An Inside Look At The Complex Networks That Held Robert Taylor Homes Together: A Sociologist Explores How A High-Risk Community Survived
Take a look inside one of the worst housing projects in America.
The Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago were crumbling, with high crime levels and daily murders.
Yet despite this, residents stuck together and managed to function.
The author of Gang Leader For A Day was able to document the social networks that exist in these types of high-rises and provided an insight into the inner workings of drug networks as well as power relationships between residents and gang members.
For a day, he took on the role of gang leader – which showed him first-hand just how similar managing a criminal gang is to running any other business.
He also gained an understanding of why, if someone got hurt in these projects, calling an ambulance wasn’t always an option.
Gang Leader For A Day provides a fascinating look into one of America’s worst housing projects, and into the gang that controlled it.
In South Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, Women Have Found Creative Ways To Survive While Men Turn To Illegitimate Ventures
In South Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes public housing project, almost all of the residents are officially unemployed.
But if you take a closer look at their daily lives, it quickly becomes apparent that entrepreneurship is thriving in the projects.
The women offer various services to other tenants, such as babysitting, fortune-telling and preparing taxes.
Such jobs usually bring in only $5 to $10 a day.
These women often help each other out by providing rides and cooking food for one another when they don’t have time to shop during the day.
They also pool resources to fix things that are broken—since the CHA doesn’t always repair appliances like water heaters or refrigerators right away.
For men, manual labor like fixing cars tends to be their most lucrative activity.
Others might sell social security cards and license plates, steal gas and electricity for people’s apartments, or even trade scrap metal and stolen clothes or cigarettes.
The reason why they need these sources of income is because while government welfare may be given temporarily, men do not qualify unless they care for minors—a situation that rarely happens.
Ultimately, it’s clear that in the projects everyone’s seemingly “unemployed,” entrepreneurship still flourishes beneath the surface.
Living In The Projects: When Calling 911 Isn’T An Option
According to the author, who witnessed firsthand events in housing projects, emergency calls from these areas are seldom taken seriously by 911 operators and can often be left unanswered.
In fact, they have learned to handle urgent matters on their own without relying on outside help.
For example, instead of making an emergency call, inhabitants of the projects typically take justice into their own hands when someone is physically attacking a woman – the residents gang up together to beat the attacker into submission.
This also means that people may not receive medical attention as quickly as would be possible if they did make a call for help.
Moreover, even if police do arrive on the scene in response to a call, instead of being welcomed and appreciated for their assistance, officers of the law find themselves dodging flying bottles and even bullets as some residents site hostility towards police due to previous negative experiences with corrupt officers like “Officer Jerry” who runs a protection racket by beating up suspected criminals in an attempt to extort money from them.
In light of this behavior from police officers in some cases, honest cops have warned the author against writing about them which further evidences how jeered honest cops can be , and how feared crooked police might be in certain parts of town.
The Mixed Picture Of Gang Involvement: Benefits And Risks For A Community
The Black Kings gang have a charitable side, offering assistance to the elderly and keeping kids in school.
Not only did they help provide some semblance of order and safety on their turf, but gang members had also been seen escorting elderly women on their shopping errands to protect them from potential muggers.
In one incident, an entire family in housing project was provided protection through the Black Kings since their apartment door had fallen off its hinges.
Similarly, a drug den operating in a nearby vacant apartment was shut down by the gang to prevent people from taking advantage of it.
Furthermore, financial support is also given to tenants and building managers of the project to acquire shared goods such as food, mattresses and winter clothes.
The gang also supports local youth centers and organizes events like parties and sports tournaments for its members as well.
It comes as no surprise that the Black Kings require their members to be either students or high school graduates, as well as abstaining from drugs – all prerequisites for joining the gang in good standing.
Clearly, this is part of their strategy to ensure youngsters stay away from crime while growing up.
The Horrific Reality Of Life In The Housing Projects Under The Rule Of The Black Kings
The presence of the gang in the housing projects means that drugs, violence, and shootings have become all too normal.
As their primary source of income, they deal in drugs, with 15 percent of project tenants being addicts while another 25 percent dabbling in drug use occasionally.
Protection money is also extorted from anyone who runs any form of business—the elderly lady selling candy from her apartment has to pay just as much as bigger businesses do.
Those who refuse to comply are swiftly dealt with—a hairdresser who would not pay was beaten nearly to death!
Not only that, but women working as prostitutes have had to hand over 50 percent of their earnings since the gang established itself in the 1980s.
There are even rumours circulating that Black Kings members have abused women in both physical and sexual ways.
The activity brought about by this gang makes for a war zone-like atmosphere, what with turf wars and shootings taking place right outside your doorstep.
Innocent people can be hurt or worse due to it and this is alas, what’s become normal because of the gang’s presence in the housing projects.
The Unsung Managerial Role Of Gang Leaders: A Look At Jt Of The Black Kings
Gang Leader JT manages the Black Kings gang with a surprising amount of similarity to how one might manage a sales staff at a company.
To resolve conflicts and mediate between warring parties, he often uses a third party, such as a local pastor.
Similarly, when there is tension between tenants and the Black Kings, such negotiation can also take place.
Data is also gathered from subordinates in much the same manner as with typical businesses – usually by conducting weekly interviews with each sales director to discuss potential problems and issues.
Reports on drug sales have to be made, and if this does not match up with information that JT gathers himself then punishments are doled out which may include beatings or other acts of violence.
Financial incentives are also used by JT to motivate his crew – those who exceed targets receive bonuses whilst those who fall short must pay fines and lose part of their next week’s wages.
Of course, most foot soldiers in gangs earn far less than what they would working at McDonald’s or other food businesses.
Nevertheless, these management techniques demonstrate how Gang Leader JT attempts to run his business like any other CEO would run theirs.
The Brutal Reality Of Life As A Gang Leader: Not Just Driving Around, Showing Who’s Boss But Brutally Punishing Poor Performance
When the author jokingly remarked that it would be easy to be a gang leader for a day, he had no idea just how complicated and taxing it would actually be.
To his surprise, his first task as gang leader was to assign 12 of the gang members to clean the building from last night’s party – in order to appease the building manager.
What followed was an intricate process of negotiating deals with people outside of the gang, such as the pastor who wanted too much money, plus settling disputes between two gang members as well.
When one of them had stolen drugs, he found out that he was expected to punish the guilty, even though he refused; resulting in JT himself beating up the perpetrator.
The author soon realized that being a gang leader meant far more than just looking tough; there were serious financial responsibilities and disciplinary actions involved too.
To end his special day on a strange note, due to legal concerns over drug sales teams, JT ended up doing their report himself as well.
The author quickly discovered that being a true gang leader for a day is nothing like what it looks like from the outside.
The Tale Of Ms. Bailey: Power, Bribes And Care In The Robert Taylor Homes
The power dynamics in the Robert Taylor Home Projects is a nuanced one, where a delicate balance exists between two unlikely allies: the building manager Ms.
Bailey and the Black Kings, a prominent gang in the projects.
Although both have considerable influence among residents of the projects, it is ultimately Ms.
Bailey who holds most of the power due to her close relationship with local government officials.
Bailey’s official role is to be the main point of contact between tenants and Chicago Housing Authority while operating as the project’s “grandmother to ensure that kids living there get fed and kept safe.” However, she also has less than savory dealings within the projects by accepting bribes from gang members and keeping their activities off the radar of local law enforcement.
In return for these favors, she uses some of this money to purchase needed goods for herself and for tenants – yet this alliance with gangs keeps them in business and gives her more control over who benefits from her largesse.
But status in these projects comes down to having or not having Ms.
Bailey’s favor – a situation that she fully understands and exploits for her own ends unfortunately.
Adopting A Holistic Strategy For Ethical Research On The Lives Of Residents At The Robert Taylor Homes
After spending so much time in the Robert Taylor Homes, the author of Gang Leader For A Day struggled to maintain objectivity in his research.
Residents and even members of the Black Kings wanted to know “whose side he was on” – and were suspicious when he interacted with different groups and gangs.
Furthermore, it became harder for him to remain impartial as he developed connections and relationships with people like JT, the gang leader.
By studying within this community on an ongoing basis, the author could learn a lot about illegal activities, which posed a problem since sociologists do not have legal protection like journalists do if they are asked to testify in court.
This left him with a difficult choice: either withhold information or betray the confidence of those he studied and risk his life.
In Gang Leader for a Day, author Sudhir Venkatesh takes us on a journey through the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project in Chicago.
We become immersed in a community where most people are unemployed and living without basic amenities like showers and appliances yet still find ways to survive.
Through his research, Venkatesh provides us with an intimate look into the unspoken rules of life among criminal gangs and how they interact with those on the fringes, living side-by-side.
He also reveals how residents have created their own informal economy and built a strong community despite their hardships.
The key message of this book is that it’s possible to make something positive out of tough situations when people come together.