In the book, Gang Leader for a Day, a rogue sociologist passionately dives into the lives of one of Chicago’s toughest housing projects in an attempt to develop an insight as to how the urban impoverished lived. Throughout the text it becomes clear that a conflict paradigm is being reflected. A conflict society is based on social inequality, in which some individuals benefit and thrive more than others, which tends to lead to conflict and thus change. This is evident both in the housing projects where a gang known as the “Black Kings” take over and also in the surrounding neighborhoods where the more elite citizens, including persons from the authors university, shy away from associating with the nearby poor black nearby public, thus creating unbalanced communities. In the text the author, Sudhir Venkatesh, observes how elites use their power to control the less powerful. This is evident in the Robert Taylor Homes, where the Black Kings profit from drug sales that control the community, while the rest of the families are struggling to survive. There even appear to be hierarchies within a hierarchy. For example, within the Black Kings gang there were leaders such as a man known as “J.T.”, who would make thousands in profits from commanding others and then there were young teenage men who actually sold the drugs and barely earned minimum wage (256). Aside from the drug sale employees, other workers such as those who ran shops or did menial work from their high rises were also controlled by the gangs, who would use fear tactics to implement various taxes upon them. Clearly the majority of the society is being controlled by the middle and upper-class from surrounding neighborhoods and also the gangs in the lower-class community, creating social inequality. However, conflict and change do appear by the end of the book when the Chicago Housing Authority along with President Clinton decides to demolish Robert Taylor Homes in hopes of eliminating the hierarchy of gangs and stimulating a more prosperous society (269-270).
There are many different factors presented in the text that lead to the disadvantage of poverty, including social, institutional, economic, and political influences. The obvious social influences were the relationships between and within the gangs. Although members within the gang act as a family, always protecting each other, the members who weren’t as fortunate to be party of their inner circle were treated unjustly, such as C-Note (62). Since gangs took over the disadvantaged community, they had control over who was allowed to move up in the social ladder and who was not. Since the community was filled with violence, thefts, drug abuse, and prostitutes, people tended not to trust each other, which would explain why it must have been so hard for the citizens to keep steady relationships and jobs (105). If there was no trust within relationships, clearly it would be hard to make yourself known in the community as a decent and honorable person who can handle a job. I believe it was because of these unstable relationships that so many persons in Robert Taylor Homes had to succumb to menial work as their source of income.
Institutions such as work, school, and hospitals also influenced the sustainment of poverty. For example, the police refused to patrol Robert Taylor Homes because they believed it was too risky and there were only “two social-service centers for nearly twenty thousand children” (37). Similarly, hospital’s rarely ever responded to shootings in the neighborhood and when children dropped out of school there wasn’t much encouragement to get them back in. The lack of public assistance was clearly a factor in creating and maintaining poverty since the citizens had a lack of resources to free themselves from their difficulties. Furthermore, even if the police or other institutions were present, they were extremely flawed. This is evident in the fact the certain police would raid...
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