Gang Leader for a Day
A New York Times Bestseller Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT’s protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang’s complex hierarchical structure. Examining the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT--two young and ambitious men a universe apart. "Riveting." --The New York Times "Compelling... dramatic... Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand." --Newsweek "An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city." --Chicago Tribune "The achievement of Gang Leader for a Day is to give the dry statistics a raw, beating heart." --The Boston Globe "A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from viivd tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined." --The Economist "A sensative, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype." --Finanical Times Sudhir Venkatesh’s latest book Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy--a memoir of sociological investigation revealing the true face of America’s most diverse city--was published in September 2013 by The Penguin Press
The curriculet is being added to your library
As you read the text, you must read carefully in order to decipher if the evidence you are presented is based on subjective or objective perspectives. It is very easy to be lost in the story of the people who reside in the projects and forget about the overall argument or claim of the text.
ONE - How Does It Feel to Be Black and Poor?
The author uses the metaphor "ivory tower" and "ivory fortress" in order to convey all of the following except
Throughout the text, the author will attempt to prove claims about the community in the projects and attempt to create a clearer portrait of life there. In order to clearly identify and analyze these claims, we will use the Toulmin Model of Argument. Please view the video below to learn about the elements of the Toulmin Model. (This annotation contains a video)
Due to the historical racial tensions throughout Chicago, it is evident that race must be an element in the research the author undertakes. What is the first claim or argument in the text about race?
Do you think that you are similar to the author in that you are "politically disengaged" and have a "core faith in the workings of American institutions and a sustaining belief that people can resolve their differences"? Do you believe that it is due to where and how you were raised?
The author emphasizes his own naiveté several times as he describes his initial attempts to work on the research assignments. What is the author trying to establish?
The author's descriptions of the events that he witnessed and was a part of are just as important to his overall argument as explicit statements, claims, or evidence he presents. What does this initial meeting between the author and the members of the Black Kings reveal about their gang? What does it imply about the physical setting of the building?
When the author asks J.T., "How does it feel to be black and poor?" J.T. responds, "I'm not black." The author believes that this implies he misspoke, so he corrects himself and uses the politically correct term "African American." But J.T. responds again, "I'm not African American either. I'm a nigger." What does this imply?
Based on the author's account of his initial interactions with J.T., J.T. is characterized as an empathetic and caring individual who seems interested in the author's sociological study. Do you think this is an objective characterization? Do you think the author's naiveté plays a role in this perspective?
After the author's initial experience with J.T. and his gang members, how has the author's central focus and claim mutated?
In addition to the author's study of the complexities of gang life, he is also making a claim about the two branches of sociology. Based on the highlighted statement, which do you believe he is promoting with this text? Secondary analysis of data and statistics or ethnography or "field work"?
TWO - First Days on Federal Street
In his first conversations with J.T., what claim does the author reveal about poverty within the inner city?
There is an important factor in the development of the project housing: geography. This is an element the author intimates may be a factor in the "culture of poverty" that is prevalent in project housing. The link below is to a New York Times editorial titled "The Littlest Killers." Written about six years after the author's research began, the editorial compares the project housing in Chicago to Golding's text Lord of the Flies. What factors does the editorial attribute to the lack of judgment, order, and consequence in the project housing? (This annotation contains a link)
The author uses common business terminology when he describes a meeting between J.T. and Curly. What does this imply?
The era between 1910 and 1970 is known as the "Great Migration" of African Americans from the southern states to the northern cities. Due to the emancipation of the slaves and the resulting rise of segregation and other retaliatory structures developed in the south, African Americans sought to move north. With the advent of industrialization in the twentieth century and the development of railroads, many African Americans and immigrants were recruited to work in factories or as laborers. Below is an image one of the paintings by Jacob Lawrence as part of his "Migration Series." (This annotation contains an image)
The author describes his research methods as "something unconventional, bordering on rogue behavior." What does this imply about his motives for partaking in this longitudinal research?
Throughout the text, J.T. maintains his claim that the Black Kings are helping to develop a sense of community in an area that lacks any real identity outside of crime and poverty. The evidence he presents to support this claim is sponsoring community events such as sporting games or parties. These events serve as a respite from the stress of living within the projects. Consider as you read how the evidence appeals to the audience or readers. Click on the link below to read about the different rhetorical appeals and how they may be used to influence an audience. (This annotation contains a link)
The author includes the anecdote about J.T.'s survey of the buildings as evidence to support which claim?
The author describes how J.T. "runs" the building and the the hierarchy of the men within J.T.'s organization. Based on the claim that the organization helps to maintain order within the community and this evidence presented, there are two warrants that can be made from this dynamic. The first is that the gang is a beneficial organization with an altruistic investment in the community. The second is that the organization is a merciless institution who provides protection for the sole purpose of preserving their lucrative business in that area.
What does J.T. mean when he tells the author, "Everyone is in on it"?
The author presents a duality to the life in the projects: the stereotypical view of a life filled with violence, crime, and drug-use, and then a life that is rooted in community and familial connections. Based on your knowledge, which set of factors has a greater influence on the overall development of the community?
Clarisse's explanation about the difference between her form of prostitution and the other prostitutes she refers to as "hypes" is inconsequential because they are all prostitutes. What term can you use to describe Clarisse's classification?
Do you agree with the author that "J.T.'s gang seemed different"? Or do you believe that a gang is a gang because of the illegal and criminal activities they partake in or promote? Lastly, how does the author's obvious bias toward's J.T.'s gang impact the overall text?
The author includes the brutal account of C-Note's beating in order to contrast
It is important to recognize the author's acknowledgement of his myopic point of view of the gang and particularly J.T., but do you think the author can modify his lines to write an unedited portrayal of the gang's activities?
THREE - Someone to Watch Over Me
Why do you think J.T. chooses to be evasive, contradictory, and elusive about his private life with the author? What can you glean about J.T.'s character from the limited details you are provided about his private life?
J.T. justifies his beatings of insubordinate community and gang members as preventative and necessary to maintain his leadership. Do you believe that this is true? Does it also reveal a prevailing sense of paranoia that is ubiquitous throughout the project environment?
The author includes an anecdote about the Black Kings search for a politician or alderman to pay off and utilize to protect their illegal business dealings. What does the author illustrate by including this anecdote?
In George Orwell's essay, "The Politics of the English Language" he discusses how language may be manipulated to further an individual or group's cause by using imprecise and debase language. A link to the text is provided below. Consider this argument as you read about Lenny, the former gang member who meets with the young gang members in order to educate them about politics. How does he manipulate language to further a cause? (This annotation contains a link)
Read the anecdote about the young gang members who "sign up" the residents to vote. What does the author convey about the character of the younger gang members? Does their character play an essential role about why they are recruited to be members of the gang? Use textual evidence to support your response.
Each time the author presents J.T. and his gang as benefactors to the community, he also includes the underlying reasons for the gang's "community" involvement: they will ultimately play a role in advancing the drug trafficking business. The warrant you can infer from this evidence is that the gang is ultimately self-serving. Their activities that benefit the community are a by-product of their desires to develop their business.
According to the author, which factors lead to men seeking "refuge" in the projects?
The author repeatedly presents backing that supports the warrant that all of the gang's activities are self-serving.
The highlighted passage is an example of a ____________ to the warrant that the gang's activities are solely to benefit the gang.
Another prevailing attitude among the residents of the projects is an ambivalence about long-standing practices. Rather than trying to affect change, their behavior is excused by the belief that "It's just how people do things around here." Do you think this indifference is a factor of the residents' socioeconomic status?
Ms. Bailey informs the author that Taylor A has a Boys & Girls Club, but "gang boundaries made it hard" for residents to utilize its facilities. This is grounds to support which claim?
A central problem with the author's reliance on ethnographical approach to research is that he cannot trust his subjects' stories completely. This is the key problem with testimony utilized in argument. For more information about the use to testimony and authority as grounds in argument, please click on the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Why is J.T. so upset with the author for arriving at the meeting without his permission or "with" him? What does this reveal about the relationship between J.T. and the author?
Is the author truthful with J.T. about his research? Does this affect the way you feel about the author's point of view?
The leaders in the community: a pastor, a police officer, and a building leader facilitate a mediation between two rival gang leaders. What does this imply about their feelings about the gangs and their illegal activities?
FOUR - Gang Leader for a Day
The highlighted passage is key to understanding what the author's claim should be, versus what his claim is, due to his choice to become ensconced with the Black Kings. Rather than viewing the neighborhood as a whole, the author is overly focused on the minutia of the gang rather than the ripple-effect the gang's actions an influence has on the community where it resides.
The author considers J.T.'s position as leader of his chapter of the Black Kings, and asks, "Did it really take a self-styled CEO to manage that?" This is an example of which type of rhetorical device?
The author reveals he has an almost romantic notion about the high levels of the gang operation. His perspective is out of touch with reality and influenced by his excitement about the information he can gather through his interactions with J.T.. How may this influence the way that the author presents the events that unfold in this chapter?
The anecdote about Moochie and Ms. Bailey serve as backing to support which warrant?
Throughout the text, the author refers to gang activities of the past and how the people associated with those gangs believed that "gangs of that period were totally different." Based on the evidence in the text and any research you conduct about the development of gangs, is there a fundamental difference between the two gangs.
Why does the author include the conversation between J.T. and Johnny? What does it illustrate? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
In his interactions with J.T. as "gang leader for a day," the author realizes that fear is J.T.'s "leadership style." What does this reveal about the men who are in the gang if they only respond to fear as a punitive measure?
The author describes the sound of "fist hitting cheekbone" in order to convey the omnipresence of ___________ in the gang world.
The author acknowledges that J.T. is "an accomplished manager." How does this observation and the knowledge that J.T. has a college degree impact the argument that a lack of educational opportunities is a factor in gang involvement?
The highlighted excerpt is an example of backing for which warrant?
By implying that J.T.'s business dealings are similar to the management styles and incentives used by corporate America, which appeal is the author employing to influence the audience?
FIVE - Ms. Bailey’s Neighborhood
"Two-thirds of the community were raising children." This information is important because it helps to understand factors that contribute to the accept lifestyle in the projects. This data was also highlighted in the New York Times editorial, "The Littlest Killers."
What is Ms. Bailey's claim about why the people in the projects are poor and live a certain lifestyle?
As the author details more day to day activities of the residents of the projects, it is evident that there is no real charitable work in the projects. This is additional backing for the warrant that kindness succumbs to corruption within the project housing. Do you think this is a vicious cycle that can be broken? Or do you think that it is so engrained that it cannot be eradicated?
When the author sees that Ms. Bailey denies some residents donations and gives to others, he asks the rhetorical question, "Did she play favorites with some families?" What does this reveal about Ms. Bailey's character?
Though the author admits that he was foolish to believe Clarisse without verifying her claims, he believes her when she claims that her kids have nothing. The author does not learn from his mistakes quickly and is apt to believe what people say. This may be a detriment to proving his argument because he may accept testimony as fact. This would be a source of rebuttal and could degrade his argument.
The authority figures in the community such as Ms. Bailey and the Black Kings work closely with Pride in order to register people to vote. According to Lenny, Pride will then instruct the registered voters "how to vote." What purpose does this serve? Is this how democracy is supposed to work?
Rather than citing corruption as the justification for the gang activity to be allowed to occur in their buildings, the author believes the residents are desperate. An argument against this claim is that this belief is the result of the author's _________ point of view of the social dynamic within the projects.
The incident with Tanessha illustrates myriad issues that are co-existing within the projects: lack of police presence, vigilante justice, an indifference to violence, and the prevalence of violence against women. As you read, highlight or note the incidents of violence against women and how the people of the community react to this violence.
In the altercation between the squatters and Bee-Bee, the author realizes he "might not be as far out of the way as I'd planned." This reveals
Consider for a moment what would have happened if Ms. Bailey and the squatters did not exact their vigilante justice? Are you at all swayed by the anecdote presented by the author?
The author has "a hard time accepting the idea that tenants wouldn't call the police for something as serious as an assault" or "that the police wouldn't show up." Present both sides of this argument. The first side is from the perspective of the tenant. Cite three reasons why they may avoid police involvement. The second side is from someone like the author who grew up in a suburban area where police were responsible authority figures. Cite three reasons why the police should be involved on some level.
As the author spends more time within the community, he starts to understand the complex dynamics between individuals and groups and how they are impacted by money, greed, loyalty, and trust.
Ms. Bailey explains that she does not rely on the police for protection but instead to threaten that they will be indifferent to crimes that are committed against violent offenders. Ironically this is a _________ for the warrant that the police are inactive in the project community.
Do you believe the statement, "The ends justifies the means?" Can you think of examples that prove and disprove that statement?
SIX - The Hustler and the Hustled
What is the term the residents of the projects use to describe people who partake in the underground economy?
Until this point in the text, J.T. has always been willing to help the author in regards to his own activities. He also helps others in the community when it benefits himself. Why do you think J.T. may be so eager to help the author interview the "hustlers" in the building?
The author includes Cordella Levy's story in order to provide
The author includes and contradicts statistical evidence in order to illustrate that statistics give a marginal view of a person's life or an area's demographics.
The author includes information about welfare reform under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in order to imply
In the author's efforts to gather data and research, he reveals all the details about the residents who partake in the underground economy to Ms. Bailey and T.J.. Based on what you know about their characters, why is this a mistake?
Reread C-Notes retort to the author's claim that he "had no idea when I was talking to them" that he would hurt the people he interviewed. Do you agree with C-Note? Characterize the hustlers the author interviewed. Is the author a hustler too? How so? Use textual evidence to support your response.
The author admits that he didn't have any personal investment in his research subjects. He was enamored with T.J. and his lifestyle, he used the information he gathered to further his own academic and personal career, and he was fascinated with the dynamics that were established over many years of corruption and ambivalence, but he has no intentions in rectifying the situation. Once the residents realize how easily the author will "sell them out," they no longer allow him to be "casual" with them. This indicates that they had no idea that the author was not personally invested in their lives.
According to the author, Catrina is a symbol of what for the people in the projects?
The author includes the details about the younger women and mothers in the projects in order to help support the claim that women suffer greatly in the projects. They are often subjected to violent acts and feel compelled to participate in criminal activity in order to provide for their children and protect themselves. Do you think the issues they face are a result of forces beyond their control? Or do you think these women do have some control over their lives?
The personal anecdotes of the women suffering from abusive, violent, and degrading behavior in order to appeal to the audience's
The author tries to help the young women in the projects and is accused of taking advantage of them sexually. This illustrates the culture of distrust and paranoia that exists in the projects. It is also important to note that none of women in the workshop attend and defend the author. Why do you think they avoid the meeting?
SEVEN - Black and Blue
The author states that T.J. "felt personally indebted to" him because he helped save the life of one of T.J.'s closest friends. This information is fodder for a rebuttal. Why? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
Throughout the text, the author romanticizes the life of gangster. This is not done intentionally, but it is an accurate first-hand depiction of the author's interaction with the gang over the course of six years. It is only when the author includes accounts of the senseless violence or abuse that the author presents the duality of gang life.
What does J.T. mean when he says the "young rivals had 'no business sense'"?
Each time the author branches out and experiences a new role in the community, he learns about a new perspective of gang life and its impact on the community.
The anecdote about the MC flyer in the police station and the raid of a Black Kings party is ______________ for the claim that there is a hierarchy that emerges as a result of power and corruption.
Do you think Officer Jerry is an exception or the rule? To what extent are does the author present the legitimate institutions of authority are portrayed in an overly negative light?
The author provides details about Officer Jerry in order to support the claim that corruption infiltrates all organizations. Officer Jerry is an African American who terrorizes the residents of the projects. Which warrant can be inferred about some of the issues in the projects?
The problem with widespread corruption and economy build upon illegal activities is that when one element of the economy is removed (in this case the drug busts that occur as a result of federal agency involvement), other individuals and institutions are threatened. Officer Jerry believes that the author is aware of what he does and how he benefits from the illegal gang activity. He also uses fear and intimidation to assert his authority.
Reread the highlighted passage. Do you believe that the author excuses the police's ambivalence and lackadaisical attitude toward domestic violence? How does this impact the author's authority and overall claim?
The author finally admits that "long after I was finished studying poverty, they would most likely continue living as poor Americans."
EIGHT - The Stay-Together Gang
Throughout the text, the leadership of the Black Kings repeatedly refers to the gang as a "community organization." This is an example of
It is evident from the author's private conversations with the gang leadership that there are two clear and distinct ideals within the gang: those who consider the gang a family and those who see the gang as a business opportunity and a means to an end.
During the author's final months with the gang, there is a foreboding mood that permeates each interaction he has. This is illustrated when T-Bone gives the author the gang's financial information. The release of this information could result in many arrests and deaths.
What appeal does J.T. and his entourage employ to recruit new gang members in a new territory?
Ironically, the community that is bound to the projects due to gang territory will now be dispersed throughout the city and forced to cross gang boundaries. This evidence implies which of the following warrants?
It is evident that a factor in the "culture of poverty" is lack of communication and a result a lack of knowledge about the dynamics in the projects. The political initiatives created to provide opportunity are commandeered by corrupt individuals throughout the organizations designed to help the residents.
Based on the anecdotes about "The Stay-Together Gang" and their relocation, which warrant can you infer about the relationship between opportunity and gang life?
The garden in the projects was created when the people believed they would be recognized by then President of the United States Bill Clinton. It implies that if more attention was paid to the people's lives in the projects, they may feel more accountable for their actions and inactions.
Which literary device does the author employ to illustrate the dichotomies in project housing?
Explain how the highlighted passage backing for the warrant that geography is a factor in the culture of poverty?
Ironically, the isolation as a result of geography and gang activity provided the residents of the projects with security and safety from the unknown. There is an old adage that states, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't."
J.T. note of introduction to other gangs in New York and New Jersey is a symbolizes