Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh) Harvard University Press, 2009.
– Highlight Loc. 50-54 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:02 PM
I soon discovered that the seemingly random collection of men and women in the community-young and old, professional and destitute-were nearly all linked together in a vast, often invisible web that girded their neighborhood. This web was the underground economy. Through it the local doctors received home-cooked meals from a stay-at-home down the block; a prostitute got free groceries by offering her services to the local grocer; a willing police officer overlooked minor transgressions in exchange for information from a gang member; and a store owner might hire a local homeless person to sleep in his store at night, in part because a security guard was too costly. In one way or another, everyone here was living underground.
– Highlight Loc. 73-77 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:04 PM
The innumerable economic exchanges that took place every hour, every day, no longer seemed random or happenstance. There was a vast structure in place, a set of rules that defined who traded with whom, who could work on a street corner or park bench, and what prices could be set and what revenue could be earned. There were codes in place for settling disputes and adjudicating conflicts, unwritten standards that tried to ensure that haggling did not get out of hand. The young man or woman on a commercial strip, sitting outside a store, no longer seemed to me an idle soul, but one who might be in the employ of that store manager, chasing away drug dealers or attracting customers.
– Highlight Loc. 147-53 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:10 PM
Although some found it difficult to admit, everyone in the room that morning had benefited materially from Big Cat’s presence.
Their motive could have been personal financial gain, political power, or a desire to do their own work more effectively, whether that be preaching or changing a tire. Big Cat not only helped Marlene to police younger gang members; he also gave money to her block club for kids’ parties, and members of his gang patrolled the neighborhood late at night because police presence was a rarity. Dr. Watkins and Pastor Wilkins would need to find a new source of philanthropy, now that Big Cat’s monthly donations to their respective organizations had ended. Big Cat’s gang ensured James Arleander a near monopoly on local off-the-books car repair by intimidating other mechanics who tried to cut into James’s business. Ola probably would not receive $500 each weekend for letting the gang turn her salon into a thriving nightclub-the weekly «Maquis Park Dee-Jay» contest had been one of Big Cat’s favorite social activities.
– Highlight Loc. 156-62 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:18 PM
Such is the bizarre reality of life in Maquis Park. The demands of the ghetto require an economy utterly different from what most of America can imagine. The barber may rent his back room to a prostitute; the mechanic works out of an alley; the preacher gets donations from a gang leader; and everyone has a hand in keeping the streets tolerable and keeping the goods and services flowing. The economy brings together an assortment of actors who may otherwise have little reason or interest in exchanging-let alone communicating-with one another. This mix is dangerous, but it is part of living underground in Maquis Park.
Big Cat’s prominent position was the visible tip of the iceberg that is Maquis Park’s shadow economy. He represented a very small part of the innumerable financial exchanges that are not reported to the government. From off-the-books day care and domestic work to pimping and prostitution, unreported earnings wove together the social fabric in Maquis Park and surrounding poor neighborhoods.
– Highlight Loc. 271-76 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:26 PM
In their drive to provide for themselves, black Chicagoans developed an alternate, «underground» economy-one interrelated to, but distinct from, the wider urban political economy. Even though black laborers were a significant part of the city’s industrial and service sector labor force, there were not enough jobs available for black job seekers. So they worked for menial, off-the-books wages, often in their own community, as janitors and cleaners, waiters and entertainers, shoe shiners, tailors, housepainters, and general laborers. Whites would not hire black contractors for home repair, but they would turn to black women for domestic help, housecleaning, and child care, and they typically paid them under the table. Although black businesses flourished, there was inadequate financial assistance available from white-owned banks.
– Highlight Loc. 349-54 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:30 PM
Some of the fluidity of these women’s earning lives is a byproduct of the world they inhabit. Conditions in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty can change quickly and in ways that can leave families unprepared and without much recourse. A good day might yield a particularly strong expectation of impending good luck or improved social welfare, whether this relates to one’s lottery pick or earnings, or the assurance that a decent lover will remain so. A bad day might force even the most religious devotee to question the tolerance of her Lord. Today’s prostitute might become tomorrow’s janitor, and vice versa. This does not invalidate the need to understand differences in work or differential aspirations for women in one or another illegal trade. But it does mean that there may be important links between the development of moral and ethical systems and the material world that supports them.
– Highlight Loc. 375-79 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:50 PM
Not all underground labors are the same, either in terms of the income that can be earned, the risks involved, or the personal consequences and effects on quality of life in one’s home. While there are many different ways to make money off the books, women tend to have several types of opportunities to make money illegally. Perhaps the most common is homework. Women who work for unreported wages in day care and domestic work will have a stable client pool for 12 months on average. African American women must compete with a labor pool that includes not only other African American women, but various immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean nations, and, on occasion, young adults from Europe who work as an pairs.
– Highlight Loc. 412-17 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 01:54 PM
In general, however, sex work is not reliable or safe employment for most participants. Bird and Cotton have developed stable arrangements with their respective pimps, which distinguishes them from the many young women who experiment with vice work for short durations. Roughly 40 percent of the approximately 150 prostitutes in Maquis Park work for individuals who find them johns, provide them the rudiments of security (read: occasional vengeance on johns who abuse them), and serve as a source of credit. Rarely do gangs operate as pimps, unless they control a drug den where prostitution is sold alongside drugs-three of these exist in Maquis Park. Typically pimps are lone wolfs who pay an agent, like a gang and/or a police officer, for the right to place their workers in streets, buildings, and alleyways; almost all are men, as the age of the madam has long since passed in Chicago. Not all pimps are alike.
– Highlight Loc. 440-44 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 02:00 PM
There is a much wider set of goods and services, beyond sexual favors, that women sell off the books in Maquis Park. Some entrepreneurial women sell foodstuffs, homemade clothing, counseling and psychic services, social security cards, hairstyling and hair-care products, pirated movies, and kitchen supplies (what Eunice calls «ghettoware»). Some have computers and prepare resumes, others offer tax preparation or basic accounting services, and a few, like Marlene, make money by hosting gambling venues and parties. Several women either have owned businesses in the past or have worked in them for extended periods. Most, however, are self-employed and occasionally may do temporary, off-the-books work for a local business, such as a hairstyling salon or bar.
– Highlight Loc. 450-56 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 02:03 PM
Eunice’s homemade soul food enterprise is unique in its longevity. She has sold home-cooked meals for over a decade. Until 1996 she catered small events like family gatherings and church functions. She then asked her daughter to help her expand the business to daily sales. Her customer base includes neighbors, local police officers and security personnel, several hundred employees at a local bread factory, staff at the local schools, delivery crews (UPS drivers, mail carriers, and so on), local construction workers, and employees at the local hospital and university. Her success may be partly attributed to two monthly payments she makes. One is to the local gang, which prevents others from competing with her by selling foodstuffs in the immediate area. Another is to a local police commander, who, says Eunice, «sends a car to my house in front at lunchtime, so I don’t have to worry about getting robbed until I can get that money to the bank.» She revealed that she paid $50 cash each week to both the policeman and the gang, but she would not tell me her personal income.
– Highlight Loc. 547-54 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 02:09 PM
It is well known that poor families’ reliance on public subsidies has placed many restrictions on the types of household arrangements that the poor may form.’ To remain eligible for many government subsidies, parents and guardians adhere to restrictions that limit the residence of other income earners in the household. Historically, in poor households, black and white, women have disproportionately assumed the publicly recognized role of primary guardian.’ They tend to be the recipients of public welfare, including nutritional subsidies, medical care, and housing assistance, on behalf of their children. As they manage the receipt of these subsidies, they must also be careful to hide other sources of income from government authorities, social workers, and other bureaucrats who could report their unlawful activity and jeopardize their eligibility in the program. Thus, one finds that women hide the men who live with them. This does not mean that men must live in a totally surreptitious manner; however, it does mean that men tend to possess diminished profiles-whether at the home or in civic spaces such as schools and social service providers-and limited roles inside the home.
– Highlight Loc. 582-85 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 03:13 PM
Although these relationships are more than simply economic in nature, in all three cases material factors were at play in the head of household’s decision to allow the individual into the home. Discussions among the household head and prospective boarders are usually quite explicit in terms of the monetary and in-kind support the boarder must provide: the two most common obligations are to pay monthly rent and/or utilities and to provide day care; however, monetary payments are rare, so providing day care to the kids in the household is the norm.
– Highlight Loc. 751-55 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 03:21 PM
Thus, instead of a value dichotomy, there may be shades of gray, such that residents tolerate some kinds of off-the-books work, but not others. They may empathize with some kinds of hustlers and shady entrepreneurs, but hold others in low regard. And these viewpoints may not be universally shared or kept consistent over time. Just as household circumstances shift and opportunities to earn money (legitimately and off the books) can change, so too are views of permissible and questionable behavior likely to adjust. This does not mean that there is no moral core, only that moral righteousness in the form of absolute lines of demarcation between right and wrong are not possible-nor advisable if the point is to keep meeting the needs of the household.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh)
– Highlight Loc. 824-29 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 03:26 PM
Maquis Park’s residents had been familiar with an entrepreneurial street gang whose efforts centered around a lucrative crack cocaine operation. With that economic base withering by the late nineties, Big Cat sought other investment and income opportunities, which took some people by surprise. He began to extort businesses, sex workers and pimps, gypsy cab drivers, homeless persons selling socks or offering to wipe windshields. Almost anyone whom he determined to be earning money illegally was susceptible. One evening, in a drunken stupor, he stumbled upon a card game in a local park and demanded that the winners give him 10 percent of their profits. «We were laughing,» said Bird, «but we all wondered what’s this boy been smoking? I mean if he starts asking old men playing cards for five bucks, who’s next?»
– Highlight Loc. 945-49 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 03:43 PM
So while the short-term goal is to restore security and order-to which the police can haltingly contribute-over time, maintaining safety requires a sustained capacity to influence both the actor and the activity in a particular space. It may mean more than kicking the gang member off the street corner, finding the shoplifter, or removing the sex worker from the park. It may entail preventing the gang member (or prostitute) from returning, or working with the gang leader (or pimp) to help him find an alternate sales spot. It may mean developing relations with people who can retrieve stolen goods. In other words, the longer-term interest is in part preventative.
There are several kinds of persons who may function as intermediaries. In Maquis Park, the options are typically clergy, social service staff (such as outreach workers, school counselors), select law enforcement and parole officers, precinct captains, store owners, and residents like Marlene who are active in social clubs, political organizations, and neighborhood associations. Essential characteristics include one or more of the following: the broker can influence police behavior outside of formal channels; she can retrieve stolen property; she is embedded herself in an underground trade; she receives indirect revenue from a trader, like hush money from a pimp or a «finder’s fee» from a loan shark; and she can influence the delivery of city services (street cleaning, speedy permit processing, and so on) through connections with the alderman or her staff.
– Highlight Loc. 1030-35 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 04:00 PM
The costs and benefits of working on their own would begin to surface after the summer of 2000, as Big Cat and his gang made even more attempts to supplement their illegal revenue in the community. The park, as some residents feared, was just the gang’s first assault on usable public spaces in the neighborhood. There were signs that Big Cat’s outfit was interested in finding other such places to congregate and anchor their drug trafficking. Moreover, rumors were circulating that Big Cat was expanding his shady interests in the community by finding stores to extort and self-made entrepreneurs (like Eunice) to tax. People feared not only gang reprisal but also that their own underground attempts to support their households would soon be threatened. And they would have to find efficacious ways to stave off the gang, maintain social order, and ensure that their own livelihoods were not threatened.
– Highlight Loc. 1067-72 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 04:03 PM
If one were to canvass the entrepreneurs in Maquis Park, a rich and busy portrait would emerge, contradicting the area’s stark physical decimation. Beneath the closed storefronts, burned-out buildings, potholed boulevards, and empty lots, there is an intricate, fertile web of exchange, tied together by people with tremendous human capital and craftsmanship. Electricians, mechanics, glassmakers and welders, accountants and lenders, carpenters and painters, sculptors, clothing designers, hairstylists and barbers, cooks, musicians and entertainers. The list seems endless. In Maquis Park, these traders, brokers, and craftspeople
move between socially legitimate and underground venues. Only a few are listed in the yellow pages, and only a few-such as Mandee Wilson, who runs «Mandee’s Late Night» nightclub, and Ola Sanders, the proprietor of «Ola’s Hair Salon»-can boast small businesses. But any resident of Maquis Park knows where to find these services.
– Highlight Loc. 1111-16 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:24 PM
In Chicago, minority and poor businesspeople have been shut out of development when their area is subject to TIF initiatives. Typically, the TIF designation ends up as a form of urban renewal in which the government exercises domain powers to amass large parcels of land and turns them over to private corporate entities that have no previous relationship to the area and that are not always minority-run.
Where entry into inner-city markets has been successful, city governments have not cultivated local entrepreneurship but have instead recruited outsiders-typically upper-income professionals with established credit histories and a track record of business development-to take advantage of cheap rents and low-wage labor pools in the ghetto. This has been one of the primary achievements of the Empowerment Zone initiative.’
– Highlight Loc. 1148-54 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:27 PM
Unlike the middle-class bureaucrat, made popular in William H. Whyte’s postwar depiction of the «organization man,» inner-city dwellers define their relationship to work less in terms of their present occupation and lifestyle, and more in terms of their future vocation and unrealized lifestyle.» Like the aspiring actor who happens to be waiting tables, Liebow’s subjects see themselves as men in-the-making, specifically in terms of imagined futures as successful businessmen and family providers. In contemporary Maquis Park, one may also find a cook who fancies himself an inventor or a school-bus driver playing music on the subway after work to maintain his musical «chops» Some have owned a business in the past and they plan on reclaiming their vocational spirit in the future.»
For these «don’t work and don’t want to work minori[ties],» Liebow notes that work is rarely a «stepping stone to something better. It is a dead end»» And although they appear, «from the middle class perspective,» to be void of future-time orientation, Liebow suggests that these men are simply oriented to a different future, one with few prospects for stable employment and one that their fathers and grandfathers before them faced.»
– Highlight Loc. 1166-72 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:37 PM
Businesspeople in Maquis Park-and many in the broader residential population-speak of the local economy in terms of individuals who are linked together by formal contracts as well as myriad informal bonds. Their capacity to undertake commercial pursuits is a consequence of their own place in the local network of economic relations. They describe themselves as being woven together in a web of exchange based on highly personal connections. The implication is that any other such networks, namely, beyond the ghetto’s borders or those of another racial or ethnic group, are difficult to penetrate. From their perspective, the broader economic landscape looks like a set of loosely overlapping guilds and business associations. This portrait of exchange weighs heavily on the minds of local merchants. Commerce becomes an activity wherein one must continuously secure a position in a network of social interaction and transaction. Risk taking means leaving one’s present network in hopes of entering another one.»
– Highlight Loc. 1204-9 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:45 PM
Similarly, if a small business has a problem, the owner might call the police, but just as often one will find merchants working in backroom negotiations with local leaders to address issues like shoplifters or clients who have not paid their bills on time. Instead of bringing their grievances to a government venue like small claims court, the merchant may call a friend or another merchant to mediate the dispute. In this way, various people in the entrepreneur’s network will be drawn into the activity in informal and underground ways. Many standard business exigencies, from advertising to credit acquisition and contract enforcement, will all be fulfilled without formal connection to the state. And the individuals who perform the work-like accounting, tax preparation, and lending-may not have any formal training, nor will they be licensed by any regulatory body.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh)
– Highlight Loc. 1359-65 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:54 PM
The alderman can ensure that permits and easements, essential to any building or shift in land use, are distributed in a timely fashion without bureaucratic delay; the alderman also has some power over regulatory and enforcement bodies that give penalties for a seemingly endless list of business practices, from inadequate financial reporting, to work conditions and hiring practices, to improper use of physical space. Informally, the proprietors concede that the local alderman can also prevent trash from being picked up outside their stores, direct police and city inspectors to their stores at a minute’s notice, and harass them with fines and warnings. It is commonplace to hear proprietors complain that they must continually contribute money to the alderman’s campaign in order to ensure that the city government works for them and that the government does not target them unfavorably. A common way in which this complaint is expressed is the store owners’ suggestion that the local elite proprietors-the members of MAPAD-usurp the relationships with the local alderman and other elected officials.
– Highlight Loc. 1409-14 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 05:57 PM
There is a generosity of spirit in Samuel’s attitude, a vision born of personal experience and shared by many of his colleagues who manage small businesses. Even as they grumble about the troubles caused by the underground, they recognize themselves in the men and women on the corner, in the hustlers in the alley. Their response to these people has a certain benevolence. When the shady world causes trouble, as it inevitably does, the entrepreneurs know that just calling the police is inadequate and not wholly beneficial for anyone involved.
They characterize their own, alternate approach as «community relations,» which involves three critical activities: (1) protecting private property; (2) minimally alienating residents when adopting policing and other preventative security measures, such as dogs, night patrols, and calls to officers when absolutely necessary; and (3) incorporating the «desperate group» into one’s business informally in order to reduce the potential for conflict, theft, and vandalism.30
– Highlight Loc. 1501-7 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:04 PM
In addition to the activities described above, two soul food cooks have made an arrangement with Ola to sell homemade lunches at her beauty salon. Felix offers psychic services at his hardware store, including palm and tarot card reading and hypnosis. Organized gambling games (dice, poker, sports betting) are open to the public in the back areas of several stores, and one can find self-employed hairstylists who wait inside several establishments, paying a small percentage of their daily receipts to the store manager. Homeless persons who sell beauty products, socks, T-shirts, laundry supplies, and diapers usually hang out in front of the subway station or outside several dollar stores along West Street. Electronic equipment and other typically stolen goods are easy to find, as are individuals who can find state ID cards, guns, knives, ammunition, and other relatively inaccessible goods. In one of the liquor stores, a man sitting in the corner specializes in inexpensive business cards and customized stationary (his brother works in the printing services office of a downtown corporation and allows him to use machines after hours); gypsy cab drivers are also in waiting at the local restaurant; and there are many places to find drugs and prostitutes.
– Highlight Loc. 1571-75 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:06 PM
Local creditors lend varying sums of money (from twenty-five to several thousand dollars) and demand different forms of payment depending on their relationship to the client and the sum of money being lent. As Leroy noted above, there are two types of creditors: «part-time» lenders are kingpins in economies of contraband, such as stolen car parts, drugs, and weapons, and they actively seek out lending as a way to store and «clean» their illegally obtained cash. The second type, the «professional» creditor, has no other underground economic role other than that of a lender. The interest rates do not differ greatly among the professionals and part-timers-sums are exchanged for 20 to 30 percent unless the client has a poor history of payment, in which case the rate is higher. However, there are differing payment plans offered.
– Highlight Loc. 1627-32 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:08 PM
Absent is anything resembling career development. It is rare to see individuals moving «up the ladder,» whether in terms of wage work to equity ownership, steady salary augmentation, or increasing responsibilities, duties, and supervisory powers that typically come with job promotions. Instead, individuals move about from one commercial arena to another, responding less to their own developmental growth (be it education or widening social contacts) than to associates who may offer
them a «quick money» opportunity or a «sure thing.» People coax and drag one another into the next big thing. As such, the majority have come to anticipate that their business will change within three to five years. If they are lucky, someone will surprise them with a moneymaking scheme, and so they must be ready to respond. «Everyone around here is a handyman,» says a prominent Maquis Park business leader. «Whatever the work, the answer is always `I’ll do it»‘
– Highlight Loc. 1777-81 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:14 PM
After Marlon’s Kitchen went out of business, Big Cat began to
fulfill his promises by extorting more stores along West Street. He taxed them and solicited periodic «protection» payments. He demanded free merchandise and money laundering. Proprietors were outraged at the gang’s attempt to colonize underground activity, which historically had been outside the gang’s purview. But under the threat of destruction to person and property, they felt there was little they could do to resist. They continued to pursue a third party, and eventually Pastor Wilkins, as we will see, would step in to provide mediation. But all of this was months away. For now, in Marlon’s Kitchen, West Street had lost a historic place of business.
– Highlight Loc. 1797-1802 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:16 PM
Despite their accommodations and tolerance of one another’s
shady behavior, the local businesspeople do demand some propriety of one another. They expect that questionable behavior, if it is to take place, should occur at certain times and in particular places. Drug dealing, prostitution and pimping, and «hustling» are activities to which residents and merchants have grown accustomed and made adjustments. There are some places where no drugs will ever be sold, some parks where one will not be hustled, some alleyways where pimps will not ply their trade, some parking lots where no illegal car repair will be offered and no gypsy cab vendor will set up shop. Understanding the geography of illegal commerce in the entire area, as well as the distinctions along particular thoroughfares like West Street, is useful for residents and shopkeepers looking for, or looking to avoid, underground activity.
– Highlight Loc. 1821-26 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:19 PM
This does not mean that there is no respect for the law among West Street merchants. They spend much time as residents and local stakeholders trying to acquire adequate police support and intervention. They attend town hall gatherings and «community policing» meetings. They march in anger to speak with the local district commander. They write letters to their elected representatives. Not surprisingly, failing to gain a satisfactory improvement in local security, they sometimes deal with public safety themselves. Most of their self-policing does not involve vigilante justice or corporal punishment, but is of the sort described above, in which they develop creative prevention techniques, such as hiring local street hustlers off the books to provide security inside the stores. This is in part adaptive, but it is also a practice historically conditioned by unreliable government services that other communities take for granted.
– Highlight Loc. 1845-51 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:21 PM
The public character of James’s work shapes all aspects of his trade. When he scouts a location, his first task is to secure his personal safety and welfare by building relationships with those who control access to the space. In the last few years, he has relied on three places-an empty lot and two alleys. The lot is under the watchful eye of a block club president; a local barber owns one alley, while the other alley abuts a tax-delinquent abandoned building controlled by a ward precinct captain. With each of these regulators, James has developed a business relationship: he pays the barber and the block club president for use of the lot and the first alley; in return for use of the second alley, he does personal favors for the precinct captain, such as auto and home repairs. These individuals help James by keeping police away and by preventing other car mechanics from stealing his clients or offering their services nearby. On occasion they help James settle disputes with customers.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh)
– Highlight Loc. 1858-61 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:24 PM
All street hustlers interact to varying degrees with city agencies, most notably the police but also the local elected officials who tolerate their commerce, sanitation workers who permit them to sift through collected trash, and Chicago Parks and Recreation employees who look past their makeshift shelters. Over time, street hustlers can develop fairly intimate relationships with the many actors assigned to keeping public spaces safe and accessible. But, remarkably, hustlers are not at the mercy of these stakeholders. In the tight web of the underground economy, there is a structure of codependence in which information, goods, and services pass between the two.
– Highlight Loc. 1879-82 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 06:29 PM
To hustle, one does not simply set up shop in an alleyway or on a street corner. Chances are that others have already claimed that spot. Moreover, it is likely that any claim to use turf and earn revenue will be contested by other entrepreneurs. For example, block club presidents watch over persons who colonize abandoned buildings, sometimes charging the users a fee for protection from police; the elected alderman’s precinct captains are usually aware of the more successful entrepreneurs and exact a fee or favor from them whenever they wish; even police demand obeisance when certain territories are appropriated for personal gain.
– Highlight Loc. 1989-94 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:20 PM
One block west, Carla Henderson watches over illegally parked cars in front of the grocery store and keeps an eye out for loitering drug traffickers, while her sister Janette sells sexual services to customers inside the neighboring «Hot Time Liquors.» Carla was once a beautician in Maquis Park. She quit her job because her husband was sent to jail for a murder conviction and she could
not afford day care. She received public assistance for nearly a decade. After her children graduated from high school, she became a crack user. She lost her public housing lease because her sister, Janette, was using the apartment to service johns and had allowed the gang to process crack cocaine inside. With no family nearby, Carla became homeless and began working odd jobs to make a living. She has stopped using drugs, but she has a severe drinking problem. Carla and Janette work for several stores, on West Street and in local shopping malls, helping the proprietors manage drunk and disorderly customers.
– Highlight Loc. 2013-18 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:24 PM
Down the road from the Henderson sisters, the Jackson brothers sit outside a cheap blue nylon tent, replete with a cooler of beer and soda and food donated by the local stores. They welcome «welfare mommas» who are hoping to find a store owner who will work with them on a food-stamp scam or who are looking for fake social security cards. Bill Jackson says, «These welfare mommas are our lifeblood, but now they got rid of [public assistance], we got to diversify, so we’re going into real estate.» By that, the brothers are alluding to their newfound venture: they receive $5 per night from a rental agency to prevent homeless persons and sex workers from sleeping and using drugs in several unused properties on the block. They earn additional money by sending prospective renters of single-room-occupancy apartments to local real estate brokers.
– Highlight Loc. 2043-47 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:29 PM
From the outside world, we might picture a Hobbesian world of fierce competition for the meager monies and hustles that are available. And yet, trust and cooperation generally trump strife. Even when there are visible, and at times violent, disputes, hustlers draw on shared codes of conduct that help resolve conflicts before they get out of hand. «We never hustle each other, usually,» said James Arleander, describing the relationships among the hustlers. «Everyone is struggling, we don’t go for the kill with one another. We try to be compassionate.» James’s statement complicates the conventional view of hustlers and homeless persons as dispossessed and loners, when in fact, in a community like Maquis Park, they have an elaborate and carefully cultivated social order.’
– Highlight Loc. 2064-69 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:37 PM
But they are attentive to each other’s needs. Sometimes this means simply turning away while a friend relieves himself.’ Other times the effort requires greater attention, such as helping a fellow hustler find medical care. Over the course of one bitterly cold winter stretch, I observed several hustlers bringing blankets to people sleeping in parks; some took homeless persons into their own illegal abode-however crowded it may have already been-and others canvassed the area persuading men and women to patronize the local shelters. None of them was paid for this work; none of them had a formal tie to an advocacy organization or transitional housing center. And they did not believe that the city’s human service agencies would be following in their footsteps.
– Highlight Loc. 2086-90 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:42 PM
Artie, Carla, Jay-Bird, James, and the other hustlers on West Street know one another, as well as most of the other men and women who walk by. Knowing the ins and outs of their community is what makes their livelihood possible. A good part of their lives is spent watching each other, drumming up business, and finding shelter. But «social vulnerability» requires a fine line between beneficence and self-interest. They are attuned to the desperation that pushes hustlers to take advantage of one another. They may help one another find shelter or aid in times of need, but they cannot let their guard down.
– Highlight Loc. 2155-60 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:44 PM
As we have seen, hustlers do not exist in a vacuum, negotiating only with each other. Their success also depends upon their ability to navigate relationships with those in the wider community. Store owners and store managers, for example, struggle to control public traffic on the sidewalk, particularly at their front door, and commonly hire homeless persons to work as sales clerks and security personnel inside their stores. Hustlers are experts on the use of public space. So it is not surprising, perhaps, that store owners and managers turn to hustlers as an immediate resource. Indeed, the two have compatible interests. Both require a base of customers who feel safe, can enter and leave stores unharmed, and know how to find what they are looking for. Unruly customers, drug dealers, and a general mass of people hanging out on sidewalks and streets make it difficult for customers to enter stores.
– Highlight Loc. 2229-33 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:54 PM
Yet, in a community like Maquis Park, even though poverty is entrenched and hardship and city neglect have affected families for generations, it is important to recognize that life does not stand still. The arrangements among hustlers, police, and merchants that enable local actors to eke out some measure of safety and security are temporary and always subject to change. As with Carla (a West Street hustler), the local street-based population
can face health problems that send them to the hospital or criminal problems that land them in jail. And in these cases they rely on help from police, who may ensure that they are not beaten up in jail and that their court case moves along smoothly.
– Highlight Loc. 2267-71 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:57 PM
the dynamics in the ghetto, where one finds that nongovernmental entities play a more formal, locally recognized, and legitimated role in policing, particularly when illicit activities threaten people or compromise their ability to access and utilize public areas of the community. In Maquis Park, residents and advocates do lobby police and politicians to stamp out both heinous behavior, like prostitution and drug trafficking, and nuisance activities like car repair in local parks.’2 But at the same time, they work out compromises directly with underground entrepreneurs or with informal mediators, such as the clergy. They thereby supplement official bodies in order to acquire immediate, timely solutions to security and access problems. Some of these private bodies may be vigilante in nature-street gangs, leaders of organized crime, and the like-while others may be mundane, like a block club president or a local homeless person.
– Highlight Loc. 2297-2300 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 08:59 PM
The roles that James Arleander and his street-hustling colleagues play in Maquis Park, as partly «eyes on the street» that watch over behavior, contradict the conventional wisdom that streetcorner people make minimal social contributions-that they are criminals, a nuisance, a drain on public resources. Yet Maquis Park is in many ways not a conventional urban community. One example of this is that street hustlers occupy a central and possibly quite productive position in everyday affairs. They grease the underground economic engine and, more broadly, help the community sputter along by helping it function.
– Highlight Loc. 2394-97 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 09:02 PMPost-civil-rights churches cannot all be categorized as either wealthy cathedral or struggling storefront-there were many churches combining local and commuting populations that did not fit easily in either category. By no means did every member of the clergy combine social activism with private teaching. There are still many preachers today who resist public politicking, preferring instead to direct prayers, not offer breakfasts or lead sit-ins. These «traditionalists» prioritize preaching over social activism and, just as in the sixties, they conflict with «militants» who see no separation between church and community.’
– Highlight Loc. 2608-10 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 09:09 PM
Chicago’s ghetto residents had long coped with systemic problems-the plagues of alcoholism and substance abuse, the deficit of social resources-and many had used whatever tactics they could, from the unethical to the illegal, to make a dollar and get by. But in the eighties, public attention to Chicago’s inner city was largely framed by the now-famous couplet «the gang and drug problem.» Police and media reports focused disproportionately on the underground economy and the gangs that purportedly controlled it.
– Highlight Loc. 2682-87 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 09:11 PM
The second outcome for the clergy was to become police intermediaries. They brokered conflicts between residents and police as well as situations in which aggrieved store owners had been robbed or looted and needed to solicit effective police assistance. Wilkins, Xavier, and others became the first points of contact with law enforcement agencies struggling to find effective ways to maintain order in inner-city communities. In public, black leaders chastised city officials for lack of parity in the allocation of law enforcement services to the Southside and West Side black neighborhoods; the more militant voices criticized the continued use of «control and containment» whereby officers appeared to confine drug trafficking, vice, and heinous crimes to these areas, ensuring that neighboring white and middle-class areas were not threatened.
– Highlight Loc. 2991-96 | Added on Saturday, April 30, 2011, 09:21 PM
Fixing cars is not equivalent to dealing drugs, but as Chicago’s working poor entered the year 2000, the gang’s advances were making very blurry the lines that divided shady traders from one another. When good and bad have become very relative terms, how do you solve your problems?
Since the early twentieth century, kids growing up in cities have been tempted to join their local street gang. Until relatively recently, whether in white, black, Latino, or Asian neighborhoods, most gang members were adolescents and teens. They looked to the gang primarily for peer support. And their socially destructive behavior consisted primarily of petty delinquency, such as hanging out on street corners, gambling, and shoplifting; violent crime, drug trafficking, assault, and more serious forms of theft were rare.
– Highlight Loc. 3000-3007 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:02 PM
Around the late seventies in Chicago’s Southside, as in the ghettos of most large American cities, the street gang became a prominent economic force-scholars noted the shift as the birth of the «corporate» gang. At a time when most Americans still pictured gangs in the singsongy hues of West Side Story, suddenly the gang had fully developed commercial interests, primarily in the sale of narcotics and, to a lesser degree, commercial extortion. Far from brotherhood or bonding, its primary mission was to further illicit gain. While gangs always had individuals who earned off the books, the organizations as a whole historically were not oriented toward economic pursuits; now the dollar became al- mighty.2 The gang’s corporate turn was part and parcel of the broader decimation of American inner cities after the Second World War. The hundreds of thousands of youth who joined Chicago’s gangs during and after the civil rights era faced social conditions similar to those of their counterparts across urban America: there were no jobs in their neighborhoods; unions and city governments discriminated against them, and hired mostly whites instead; a growing middle-class leadership fought their working-poor counterparts to win the meager political and economic crumbs that city leaders threw black urbanites.
– Highlight Loc. 3029-33 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:04 PM
It would be foolish to infer that black Chicago decided to embrace its local gangs with open arms. But it be equally silly to claim that the gang’s relationship with other local actors in the community was an entirely novel phenomenon. Although the nineties might have witnessed the spread of economic ties between gang members and the wider populations, over the past one hundred years where there was extortion, corruption in city politics, and the need to bring out the vote, one could find a gang milling about and working with other politicos. What changed, and what residents of Maquis Park and other Chicago communities had to contend with, was the extent to which the gangs had insinuated themselves-and their drug money-into the deepest reaches of the community.
– Highlight Loc. 3115-19 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:12 PM
The spring of 2000 began a new era in Big Cat’s reign as local gang leader. He and Marlene accepted Pastor Wilkins’s invitation to his church, where they deliberated for several days. In a damp basement, surrounded by religious objects, Bibles, and musical instruments that had not made their way upstairs into the fellowship hall, they sat at a large table and discussed their respective concerns. Even Big Cat’s presence was remarkable, but such was the clergy’s power in Maquis Park. And such was Big Cat’s involvement in the well-being of his community; an unapologetic criminal, he nevertheless knew that he couldn’t afford to be insensitive to his neighbors. He had an underground enterprise to run, and he could not completely antagonize the community if he was to be successful.
– Highlight Loc. 3135-44 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:18 PM
After several more meetings, Wilkins had managed to foster an immediate detente, one that he hoped would last until late August, when children returned to school. Marlene and her neighbors would no longer publicly chastise the prostitutes and scare away their customers, and they ended their phone calls to the police. For the summer, Big Cat agreed to limit his drug trafficking to late-night hours, and the pimp would move his sex workers into the abandoned buildings farthest away from the park. Big Cat also agreed to residents in Marlene’s block selling their own underground goods in the park; they would have priority over any other trader, and they would receive protection from the gang for the same price that others paid.
Big Cat’s capitulation to their demands was somewhat surprising even to Wilkins and Marlene. They knew that they had some leverage over the gang because the organization’s opportunities to
make illegal money were drying up. They also knew that Big Cat wanted local residents to look at him as a community stakeholder rather than a criminal. Big Cat’s aspirations were larger than running a street gang, and although neither Marlene nor Wilkins wanted to help him gain political capital in local affairs, they did feel it was better for the negotiations to acknowledge his right to be a part of the community. But they were still taken aback when Big Cat acceded to their demands without much fuss.
– Highlight Loc. 3208-13 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:22 PM
Ellis’s gang was based in several public housing communities-the Robert Taylor Homes, Stateway Gardens, and the Dearborn Homes-that were being torn down. He once controlled nearly a thousand gang members and possessed a fleet of sports cars and homes around the Chicago area. Ellis also had strong contacts with the city’s police force, particularly those officers assigned to the «tactical unit,» the small subgroup ostensibly responsible for responding to gang violence and organized criminal activity in public housing. Ellis tried to limit gang wars in public housing, and he cooperated in police investigations by providing information about perpetrators of violent crimes. In return, there was minimal police disruption of his round-the-clock drug trafficking inside the high-rise «project» buildings. It is worth noting that Ellis had never been arrested and had few problems amassing his large, illegally obtained fortune.
– Highlight Loc. 3245-50 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:30 PM
Not surprisingly, Big Cat and Ellis were not consistent in their application of commercial extortion. To some degree this was Ellis’s intended effect, as it created an atmosphere of arbitrary mercy and threat, sowing fear in a business environment that already was unstable. Some stores were not approached, others refused to pay and escaped the gang’s wrath, and still others were repeatedly vandalized. Big Cat’s men sometimes robbed the staff of certain stores, taking their money and clothing and sending back a warning to the store manager that payment had better be sent. But even those who agreed to pay, like Mason who owned a convenience store, said that the gangs often forgot to pick up their money. «I was really scared, so, yes, I said I’d give them $100. But they haven’t been here in about a month. I don’t understand Big Cat. Should I stop paying?»
– Highlight Loc. 3317-24 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:39 PM
For a street hustler $50 was a good week’s revenue, so there was no shortage of persons willing to work for the gang. But this does not mean that the choice was easy for James, Artie, the Jackson Brothers, and the others who hustled on West Street. On the one hand, they certainly needed the money and they did not want to suffer the consequences of declining Big Cat’s request. But working with Big Cat could compromise their own dealings with locals who were invaluable in helping them to work on the street and make ends meet. Many of the established hustlers on the street enjoyed good relations with police officers, who looked the other way when a hustle was taking place or who found them shelter and sent customers their way. James and his counterparts, in truth, routinely gave police information about crime in the area. Now they were being asked to betray those relationships and share information with the gang. In addition, if a merchant discovered that a hustler had a material stake in the gang’s drug trafficking, that might be enough reason to terminate the relationship and find another vagabond soul to work with them. As a result, the street trader would lose not only income, but perhaps more importantly a place to eat, use a washroom, and sleep on a cold winter night.
– Highlight Loc. 3375-81 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 03:43 PM
The social dynamics in Maquis Park make evident that there is a partly symbiotic relationship between the formal and the informal economy, where legitimate and shady traders work with one another in their respective efforts to make money. The gang must be viewed as a part of this interchange, albeit one that can exert a stronger effect than most other players. Big Cat’s gang exemplified the power that a criminal organization can accumulate in the underground arena. Through their colonization of hitherto unexplored underground arenas, more and more people in the community found their lives affected by the gang’s activities. Even if legitimate businesses were not being extorted by the gang and did not draw on shady goods and services, they were indirectly affected by the growing climate of fear, by the gang’s escalating violence and indiscriminate harassment, and by the daily reports from friends and business associates that commerce in Maquis Park was, unbelievably, becoming even more difficult.
– Highlight Loc. 3427-34 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 04:36 PM
Pastor Wilkins’s notion of meeting weekly at his church was innovative because it created another forum for discussion. Over the next few weeks, he worked not only with Big Cat but with several other clergy and local stakeholders to devise a system akin to community policing, but adapted for the shady side of life.
Here, residents could assemble, register their problems, and receive help. Law enforcement would not play the chief mediating or juridical role, although empathetic officers would sometimes be in attendance. As he explained, «If you want to shut down drug dealing, well, I’m all for it. But I can’t help you. I mean these boys got guns, they got power, they’ll kill you. Now, the other stuff is quick time, you understand. Someone’s got to help Marlene deal with the angry mommas, angry `cause Big Cat’s boys have been recruiting their kids to join the gang. And someone has to see if Big Cat will take his [gang members] out the park on the weekend. See, all the police in the world can’t make a momma safe unless you got that going on. Police never done that around here.»
– Highlight Loc. 3463-68 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 04:47 PM
During the fall, the incidents continued to grow in number. And at the end of 2002, at the six-month anniversary meeting, the group heard four reports of gang members who kicked teenagers out of the park for interfering with drug trafficking; three complaints by a gypsy cab driver who said the gang forced him to run errands for free; an accusation by a restaurant owner that the gang failed to pay a «rental fee» for a large poker game; two reports of teenage gang members chasing down prostitutes and stealing their money; and an unseemly complaint that two Black Kings rank and file had defecated on the front step of a man who had been yelling at them to stop selling drugs on the corner.
Though only a select few participated, other Maquis Park stakeholders, and even members of storefront churches whose preachers were associates of Pastor Wilkins, came to know about the meetings.
– Highlight Loc. 3486-93 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 04:48 PM
Residents’ views also pointed to the dangerous road that Pastor Wilkins, Marlene Matteson, and other organizers of the community court were walking. The pastor and his colleagues downplayed their omission of mainstream law enforcement. Police were ineffective, they argued, and so it made little sense to call on them or expect that they would respond in a timely manner to the problems at hand. But their criticisms of police officials and local officers could not hide the fact that these neighborhood leaders were now taking the law into their own hands and collaborating with a criminal organization. Ironically, these same leaders had been in Maquis Park a decade ago-and some were participants-during a failed attempt to turn gangs around with voter registration and other approaches that did not involve law enforcement or social services. These initiatives had resulted in critical press and police scrutiny: both alleged that the community was colluding with gangs and facilitating drug trafficking. Now, in 2002, it appeared that many of these spokespersons and grassroots organizers were willing to undertake a similarly risky initiative in their drive to respond to public safety issues.
– Highlight Loc. 3640-48 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:10 PM
Wilkins was not worried that the gang would become a parallel governmental entity, overseeing the shady side of the economic fence. Instead, he saw that Big Cat’s efforts to expand his sources of underground revenue meant that the gang was increasing its presence in shady entrepreneurial spaces and, in so doing, escalating the likelihood of conflict with the wider residential population. Gang members could be found throughout
Maquis Park, along major thoroughfares, in small and large parks, and in empty lots. They sometimes challenged other shady traders for access to areas of high pedestrian traffic, or places where cars parked, with doors opened and merchandise on display. While the rank-and-file gang members argued and fought with their counterparts at these hot spots, the gang’s officers-particularly Big Cat and Ellis-extorted the shady traders and demanded payment in return for gang protection. And as we have seen, Big Cat and Ellis found themselves regulating various aspects of underground commerce, sometimes directly by facilitating transactions and at other times unintentionally by mediating disputes among local traders. By the middle of the summer of 2003, it seemed that no illicit activity was too small for Big Cat: there were reports that he jumped out of his car to demand payoffs from local «squeegee men» washing windows; others claimed that he raided chess games in the park where very small bets were placed.
– Highlight Loc. 3677-81 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:13 PM
All of the people around the table had the capacity to work with police informally and attend to issues off the books-a power never underestimated in an area lacking in law enforcement. They worried that officers who once had been friendly would grow angry when they discovered the degree to which local residents were taking matters into their own hands. This might worsen the already strained relations between police and community residents. They also worried, though, that if other residents found out about the meetings, the participants might be accused of extortion, bribery, and complicity in gang violence and the police might react by refusing to work with them.
– Highlight Loc. 3752-58 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:19 PM
Simultaneously, the gang and its leadership were becoming unpredictable. Big Cat now suspected everyone of being a police informant and would assault residents and shopkeepers on a whim. Unlike in the past, he let teenage Black Kings carry guns and perform public displays of bravado, like shooting off their weapons outside of nightclubs, robbing prostitutes, and assaulting women on dates. (Such actions had previously carried stiff penalties because they violated the organization’s rules and they tended to attract police). Black Kings even began threatening the very organizations that had offered services and social support to the gang. In one of the worst incidents, on a cold October weekend Ellis beat up a youth counselor at the Paths Ahead center, where the gang had a strong relationship with staff members. The assault was followed by vandalism and looting, as Big Cat’s rank and file allegedly broke into the place and stole computers, a large-screen television, and a pool table.
– Highlight Loc. 3814-20 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:26 PM
The position of Officers Blue and Harrison affirmed that the underground economy held everyone in the neighborhood in its grip. From the vantage point of these two policemen, it was impossible to eliminate illegal economic activity. So, like the residents, they too must have a realistic attitude, which in this case meant that they needed to ensure that lines of communication were open to all parties in the shady world. This included Big Cat, whom they worked with to keep the gang under control. Of course, what constituted an out-of-control gang was always relative, and depended in some measure on the strength of local clamor for effective policing and the type of toll that gang activity exacted on the populace.
Stated differently, the police in inner cities are another type of broker, intervening in an underground sphere and motivated by a particular set of interests. Their interests, however, are not necessarily the same as those of officers working in middle-class communities where residents have political capital and therefore do not have to tolerate illegal activity.
– Highlight Loc. 3869-74 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:31 PM
After 2000, when the crack cocaine economy diminished, the Black Kings gang decided to shed its skin and look elsewhere for revenue. It may seem bizarre to hear that residents were less worried when the gang simply managed its own affairs, running drugs and competing with other gangs. But it must be remembered that safety is a relative issue. Things can-and sometimes do-get worse. When Big Cat moved beyond drug trafficking and wanted to become a «community man,» people who could have otherwise escaped the gang’s wrath found themselves caught up in the gang’s net. Misery compounded daily as gang members voraciously sought opportunities to make income. Perversely, some residents wished for a return to the halcyon days when the gang was interested only in drugs-a time when those who weren’t interested in either the gang or drugs could manage to avoid getting caught in the thug’s path.
– Highlight Loc. 3998-4005 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:35 PM
In addition, police officers and political officials likely are aware of the off-the-books agreements in place. The police rely on stable connections with the local hustling population to gain information about life on the street and in the alleys. For this reason, even in shady matters,
if a new hustler arrives and creates problems, the police may rule in favor of the established hustlers. Similarly, a resident may view James Arleander, a hustler who has been a member of the community for decades, in a much different light than a newly arrived street mechanic who offers to fix cars in an alleyway. The former may be seen by residents as a trusted soul, as someone who is down on his luck but is nevertheless part of the local social fabric, while the latter, as an unknown, might be viewed as a threat to safety and household security.
Whether we are talking about street merchants and hustlers dealing with life on the street, or block club leaders and police dealing with problems in the park, there are time-honored traditions in the shady world that come into play in organizing daily life.
– Highlight Loc. 4023-30 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:39 PM
Yet, as we have seen, not all is rosy and beneficial when people have to respond to shady ways of living and working that have been part of the local social fabric for decades. In their efforts to ensure safety and stability, residents, merchants, hustlers, police, and other actors orient their actions to both short-term and long-term futures. «Short» and «long» can mean different things to different people, and it is important to recognize how this dual temporal outlook shapes the lives of people who live and work underground. In thinking about the future, one should not import too quickly a middle-class perspective in which the experience of time is colored by all manner of planning, including saving and investing, prioritizing rationally, acquiring full information for decision making, and proceeding methodically without fear of impoverishment or physical danger on the horizon. Maquis Park is a community of poor and working-poor households where local businesses hover on the same economic precipice as families. In the ghetto, the meaning of time is organized around impermanence and the lack of material resources, so for many of life’s matters, it may not only be a luxury, but a fool’s way of thinking, to sit back and opine reflectively.
– Highlight Loc. 4056-61 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 05:41 PM
It is difficult enough to advertise, find customers, keep up with local tastes, and attend to the normal demands of commerce. The added task of having to mete out the law when, for example, a customer steals or does not pay, is no small endeavor for the underground trader or for the legitimate businessperson dealing off the books. These are added encumbrances that consume time, energy, money, and manpower. In the shady world, attending to these exigencies can mean dealing with people who are not afraid to use violence or physical retaliation to reach their objectives. It should not be surprising, then, that people may find it preferable to pay a third-party entity, even a criminal organization like a street gang, instead of addressing issues directly. Not only do shady entrepreneurs patronize these kinds of third-party enforcers and mediators, but even a legitimate shopkeeper, facing lax police services and the ever-present threat to store safety, will work with the gang or another third-party enforcer.
– Highlight Loc. 4094-4103 | Added on Sunday, May 01, 2011, 07:34 PM
In this way, the underground enables poor communities to survive but can lead to their alienation from the wider world. For groups and organizations, as well as individuals, surviving in the ghetto via shady means can result in their overall remove from the city. It is a pernicious cycle. On the one hand, the underground economy is a space forged by exclusion from the social mainstream. Much of the reason for lending to one another, hiring off the books, and solving crimes without the aid of the police is that banks discriminate against the poor, mainstream employers and unions do not do effective outreach to the poor and minorities, and law enforcement does not provide adequate service to the inner city. On the other hand, however meaningful and satisfactory it may be for those involved, this kind of adjustment does little over time to bring about improvement in credit availability, labor force participation, and policing. It does little to leverage more stable and productive relationships with the institutions of the wider world.’
There are many reasons why this partly adaptive, partly efficacious behavior does not lead to social integration in the mainstream through improved relationships with institutional actors. For people in ghetto communities, living underground largely means creating ties of dependency to other actors who are equally hard up. Poor people sharing with other poor people has its limits. Their resources run out at some point. The economy becomes predatory, and hustling shows its ugly side, not as creative and explorative, but as exploitative and punishing.