Magazine article Newsweek

Notes from the Crack Trade

Magazine article Newsweek

Notes from the Crack Trade

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessica Bennett

In the 2005 best seller "Freakonomics," sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh inspired a chapter about why crack dealers live at home with their moms. The chapter was based on seven years Venkatesh spent trailing actual dealers. As a first-year graduate student, he walked into a notorious Chicago drug den, clipboard in hand, and asked: "How does it feel to be black and poor?" That intro earned him access to the gang and its leader, a man he identifies only as "JT." Now a Columbia professor, Venkatesh documents those years in a new book, "Gang Leader for a Day." He spoke with Jessica Bennett:

You say the drug trade is about power and money. But JT calls it a social organization. Which is it?

I was surprised that a street gang thought of itself as a legitimate member of the community. But in these poor circumstances, people sometimes turn to a gang for basic services. …

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