Devil’s Advocate

Remember the chapter in Freakonomics “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” Well go up a little in the heirarchy and expand it, and you have Dr. Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day a 302 page book about the years Dr. Venkatesh hung out with a drug dealing gang in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. I could barely put this book down as it was so interesting.
I couldn’t help but think of our own little groups around the hood as I read and I held on to various themes in my head. One theme being nature abhors a vacuum, particularly in terms of power. The gangs were one power group, controlling or working with, or negotiating with other groups. The other theme was that of complexity. Drugs were one source of income, the gangs also levied taxes on squatters, prostitutes, and hustlers. However the gangs weren’t the only ones collecting ‘taxes’ on underground trade.
Two things that I thought were most useful in the book, for my understanding, were how the gang saw themselves as being part of the community and what undermined the gang. I have heard before, and in great disbelief, that the hangers out help the community. From Venkatesh’s study I see where that assertion comes from, in that the community leaders at Robert Taylor were able to get funds and co-operation for programs from gang leaders. There is some irony in a program to get kids off the street and away from gangs, partially funded by a gang. Towards the end, when the author was winding up his studies, two things were occurring, the Robert Taylor Homes were slated for demolition and a federal crackdown on drug trafficking. Together those two things removed the customers, the taxable underground economy, and valuable experienced staff (dealers, enforcers, etc).
In the case of Shaw, gentrification probably helps break up some networks, by reducing the number of underground consumers in the area and reducing the amount of influence certain groups have. I’m going on 7 years here in the hood (good lord I’m getting old), and I have seen the drug activity around here decrease, since my arrival. I’ll credit aspects of gentrification to that decrease, in that several vacant buildings that hid or facilitated illegal trade, are now filled and cannot be used for that sort of thing. New residents tend to support with their numbers the kind of leadership, political pushes and social reforms that weaken the drug dealing structure, adding to old timers who may have been too few in number to get any traction.

4 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate”

  1. I saw that. He should be sent to Gitmo for that. I, don’t really work with anything worth Ebaying, also I’m more about the information a doc holds, not the crumbly piece of paper it sits on.

  2. I agree that vacant houses are a big attractor to most shady aspects in a neighborhood. Our crew is by 2 vacant houses, and whenever the cops are here on the block, it’s always by a vacant house.

  3. A friend was driving me home one night and said, “Oh, I used to buy crack here”. I don’t know if that has changed because he is clean, or Shaw is improving.

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