to get with him when she gets out, etc.

    What is really sad is the elderly female lifers and long-term offenders. Year after year, people in their families die and eventually no one comes anymore. They are forgotten. Alhamdulillah.

  14. Salaams CuriousMuslimah:

    I forgot to say that I ask Allah (swt) to protect you and your family/Ameen.

    Please get help and support if you are still in a fearful situation! Please!

  15. Thank you Safiyyah and Jamerican for your dua. I have been divorced since 2006 and have sole custody of the kids as well. My ex has been in jail since 2005 and gets out in June of this year. I have great family support. And also I know too much. It’s in his best interest to leave me be. 😉

    The funny thing is he became Muslim in jail…completely independent of my own conversion, btw. Not sure how to deal with him now. He’s went a bit extremist by the last letter I got.

  16. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    “Ride or die” exists among poor whites in some parts of the UK as well. Just this week a mother was jailed for lying to the police on behalf of her son, a local teenage thug who murdered an innocent boy (Rhys Jones) in cross-fire a couple of years ago in Manchester. Another (young and male) witness in the same case flatly refused to testify against a family member, and he was told to report back at a later date, and I presume he was jailed for contempt. You also get fear – people don’t want to testify because they don’t want the repercussions and don’t want to leave all their friends to live under a false name for the rest of their lives. Middle-class people do tend to trust the police more than poor people, particularly the urban poor, but nobody can justify lying to protect someone who murdered an innocent person. But it’s not just blacks by any means.

  17. Walaikum salaam Yusuf,

    I wouldn’t say this is exclusively a “Black problem” but I do think, given the racial climate in the United States, there is belief amongst some Black people that evading the law and engaging in criminal behavior is “sticking it to the man.” It’s some sort of twisted sense of pride in not following the “White man’s rules.” The irony here is that once a person is in the criminal justice system they not only “follow the White man’s rules” but become “property” of the State.

  18. Pingback: Friday Links — February 20, 2009 « Muslimah Media Watch

  19. I see where you’re coming from…but I think you’re missing the part love plays in this equation.

    Love makes people do stupid things…how many times do you see women putting up with men who abuse them, simply because they’re too much in love? Sure, we can call them stupid, but their brain might be pulling one way and the heart is pulling in another. I think the same thing could apply here.

    Maybe I’m a too much of a romantic, but if a person who I deeply love, whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, sibling, parent, or friend, did something so messed up and blatantly wrong, how can I go along with something I know will hurt them? How can I turn my back on them?

    It’s something that I hope I never have to go through myself, and I wouldn’t wish that situation on anyone.

  20. Salaam Alaikum,

    Just to agree with what Yusuf was saying about the U.K, in the rougher estates, there is graffiti stating that “Snitches get stitches” and being a “grass” is seen as being pretty much the worst thing you can be. That similar ride or die mentality and glamourisation of the criminal life is all pervading.

    Off-topic: I know you have written before about tensions within the BA community. Were you shocked by some making excuses for Chris Brown and somehow using Rihanna’s West Indian background as justification for what happened?

    Obviously, I’m white and British so I’m not that familiar with these issues, but aside from how disgusting it is to make excuses for such behaviour, I couldn’t believe people would bring where she comes from into it.

  21. Wonderful post sister!

  22. Pingback: Friday Links — February 20, 2009 » Muslimah Media Watch

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