Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Times elapses, and its been three years that Sudhir has observed JT and others in the BKs and in the Robert Taylor Homes. In discussions with his adviser Bill Wilson, Sudhir agrees to “expand” his project as a way of understanding how the BKs control and affect the gray-market economies of the projects. To do this, Sudhir resolves to begin asking more pointed questions of JT about how finances work in the gang, and how money moves from group to group throughout the Homes.
The expansion of Sudhir’s project derives from several sources. Sudhir sees that he’ll need to talk to more people so that his sample of the projects is representative. He also senses that JT might get protective of his work, and so Sudhir needs to make sure his “portfolio” of subjects is large and diverse. And Sudhir’s advisers also caution him about depending on any one person’s viewpoint of an entire social system.
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Sudhir listens to JT talk frequently about how he is the “CEO” of a group of people. But Sudhir believes that JT barely works, instead delegating most of his responsibilities to others. He says this to JT and JT, half-angry but intrigued, tells Sudhir that he can be “gang leader for a day,” only one, to see what exactly JT does. Sudhir agrees, with a major stipulation: that he not be directly involved in any criminal activity. JT agrees to this, and they meet in a diner the next morning: JT, Sudhir, T-Bone, and Price.
Here, Sudhir finally gets his chance to see what it’s like to operate the gang, if only for a day (with the “experiment” also giving the book its title). Sudhir manages this cleverly – by insinuating that JT doesn’t work all that hard at all, and that therefore anyone could do his job. But, as Sudhir will soon find out, the job is very demanding, especially on the level of detail, much of which is kept mentally and not written (to avoid prosecution).
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Sudhir immediately has to reckon with several problems. Some tenants in Robert Taylor have thrown a party without cleaning it up, bothering other tenants, and Sudhir has to assign foot soldiers to deal with the mess. Price then tells Sudhir that he, the leader, has to figure out a place for the gang to meet on a weekly basis. Pastor Wilkins has offered a church room to the BKs, but JT and the lieutenants caution that Sudhir might not want to be indebted to Wilkins for so big a favor, since Wilkins has his own agenda. Sudhir realizes just how detailed the gang’s business is, even before they’ve left the diner.
Sudhir believes that these kinds of issues can be resolved in a relatively straightforward fashion. But as demonstrated here, whenever Sudhir decides one way, JT or one of the lieutenants notes where a possible difficulty might arise – one that Sudhir hadn’t accounted for. Indeed, running the BKs is like doing a jigsaw puzzle – each piece fits exactly with each other piece, and if one changes, everything else must change in response.
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Sudhir then drives with T-Bone, Price, and JT to meet with Johnny, who owns a corner store near Robert Taylor. Johnny pays the BKs “protection,” like many businesses. But Johnny is visibly upset at this extortion, and voices his frustration to JT. (Johnny also wonders why Sudhir is talking so much, but JT does not explain that Sudhir is “gang leader for a day.”) Johnny agrees to stop raising prices for BK members in the store, which he has been doing out of retaliation, and JT and his lieutenants agree to rein in members of the gang who are brazenly stealing from the shelves while Johnny is present. Sudhir and the BKs leave, the quarrel largely resolved.
Johnny has made an “arrangement” with the BKs in two senses. First, he has permitted certain BKs to receive certain products at a discount – that is, he has acknowledged that the BKs are the dominant, government-like authority in the area. But he also refuses service to other customers, some BKs, who seem to damage the store’s reputation, or make it less hospitable to other customers. Thus Johnny is caught between needing the BKs on the one hand, and feeling that certain BK members make his business that much harder to run.
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Get the entire Gang Leader for a Day LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Next, Sudhir must resolve a quarrel between two low-level foot soldiers, Billy and Otis. Sudhir knows them both: he respects Billy’s desire for self-improvement, and is afraid of Otis, who once threatened him after Sudhir refereed a BK basketball game and ejected Otis for excessive fouling. Billy, Otis’s sales superior, accuses Otis of stealing some of the profits from recent sales. Otis essentially admits to this, but claims he was stealing because Billy wasn’t paying him his full cut to begin with. JT and Sudhir walk away, and JT asks Sudhir what he would do to resolve the dispute.
One of the problems in managing the gang is making sure that all money made is accounted for – and that it goes to the top of the gang hierarchy. As Sudhir finds out, the gangs funnel most of their profits to upper-level “executives,” people higher even than JT. And “foot soldiers” make very little, thus greatly increasing the incentive for people like Billy and Otis to steal whenever possible, or to “hide” certain profits.
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Sudhir says that, because both Billy and Otis have broken the rules, their punishments should “offset,” like in the NFL—neither is then punished. JT thinks this is “smart” reasoning, as do the lieutenants, but JT also tells Sudhir that Otis should be punished for stealing (JT agrees with Sudhir, that they can’t prove Billy was withholding wages). JT and the lieutenants beat Otis as punishment, and though Sudhir is upset at this (and does not participate), JT justifies his actions, saying that people must pay the consequences when they openly flout the hierarchy within the BKs.
Another instance of JT making sure that all those around him know he is the “boss” of the organization. Physical intimidation remains an important piece of the puzzle. JT worries that, if he’s not beating up gang members who don’t follow his rules, he simply wouldn’t have enough economic leverage to make sure that those members fell in line – the kinds of disincentives a legitimate businessman might use to keep workers working.
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To round out his day with the BKs, Sudhir rides with JT to various “street groups,” where “directors” report to JT what they’ve sold, in what quantities, and to whom. The directors also detail police activity and any other problems with staff or customers. Sudhir notes that JT has “informants,” often homeless or otherwise under-employed people in the neighborhoods, who can corroborate what the directors say.
This network of spies and informants receives relatively little description in the narrative. But the picture Sudhir paints is of something like a “police state,” wherein most activities are monitored. Yet this police state contains almost no police, and is run and managed instead by a drug-dealing collective.
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Sudhir is shocked to learn, during these rounds, that many people “rip off” JT to an extent in the handling of normal drug-selling. For example, “mixers” who bake the crack cocaine occasionally “dilute” the mixture and pocket the difference. Similarly, salesmen on teams sometimes skim from the till. Occasionally JT will threaten or beat (or have others beat) salesmen who do this. But other times, JT accepts that this skimming is part of an illegal business—a way to keep his sales teams happy and keep the cops away.
JT must then be willing to tolerate, in his decentralized model (as Sudhir notes), a certain amount of waste. In a legitimate business, JT could complain to the authorities if he thought his suppliers were skimming from the till or otherwise stealing from him. But he has no such recourse in an illegitimate business, and so must account for this loss at each stage when drawing up projected profits for a given period.
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At the end of his day as gang leader, Sudhir is exhausted, and realizes just how much JT has to keep track of—nearly all of it in his head, as JT is worried that any written record of his doings could be incriminating if he is ever caught by the police. Sudhir ends the chapter noting that, although he can return to being a researcher after the day is done, JT must return to the gang leader job, one that Sudhir has very clearly underestimated in its complexity and demands.
Sudhir finally realizes just how hard it is to manage the BKs – what kinds of forms of coercion, physical and financial, are required. Sudhir also recognizes the amount of detail inherent to JT’s job, all of which JT must manage in his head, as he can’t have too many written records of what the gang does and sells.
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