Adonis Diaries

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Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers? Who is Sudhir Venkatesh?

Sudhir Venkatesh was born in India and raised in upstate New York and southern California.

In 1989, Sudhir began his PhD in sociology at the Univ. of Chicago. He spent 3 months at the trail of the Grateful Dead, and grew hair up to his buttocks.

William Julius Wilson, graduate advisor to Sudhir, asked him to visit Chicago’s poorest black neighborhood with a clipboard and a 70-question, multiple-choice survey.  For example, “How do you feel about being black and poor”? Very bad, bad, neither, somewhat good

After the first encounter, Sudhir quickly would add another choice: “Fuck you nigger!”

Venkatesh met a gang group huddled in the stairwell of a condemned building: He was released 48 hours later.

One jittery gang foot soldier kept waving his gun and threatening: “What if he tells the rival gang about the stairwell hangout…”?

The leader JT of this franchise drug ring administered a lively taxonomy lesson to Judhir on how to discriminate among, black, African American, nigger…Venkatesh decided that he had to learn more how the Black Gangster Disciple Nation worked, from top to bottom.

For the next 6 years, Judhir lived among the gang families, and JT took him under his “protection”. Venkatesh listened carefully to diatribes such as “It’s war out here, man. Everyday, people struggling to survive.  We ain’t got no choice. We get killed, well, shit, it’s what niggers do around here to feed their family…”

Black Gangster Disciple Nation is one of the franchises, like any US corporation, and structured accordingly.

On the very top, you have 20 “board of director” members who earn each about half a million per year.  The franchise gang leader earns about $100,000, excluding extra other earnings of various off-the-books money and tax-free, and pays the board 20% on the gross revenue on the 12 blocks business area, (or whatever territory expansion a hostile takeover was engineered on a rival gang turf).

The three “officers” of the gang leader earn each about $7 per hour: You have the enforcer who ensure the “safety” of the gang members,  the treasurer who watch over the gang’s liquid assets, and the runner who transport drugs and money to and from suppliers…and the foot soldier, who spend hours outside and in corners, under all climatic weather conditions… earn $3.5 per hour.

The leader of another crack gang told Judhir that he could easily pay more his foot soldiers, but it wouldn’t be prudent “You got all these niggers below you who want your job, you dig? You try to take care of them, but you have to show them you the boss. You get your share first, or else you really ain’t no leader. If you start taking losses, they see you weak and shit…”

The Black Gangster Disciple Nation managed to open 100 franchises.

Consequently, the top  120 members of the 5,300 workers took home half the total profit.  The remaining gang members had to live with their mothers and keep on the lookout for a secondary job earning.

Ironically, this crack business had 20,000 unpaid rank-and-file members who paid dues, just in case the gang needs a replacement!

What of all these single mothers who had to raise children in precarious conditions and still had to bear them as adult, under constant fears and challenges?

One out of 10 gang members is killed (compared to 1 in 200 for timber cutter, the most dangerous job according to the Bureau of labor Statistics).

Over four years, Judhir recorded that on average, each gang members was arrested 6 times, suffered 2.4 non-fatal wounds and injuries (not including injuries meted out by the gang itself for rules violations).

One important item in expenses is compensation to victim’s family.

The franchise pays for the funeral and a stipend of up to three years’wages. As one gang member instructed Judhir: “We can’t just leave ’em out (the family of the victim). We been knowing these folks our whole lives, man, so we grieve when they grieve. You got to respect the family…”  Another reason for this generosity is fearing community backlash

In JT neighborhood where he operated,

56% of children lived below poverty line (compared to national average of 18%);

78% of children came from single-parent homes.

Less than 5% of the adult had a college degree;

Barely 1 in 3 male adults had a job.

Sudhir Venkatesh shared his data with his colleague Steven Levitt of the Society of Fellows of Harvard clubhouse, and wrote a joint paper.

Note: Article inspired by “FreakOnomics” of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner




June 2023

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