Monday, August 06, 2007

Boing Boing Interviews Sudhir Vankatesh About Street Gangs

Boing Boing posts about an upcoming book by Sudhir Venkatesh (author of Freakonomics) on street gangs. To be titled Gang Leader for a Day, the author had this to say in an interview at Columbia University:

Q: How do gang members see themselves as fitting in with society at large? Do gang members have a real comprehension that the things they do — dealing drugs, engaging in violence, destroying property, scaring people — are widely perceived as not only illegal but also morally wrong?

A: Many gang members who attain leadership status are deeply conscious of their perception by wider society. They tend to make two arguments when discussing their behavior: first, that whites also work in the underground economy but are not prosecuted (or stigmatized) to the same degree (just look at the differential rates of punishment for powder cocaine and crack cocaine — the former is distributed by whites to a far greater degree); and second, that corporations also engage in criminal activity, but are rarely viewed as outlaws — not just Enron, but oil and other companies that have established histories of supporting anti-democratic regimes in developing counties to secure their own profits.

What fascinates me the most about the gang leader's answer is this part: "that corporations also engage in criminal activity, but are rarely viewed as outlaws." If the book is supposed to show that gang leaders are actually in touch with what's really going on, then it's already failed. American corporations and businesspeople are perhaps the single most persecuted group in American society, being blamed for everything from pure greed to outright evil. If the only example this gang leader can think of is Enron, than he's not very well read.

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