The author of “Gang Leader for a Day”, Sudhir Vankatesh, delivers an intimate look into a world most people would prefer to ignore. In the book, the graduate student formed a friendship with a local gang leader and was able to get the inside information of the gang’s role in the Chicago housing projects. ABC’s 60 Minutes and National Geographic have made outstanding videos describing in great detail, gang life. Girls in the Hood, by ABC, informs that the notion of only males in gangs is false; that there are strong female leaders that are much involved in the gang as much as males. “Maximum Security”, by 60 Minutes, informs the audience about how gang leaders turned Pelican Bay, a prison fortress, into their own head courters of criminal activity.
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“World most Dangerous Gang”, by National Geographic, describes how important it is to deal with violent gangs and not make the same mistake twice. Sudhir Vankatesh is a brave sociologist who wanted to live the life of the very thing he studied. In 1989, Vankatesh was a graduate student from University of Chicago and for his research he had come to spend time with the Black King gang.
The author stayed in the Robert Taylor housing project which was next to the university; although, the staff of the university made it clear that these areas were places to be avoided. He started to attend seminars that analyzed typical sociological enquiries which he felt did not portray an accurate sociological prospective of the people who lived in the projects. He liked the questions the researchers were asking, but compared them with the vibrant life he saw on the streets of Chicago, the discussion of these seminars seemed cold and distant. The author decided to go with the direct approach in which he had a firsthand experience in his research, instead of a more common approach of using surveys and questionnaires.
The biggest reason why Vankatesh did not want to base his research on surveys is because their validity is not one hundred percent accurate. Vankatesh’s research method
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was not clear to him when he approached Hyde Park for the first time. It is understood that throughout the book he used the participant and observation method: seeing people face to face. He meets J.T at the park and soon realizes that he is a Black King Gang member.
They form an unusual friendship because they are both intrigued with each other. J.T. has a college degree and he had a job but he felt that he could not grow within the workforce due to his ethnicity. The blue-collar occupation that J.T. worked at could not promise better pay so he had to go back to the projects where he grew up and ran the Black King Gang. His authority was easy to achieve because he was well known throughout the project community. He mostly dealt with people like a business man but sometimes he had to put people in line through brutal violence. The Robert Taylor homes housed many poor African Americans which results in de facto (‘in actual fact”) segregation.
The occupants consisted mainly of single parent homes which attributed to their socio financial status. The deprived African Americans experience hypersegregation because of the geo-political region. The local law enforcement’s lack of presence encourages locals to seek the Black King Gang for justice. J.T, gang’s leader, regulates the kind of punishment suitable for each situation. After Brass and C-Note went against J.T.’s rule to make Vankatesh leader for a day they were brutally assaulted. The consequence of their behavior resulted in punishment sanction that encouraged conformity to the gang’s cultural norms. The Black King Gang organizes itself to efficiently perform responsibilities. The bureaucratic gang has a “Board of Directors” at the top of it hierarchy that oversees the grand operation.
J.T. is an instrumental leader because he focuses on completing tasks. His take charge attitude and outgoing personality are all traits of a born leader. As a leader he had to keep the gang motivated to keep sell the illegal substances. J.T. understands the consequences of breaking the law so he never carried a gun or drugs because it would send him to prison. The people of the Robert Taylor Homes value the hierarchy of the gang because it serves them as protection. Squatters, people who sleep in the halls, usually cause a lot of trouble because of their alcohol and drug abuse.
The female tenants feel comfortable enough to tell J.T. if the squatters are harassing them. Being organized allows the gang to run more efficiently when performing tasks. In chapter four of “Gang Leader for a Day” the author gets a chance in a lifetime: he was appointed leader of the gang for one day with, of course, help from J.T., T-Bone, and Price. They discuss the ongoing problem of rival gangs wanting to take their territory explained that he pays the local homeless of the area to keep an eye out just to have a second reference, when a problem occurs. The author concludes that his peers, other sociologist, have a false understanding of the kinds of positive outcomes gangs bring to The Robert Taylor community.
The latent function of the gang’s role is that they try their best to protect the men and women who do not abuse drugs and are too poor to care for themselves. Girls in the Hood put together a lot of videotape shot over a four month period by Mara and Jokey, two female gang associates in East Los Angeles. Mara is one of the leaders of Tapa 13. Tapa is the name of her neighborhood and 13 stands for the south. Jokey is a member of the drifters in East L.A. She has stolen cars, sold drugs, and shot at her enemies. They acclaimed this life style because they are in it for the thrill and danger.
Even though they do all these not so great things they value religion. In the video there is a clip of a mural of the Virgin Marry spray painted as a totem to the Neighborhood. Mara explains that this sacred symbol is presented in an area where acts of crime are ordinary. The community values religion and believes in biblical figures yet still acts in atrocious behaviors. As for Jokey, stealing and selling drugs is norm. During the Rodney King riots in 1992 Jokey looted local shopping malls and was scorned by her father. They both explain that their gang is like a second family.
The major function of this family is the social placement of one another. Its main focus is to have social organization and pass down race, ethnicity and religion. The video “Maximum Security” explained how gang members live in the Security Housing Unit (SHU). Prisoners are locked in their cells 23 hours a day. For the hour outside their cells the prisoners are allowed out in the yard to do some form of exercise. In their cells they communicate with each other through the drains. Inside the SHU, gangs find new ways of collaborating because it’s the best way to keep under the radar of the guards or other gang members. The language used here is not used by the average citizen in the United States. The system of symbols such as hand gestures and sign language are specifically understood by the members of the gang.
The gangs are able to send out orders to murder and money launders from within this metal fortress. In their cells however it is much harder to converse in SHU through hand gestures, so they started fishing. Fishing is when a person from a cell writes a note and attaches it to a line, made out of bed sheets, and launches it hoping it lands in the right place. If it goes off course or one of the guards picks it up they just make another one because they have a lot of time on their hands. The Guards consider “fishing” a nuisance and in a sense a folkway of inmates.
The video “World’s Most Dangerous Gang” focuses on the notorious MS-13 which is 10,000 foot soldiers strong and spanning from El Salvador to Canada. Originating in East Los Angles, MS-13 acts like an underground business or black market that defends its territory through ruthless violence. To stay in business, the gang must keep their coldblooded reputation and it is considered a norm to kill. This allows the gang to keep their profits coming in. A former gang member is interviewed in the short film; his name is Jester; when he was only eight years old he was jumped in. To be jumped in is to undergo a vicious beating for no more than 13 seconds.
This gang is involved in more crime than any other gang in the world. The U.S Government decided to send captured MS-13 members to El Salvador in attempt to get rid of the problem. This caused the gang to become stronger and larger because the officials in El Salvador are not as strong as the officers in the U.S. The sociological theory of deviance best explains gang life is differential-association theory. According to Edwin Sutherland “a person’s tendency toward conformity or deviance depends on the amount of contact with others who encourage or reject conventional behavior” (Macionis). The differential-association theory applies to many kinds of deviant engagements. For example, MS-13 provides conditions in which young individuals learn to become lawbreakers. This gang defines itself as countercultural and glorifies viciousness, vengeance, and corruption as means to achieving social status.
Gang members learn to be deviant as they embrace and conform to their gang’s norms. It focuses on evolving the nature of criminality because adolescents usually learn deviance from the people who spent the most time with it. Fortunately none of my family members are involved in any gang or criminal activity. I do understand that being in a gang gives people the sense that they belong to group. I have a fairly large family and we are very close. If I did not feel like I belonged to my family there would have been a big chance that I would have spent more time with negative influences. ABC’s, 60 minutes, and National geographic did an excellent job in getting the inside story of gangs and the life. It breaks the false interpretation mass media gives to the general public.
Maximum Security, by 60 minutes, informs the audience on how the gangsters in Pelican Bay send out orders to do heinous activity. “World’s most Dangerous Gang”, by National Geographic, describes how important it is that law enforcement deal with violent gangs and not send them to another region of the world to wreak havoc. Sudhir Vankatesh lived in the shoes of a gangster’s life for one day to personally experience the culture poor African Americans live in.See More on Crime