The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream

The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream

The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream

The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream


Randol Contreras came of age in the South Bronx during the 1980s, a time when the community was devastated by cuts in social services, a rise in arson and abandonment, and the rise of crack-cocaine. For this riveting book, he returns to the South Bronx with a sociological eye and provides an unprecedented insider's look at the workings of a group of Dominican drug robbers. Known on the streets as "Stickup Kids," these men raided and brutally tortured drug dealers storing large amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and cash.

As a participant observer, Randol Contreras offers both a personal and theoretical account for the rise of the Stickup Kids and their violence. He mainly focuses on the lives of neighborhood friends, who went from being crack dealers to drug robbers once their lucrative crack market opportunities disappeared. The result is a stunning, vivid, on-the-ground ethnographic description of a drug robbery's violence, the drug market high life, the criminal life course, and the eventual pain and suffering experienced by the casualties of the Crack Era.

Provocative and eye-opening, The Stickup Kids urges us to explore the ravages of the drug trade through weaving history, biography, social structure, and drug market forces. It offers a revelatory explanation for drug market violence by masterfully uncovering the hidden social forces that produce violent and self-destructive individuals. Part memoir, part penetrating analysis, this book is engaging, personal, deeply informed, and entirely absorbing.


During the late eighties, Dominican drug dealers were a highly visible lot. I could not miss them. They drove expensive cars, with shiny rims, with the sunroof open, or with the convertible top down, for all to see (everyone had to see the driver, the King of the Avenue). They wore extravagant clothes, custom made—a stylish suit for the day: baggy slacks, Italian button-down shirts, “Miami Vice” style. They wore summer dress shoes with no socks, even during winter, the time to show off fancy leather coats. And their hair (inspired by Michael Jackson) was done up to hide the rough texture, the kinkiness—elpelo malo—through a “Jerry curl” style, all oiled up, coiled up, dripping wet, with a tissue in hand to wipe the drops running down the face and ears. The jewelry was large, exaggerated, overblown, making one wonder how these skinny men weren’t anchored to night club floors or were able to lift their heads for greetings (“Quepasa, mi pana?”).

The New York City-born drug dealers (second- and third-generation Dominicans and Puerto Ricans) wore the finest urban gear: Adidas, Puma, and Fila sweat suits; Nike sneakers, Gucci shoes, and Bally slip-ons. The jewelry was flashy—Cuban and Gucci links and rope chains, with large gold crucifixes, Madonnas, anchors, nicknames, and initials. Some with kinky hair—moreno hair—did away with the “Jerry Curl”; they shaved their heads close, Caesar style, or sported flattops, towering high above their foreheads. Those with pelo lacio, or pelo bueno, had fades with a fluff of hair on top, either spiked or wet down to get the wavy look. Facial hair was Arabic style, or fifties Bohemian, to look like malos: goatees, thin and thick, sometimes with helmet-strap strips running from ear to chin, making people look “hard”; and if worn with a baldy or a barely visible Caesar, dudes looked like they just came out the “pen.”

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