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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Discussion: Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Ok, not sure how many of you read this one. I mostly have some overall comments.

First, I enjoyed the book for the peek into a world we rarely hear about. And I found myself considering the situation of these people on a more personal level, understanding the fix they seem to be in. Which I appreciate. Most news stories, reports and so forth about people living in projects offer surface information at best. It is easy to judge and think, "they could change if they wanted to. Or why don't they call the police?" But it is a lot more complicated than that and seeing the way they seemed to be stuck between a rock and a hard place was enlightening. Even the gang members seemed stuck to some degree. Though I did not feel that way about J.T. at all. I felt he wanted to be some kind of super gang godfather and pursued that as far as he could. Finding out the police were complicit in illegal actions and atrocious behavior towards tenants and women did shock me a bit. Not completely but the extent of their involvement really felt like such a betrayal for these people.

As for the author, I thought he was rather naive throughout. I could not believe that after having spent years around these people, he still didn't get it. He betrayed trusts without thinking, he constantly questioned why people didn't call the police but most importantly, he didn't report a lot of what he witnessed and that seemed wrong to me. I understand his predicament, but it was a little over the line to have been 'in on' discussions of drive by shooting tactics. I thought at the very least he should have known to walk away from a planning meeting like that. Finding out things in the abstract is one thing, but sitting through meetings where people are beaten for insubordinancies and attacks on other gangs are planned was a bit much for me. Maybe I'm the one being naive though.

In the end I think this is a valuable book for giving an understanding to a part of life that maybe most of us are insulated from too much.


ms chica said...

Okay, so I didn't actually read this book, and have nothing pertinent to add to your observations.

I read Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner a few years ago. Chapter 3, Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?, has some interesting insight into the pecking order. I'm sure a gang leader and a drug dealer could argue their chosen professions are as comparable to one another as speaking Spanish is to speaking Portuguese, still there are interesting parallels.

Meenakshi said...

The book was an amazing experience and showed so many things in a new light.I could not put down the book and resnted the time i was away at work.its a sad book with unusual insights into a world so near prosperity yet so far away. it could be a slum anywhere in the world and not in the richest nation of the world where more than half the world aspires to be. Sudhir has also put out an exceedingly compassionate book and has dealt with the players gently.he has never let any judgements creep through. this makes it an unusual book and speaks very highly of the author.As for his naivete he himself agrees to it in the book. thus he also comes across as a very strong his vulnerability lies his strength.