An insider’s view of gang culture and warfare.
First described in Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s “rogue” guide, Freakonomics (2005), Venkatesh’s brazen foray into Chicago’s organized street life is chronicled here in its entirety. It began during his first year of graduate sociology work at the University of Chicago and took seven years to complete. The author’s colleagues asserted that quantitative and statistical data would suffice to completely deconstruct the behavioral patterns of those living in the poor, black neighborhoods surrounding the university. Instead, he chose an ethnographic approach, personally immersing himself in his vigorous research. In Washington Park, a beautiful (by day) area that the university consistently discouraged its students from frequenting, Venkatesh spoke with two sage black seniors who dispensed fatalistic views on race relations. The ballsy investigator wandered through the Lake Park high-rise housing project located just a few miles from campus, hoping to interview families about being “black and poor.” He was briskly escorted from an “abandoned” building; knives and guns were quickly drawn. With J.T., a gold-toothed, tough-talking former college student and current gang member, the author developed “a strange kind of intimacy.” Venkatesh’s guts and persistence elicited J.T.’s substantial history lesson on black Chicago, its underground economy, the crack cocaine trade and the intricate echelons of gang hierarchy. J.T. soon moved in with his proud, outspoken mother at the crack-infested Robert Taylor Homes housing project, hoping to increase his drug-selling revenue. Venkatesh dutifully followed and scrutinized prostitutes, hustlers and gang violence. Still striving to learn how gang activity and allegiances dictate behavior, he infiltrated the Black Kings crack gang. That was dangerous, complicated and legally risky; he could have been jailed for contempt for failing to share his notes with the police. Venkatesh writes of his harrowing, exhilarating fieldwork with the great pride and insatiable curiosity of a seasoned news reporter.
A dark, revealing exposé.