Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 014311493X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A New York Times Bestseller
Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of

When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT’s protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang’s complex hierarchical structure. Examining the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT--two young and ambitious men a universe apart.

"Riveting." --The New York Times

"Compelling... dramatic... Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand." --Newsweek

"An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city." --Chicago Tribune

"The achievement of Gang Leader for a Day is to give the dry statistics a raw, beating heart." --The Boston Globe

"A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from viivd tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined." --The Economist

"A sensative, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype." --Finanical Times

Sudhir Venkatesh’s latest book Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy--a memoir of sociological investigation revealing the true face of America’s most diverse city--was published in September 2013 by The Penguin Press


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Medicaid— as their sole form of support, and even into the 1990s that percentage would never get lower. There were just two social-service centers for nearly twenty thousand children. The buildings themselves began to fall apart, with at least a half dozen deaths caused by plunging elevators. By the time I got to Chicago, at the tail end of the 1980s, Robert Taylor was habitually referred to as the hub of Chicago’s “gang and drug problem.” That was the phrase always invoked by the city’s media,

the security officer, Price, who oversaw the details of the war: posting sentries, hiring mercenary gunmen if need be, planning the drive-bys. Price enjoyed this work, and was often happiest during gang wars. I had never seen a war last beyond a few weeks; the higher-ups in each gang understood that public violence was, at the very least, bad for business. Usually, after a week or ten days of fighting, the leaders would find a mediator, someone like Autry, to help forge a truce. “Pastor Wilkins

will start talking about you. Sometimes they’ll give you credit, and sometimes they’ll blame you. Understand?” I didn’t answer. “And when you say, ‘No, I can’t help you with that,’ they’ll say, ‘But you helped ’Neesha, so why won’t you help me?’ Then they’ll say, ‘Sudhir don’t care about us,’ or ‘Sudhir is ’Neesha’s manager.’ Then they’ll say, ‘Sudhir is working for Ms. Bailey, and he don’t do nothing unless he gets paid.’ Get it?” “I think I get it.” I sat silently and stared into my hands.

black ghetto. The projects had been built forty years earlier in large part because white Chicagoans didn’t want black neighbors. Most Robert Taylor tenants thought the situation hadn’t changed all that much. The CHA began to hold public meetings where tenants could air their questions and concerns. The CHA officials begged for patience, promising that every family would have help when the time came for relocation. But there was legitimate reason for skepticism. One of the most inept and corrupt

told you many times: What scares you ain’t what scares them. When they go to a new store or they have to stand at a bus stop in a place they never been to before, that’s what scares them. I wanted to help them feel okay. And just when they need me, I can’t be there for them.” “You can still do things—” I started to say. But I stopped. The pain on her face was evident, and nothing I could say would console her. I just sat quietly with her until we’d finished our coffee. I saw Ms. Bailey a few

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