Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A philosophy lesson from the ghetto

In the 1960s the safest place in the Bronx was on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street. That was ground zero. All the wise guys hung out there: the Arthur Avenue Boys, the Fordham Daggers and the Boys from Napoli. They kept their sections of the Italian ghetto safe.

Regardless of the physical prowess of the Bronx Boys, Frankie Falani was the caporegime, the captain. He answered to Mr. Davia, the boss.

If you had a problem, you went to Frankie.

During the Middle Ages, in Italy, a man known as a codega would walk in front of you at night, carrying a lantern to show you the way. He would scare off the bad guys and protect you from anyone who would harm you. Frankie was like a codega. You'd often see him escorting women home at night. (He also hijacked trucks loaded with valuables crossing into the Bronx over the Macombs Dam Bridge. I am intrigued by the duality of the soul.)

In the Italian ghetto, families were safe; you could walk the streets with impunity.

It's different today. Have you read the crime blotters in the newspaper? The neighborhoods of La Cañada are being pilfered by roving thieves preying on unsuspecting residents. Thousands of dollars in cash and valuables have been stolen. We have a prowler sneaking in the night bringing terror to our neighborhoods.

Communities have rights, just like individuals: the right to live in peace, and feel safe and free from criminal intrusion. However, in the village of La Cañada, there is reason to stay alert. We have drugs in our schools, alcohol at children's parties, businesses under siege and active burglars.

I have a different philosophy of what it takes to protect a community. I'll never defer to the police to guard my well-being. Where I'm from, it wasn't done that way. We have to arm ourselves, but we do that in different ways. Some of us with real guns, some of us with more passive weapons like vigilance and a resolve to end this malaise or a plan that will protect us and keep us safe. But a weapon nonetheless.

I'm not trying to tell law enforcement how to do their job, but guys! You have to leave Foothill Boulevard. Go beyond the wire. Stop writing tickets and do some aggressive patrolling into the heart of La Cañada. You gotta get the bad guys. And when you get them, show no quarter and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

I became a Bronx Boy and did a few tours as a capo, a soldier, under Frankie. I learned that security is something that we individually build; it comes from our own initiative and is rooted in commitment. It's making an affirmation that the demise of our security will not happen under our watch. Maybe we need our civic leaders to mimic the words of Ed Harris from “Apollo 13”: “Failure is not an option.”

I outgrew Frankie; I no longer saw life as he did. I became a street-gang counselor and brought tough love to the punks on the street. However, I vividly remember Frankie's message. Although he didn't express it as I will, I think this is what he meant: We have a moral stature because we have a free will. The will of man is often used for evil purposes, but in the world, there is more good than evil. Evil cannot always be persuaded to the path of righteousness, so good men with commitment must correct them. That's exactly what we did.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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