While studying sociology at the University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatesh started hanging out with J.T. the leader of a gang located in a housing project on the south side of Chicago near the campus. When he first arrived at the University of Chicago, he was told by many people where he should and should not go in order to be safe in the neighborhoods around campus. Curiosity got to him and he ventured into the non-recommended areas. After many visits without incident, he decides to do some fieldwork in the area, bringing surveys to find out what the residents' lives are like in these poverty-stricken neighborhoods. This leads to his first harrowing encounter with the Black Kings and eventually to meeting their leader J.T. who is impressed by Venkatesh's persistence and agrees to let him observe some of what he does as a gang leader.
Venkatesh recounts his experiences in Gang Leader for a Day, detailing how the gang functions within its community. It's surprising how much the gang's organization mirrors that of a major corporation, complete with a board of directors. It was also interesting to find out that the higher ups in the gang discourage violence, because it scares customers away from their main business, dealing drugs. Along these same lines, a gang may stir up violence in another gang's territory to disrupt their rival's drug business.
Like Freakonomics, where I first heard about Venkatesh's work, Gang Leader for a Day is full of stories and observations that will capture your interest.
Gang Leader for a Day