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Ethnography Gang Leader

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ihatecollege101
Words 1645
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Ethnography Excerpt 1: Gang Leader For A Day: Sudhir Venkatesh

J.T. seemed to appreciate having the ear of an outsider who would listen for hours to his tales of bravado and managerial prowess. He often expressed how hard it was to manage the gang, to keep the drug economy running smoothly, and to deal with the law-abiding tenants who saw him as an adversary. Sometimes he spoke of his job with the same dispassion as if he were the C.E.O. of some widget manufacturer — an attitude that I found not only jarring but, given the violence and destruction his enterprise caused, irresponsible.
He fancied himself a philanthropist as much as a leader. He spoke proudly of quitting his mainstream sales job in downtown Chicago to return to the projects and use his drug profits "to help others." How did he help? He mandated that all his gang members get a high-school diploma and stay off drugs. He gave money to some local youth centers for sports equipment and computers. He willingly loaned out his gang members to Robert Taylor tenant leaders, who deployed them on such tasks as escorting the elderly on errands or beating up a domestic abuser. J.T. could even put a positive spin on the fact that he made money by selling drugs. A drug economy, he told me, was "useful for the community," since it redistributed the drug addicts' money back into the community via the gang's philanthropy.
I have to admit that J.T.'s rhetoric could be persuasive, even when I tried to play the skeptic. The fact was, I didn't yet have a good grip on how his gang really affected the broader community. On an even more basic level, I didn't even really know what J.T. did on a day-to-day basis.
One cold February morning, I stood with him on a street corner as he met with one of his drug-selling crews. I was shivering, still unaccustomed to the chilling lake winds, and trying hard to focus on what J.T....

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