Ask the Gang Guy: Q&A With Sudhir Venkatesh

Of all the stories we told in Freakonomics, the most popular was the section on the economics of crack cocaine. While it related a lot of particular facts about the crack trade, I believe that readers responded most vigorously to the daring and smarts of the researcher we wrote about, Sudhir Venkatesh, who went and hung out with the crack gang in Chicago for several years. He and the gang met cute, sort of: while administering a door-to-door survey, Venkatesh stumbled upon some junior members of the gang and was held hostage overnight.

Back then, Venkatesh was a grad student in sociology at the University of Chicago. Now he teaches at Columbia University; he is also writing his own book about his research, Gang Leader for a Day, which will go well beyond what we covered in Freakonomics; it is scheduled to be published in January.

Although he has since done a lot of research that has nothing to do with criminal gangs, Venkatesh still knows more about gangs than … well, just about anyone. So when I saw this A.P. article yesterday about urban gangs, I thought we should ask Venkatesh if he’d be the subject of one of our interactive Q&A’s where you, the readers, ask the questions.

Here is the article’s lead:

Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more dangerous, according to a report being released Wednesday.

It is worth reading the whole thing. But feel free to pose questions of any sort to Venkatesh, not just those relating to the article. For instance: does he still dress like a Deadhead?

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  1. JSN says:

    My impression is that increasing police presence in a neighborhood where a gang is operating just moves the problem. I lived for four months in such a neighborhood in Portland OR and that seemed to be the case there.

    The police in my community tell me that it only moves part of the problem.
    Moving the problem is like taking care of a lawn you have to keep after it all the time or the weeds will take over.

    What do you think?

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  2. JSN says:

    My impression is that increasing police presence in a neighborhood where a gang is operating just moves the problem. I lived for four months in such a neighborhood in Portland OR and that seemed to be the case there.

    The police in my community tell me that it only moves part of the problem.
    Moving the problem is like taking care of a lawn you have to keep after it all the time or the weeds will take over.

    What do you think?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. cthayler says:

    Do you think the HBO series “The Wire” gives an accurate portral of gang life. It is clear from that show (if it is as real as it seems) that traditional policing strategies are very ineffective.

    If you don’t watch, then nevermind. However, it is the best show on television.

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  4. cthayler says:

    Do you think the HBO series “The Wire” gives an accurate portral of gang life. It is clear from that show (if it is as real as it seems) that traditional policing strategies are very ineffective.

    If you don’t watch, then nevermind. However, it is the best show on television.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Jazzalto says:

    Durham, North Carolina, where I taught middle school for several years, has a pretty severe youth gang problem. Obviously, many of the youths are just trying the lifestyle and the swagger on for size as all young, impressionable children do while they’re figuring out what to do.

    The interesting thing is, Durham also has a lot of community-based programs for children and teenagers and it seems that that really doesn’t address how to keep gangs and gang activity from overlapping with these activities and organizations. Have you observed this as well? Do you think that this is the kind of intervention that will actually fulfill the children’s need to belong in replacement of joining a gang?

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  6. Jazzalto says:

    Durham, North Carolina, where I taught middle school for several years, has a pretty severe youth gang problem. Obviously, many of the youths are just trying the lifestyle and the swagger on for size as all young, impressionable children do while they’re figuring out what to do.

    The interesting thing is, Durham also has a lot of community-based programs for children and teenagers and it seems that that really doesn’t address how to keep gangs and gang activity from overlapping with these activities and organizations. Have you observed this as well? Do you think that this is the kind of intervention that will actually fulfill the children’s need to belong in replacement of joining a gang?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. liftman says:

    Speaking of crack cocaine… Everyone need to read the book “COOKED”. It is about Jeff Henderson, who grew up in the L.A. area and came to selling drugs to get out of poverty. He getts busted and ends up in the kitched in the prison system. Now he is the head chef at the Cafe Beligao in Vegas. Great story!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. liftman says:

    Speaking of crack cocaine… Everyone need to read the book “COOKED”. It is about Jeff Henderson, who grew up in the L.A. area and came to selling drugs to get out of poverty. He getts busted and ends up in the kitched in the prison system. Now he is the head chef at the Cafe Beligao in Vegas. Great story!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0