Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Other professors at UChicago encourage Sudhir to focus more on the women living in the projects, since, as one adviser notes, over “2/3” of the permanent residents of the projects are women. Sudhir hones back in on Ms. Bailey, “building president of the LAC (Local Advisory Council).” Although Ms. Bailey is paid (by the government) a small part-time wage, she has enormous power in her building of the Robert Taylor Homes. She mediates between police, residents, the CHA, and other city officials, and does her best to make sure needy families get the assistance they need. Ms. Bailey has “a strong handshake” too, Sudhir notes, and uses her power to look out for her own interests along with those of others.
Sudhir realizes he hasn’t been spending nearly enough time with the majority of the project to which he’s devoted his research – namely, the women living there, who are frequently heads of households and primary breadwinners and caregivers. Sudhir is immediately impressed with Ms. Bailey, who seems to combine some of Ms. Mae’s maternal qualities with an organizational talent and tolerance for pressure and force that rivals JT’s.
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Sudhir meets with Ms. Bailey in her “office,” which is rundown, but which she rules with an iron fist. Ms. Bailey begins a line of rhetorical questioning, asking Sudhir whether he’s going to study “white people” while studying Robert Taylor. Sudhir is confused, since the vast majority of residents are black. But Sudhir realizes over the course of their conversation that Ms. Bailey means that many people in institutions outside the homes – the police, the CHA, CBOs – are white, and their actions have a real impact on the lives of those living in the projects. Sudhir begins to understand Ms. Bailey’s point.
Ms. Bailey seems aware from the beginning of the social forces at play in the Homes. She believes that “white people,” a stand in for the culture surrounding the Homes (and affluent Chicago is, primarily, white) exert an enormous amount of influence on the Homes, shaping how they are perceived not only in other neighborhoods but also within the project community itself.
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Ms. Bailey begins speaking with Sudhir more regularly in her office, although she asks him to step outside, in the beginning, when tenants come by to discuss their problems with her. Sudhir rides around with Ms. Bailey one day, who says she is going out to accept “donations.” Sudhir realizes that Ms. Bailey gets items—like winter clothing, food, or alcohol—from local stores, but they’re not “donations” per se, as Ms. Bailey usually compensates the store somehow—like, for example, agreeing to tell Robert Taylor families to shop only there. When Sudhir asks what this kind of “charitable” giving means, Ms. Bailey offers a simple response: she’ll accept whatever people will give, and will do what she has to do, practically speaking, to make sure people in the Homes have adequate food and clothing.
“Charity,” like “business,” has its own sense within the Homes. Just as JT can argue that the BKs play a major role in shaping and organizing the community, Ms. Bailey can state that these stores are giving her items as “donations,” even though she is sending additional customers their way, or promising other inducements. Charity in a different context might mean giving without any strings, but in the Homes, there is almost nothing that happens without a consequence, either physical, or social, or political. Ms. Bailey just acknowledges this as a fact and builds upon it to serve her constituents.
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One day, Sudhir is meeting with Ms. Bailey when Clarisse, the prostitute living in the Homes, comes by, drug-addled and upset, and asking for clothing. Ms. Bailey refuses and tells Clarisse she should stop using drugs, then largely ignores her. Sudhir, upset and confused, helps Clarisse back upstairs and gets her to lie down on a sofa. He realizes that her children living in the apartment haven’t eaten in a long time, and goes out to buy them snacks. But when Sudhir returns to the Homes after a couple days, Ms. Bailey scolds him for helping, saying that, if words gets around that Sudhir is willing to support some of the women or their children, that there are some in the Homes who might want to take advantage of that kindness. Echoing JT, Ms. Bailey says she wouldn’t be able to “protect” Sudhir under those circumstances.
Sudhir, interestingly, appears to also offer a kind of “charity” in this instance, making sure that Clarisse is safe and back at her apartment, and that her children have eaten enough food. But Ms. Bailey warns that this charity will not be perceived as mere giving by the community at large – it will instead be viewed as the same sort of “quid pro quo” charity that Ms. Bailey has been engaging in. Thus, constituents will believe that Sudhir is getting something from Clarisse in return – sex, drugs, or access to a different part of the Homes.
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Sudhir attends a meeting Ms. Bailey holds for residents of the building to air their grievances. Many complain about the presence of the BKs in the homes, the parties they have, the messes they make – or about the squatters who “loiter” in the common spaces of the building. But Ms. Bailey does not back down. She “notes” the requests the community members make, asking her assistants to write them down. But she also says that the BKs protect people in the building, and that paying them off, or allowing them to keep to their own business, is largely good for the people living in Robert Taylor. Although the constituents are angry, they do not fight Ms. Bailey, and the meeting eventually ends.
Ms. Bailey is quick to use her influence in public, and she seems not to care what other residents might think about that – whether they might have a moral scruple with the kind of amoral practicality with which Ms. Bailey gets things done in the Homes. Ms. Bailey figures that these meetings are useful if they enable people to air their grievances and perhaps feel that they’ve been heard. But the meetings are in no sense democratic – they are a platform for Ms. Bailey to tell the residents what will, and won’t, happen for them.
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Afterward, Sudhir asks Ms. Bailey about her philosophy of running the project building of which she’s leader. She responds that, first things first, her job is to “get things done,” and then she can “worry” about the means employed to achieve whatever goal she had in mind. In other words, Ms. Bailey recognizes that her system of using power and leaning on the BKs is far from perfect, but it’s the only system available to her. After Ms. Bailey leaves, Catrina, her highest-ranking assistant and secretary, tells Sudhir that there are other facets of Ms. Bailey’s personality, positive ones, that he should look out for, including her protective and supportive attitude toward other women in the projects.
Here, Ms. Bailey spells out explicitly what her philosophy is – it’s only results that matter, and the ends justify the means. Outside the projects, this might be viewed as a cruel or uncompromising way to go about things – one that leaves out possible moral absolutes, such as, it’s wrong to steal or to support the drug trade. But Ms. Bailey argues that moral purity is something available only to people living outside the Homes, who have the privilege not to be involved in the intrigues and difficulties of the projects.
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One day, Sudhir is talking to Catrina outside Ms. Bailey’s office when a commotion breaks out in the building. Squatters scream that they must apprehend Bee-Bee, a man they believe has just brutally beaten his girlfriend Taneesha. The squatters, including C-Note, are afraid that Bee-Bee will try to leave the building to avoid punishment. Sudhir goes along with the squatters, who call out to Bee-Bee; after he tries to escape, there is a tussle among many of them, and Sudhir kicks Bee-Bee, helping to stop him, while C-Note and the others corral him and take him into Ms. Bailey’s office. Ms. Bailey allows others in her office to beat Bee-Bee, and they finally “drag him” outside and deposit him on the street.
In this case, organized vigilante violence is used to patrol the Homes and, supposedly, to make them safer for women and families. And there is no denying that the group, of which Sudhir is a part, makes sure that Taneesha is safe and that Bee-Bee, the man accused of (and “convicted of,” in the court of public opinion) beating her is punished. Sudhir takes part in this effort, but not without some concern about what he has done – and what it means that police are not involved in the apprehension of Bee-Bee.
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After the incident Sudhir talks to Catrina, who has spoken to Taneesha – and although the girl has been beaten badly, she’ll survive. Sudhir asks why Catrina and others never call the police when this happens – why “militias” are charged with protecting women who are abused. Catrina says that they are afraid of the police, and Sudhir becomes frustrated with (what he perceives as) her continued denial of the possibility of any police support. Afterward, Sudhir accepts that, as in other cases, the police simply will not get involved in Robert Taylor, either because they are not invited or because they will not come. He asks if Catrina would like to compose an essay about the day’s events; Sudhir has been reading some of Catrina’s writing, giving her an outlet for her thoughts and feelings.
Here, Sudhir expresses his frustration to Catrina about what he sees as a stubborn unwillingness of people in the Homes to call the police. Sudhir believes that this unwillingness is, in part, reasonable, deriving as it does from the police’s clear lack of interest in protecting public safety in Robert Taylor. But the cycle, for Sudhir, is also a vicious one – if the police aren’t called, crime is increasingly handled by vigilantes who’d fear a police presence, and so police continue not to be called.
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After the incident, once Sudhir has cooled down and collected his thoughts, he goes back to the Homes. There, he runs into JT, who says that Ms. Bailey is angry with him. When he speaks to Ms. Bailey, she says she’s “worried” that Sudhir is “seeing things he’s not ready for,” and that, because people saw him stand up for Taneesha, they might assume he’s involved in other activities in the Homes, perhaps related either to the LAC or, more likely, to the BKs.
As if on cue, JT appears to say once more that Sudhir cannot be “protected” in these cases. It’s not evident whether JT is really simply upset about losing control over Sudhir, whether he fears Ms. Bailey’s influence, or whether he’s really just looking out for Sudhir – and in fact it’s probably a combination of these things.
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Ms. Bailey admits again that her methods, such as the use of the militia against Bee-Bee, require her to ignore the police or circumvent them. When Sudhir expresses continued frustration at this, Ms. Bailey says that she hopes for the day when she’s “no longer needed” in Robert Taylor. But she feels that her job will always have to exist, because people in the CHA and the police will never “come around” the buildings to help.
Here, Ms. Bailey repeats a line that is heard often in the Homes, that although methods used to get by are not always pleasant ones, they are the only methods available to the Homes. When the Homes are better, the methods might change, and official structures could take the place of vigilante and improvised ones.
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Sudhir observes what happens when a family loses their front door. Ms. Bailey helps the family to negotiate with the CHA and get a new door, but only after accepting a certain amount of cash to make sure the door actually arrives (bribes for relevant authorities) and is installed (bribes for handymen). Sudhir wonders at just how difficult it is to live in Robert Taylor: in effect, how expensive it is, as the saying goes, to be poor. Sudhir realizes that in his own suburban upbringing, no one had to really worry about something like a door falling off, and a homeowner or renter would have recourse to figure out the problem relatively quickly and cheaply. But in the projects, all problems like this can become major issues, and can involve the “help,” typically expensive, of people like Ms. Bailey.
Sudhir here hints at something important that is always in the background in the book, and is mentioned in other sociological treatises on places like the Robert Taylor Homes and other American projects. Simply put, in the US it costs a lot of money to not have money. A vast number of fines exist at the governmental level for people who don’t have sufficient cash, and jailing and other regulations often target low-income families. And then the gangs that fill the official void rely on “protection” rackets, which themselves cost families a great deal of money. In the end, if you can’t afford to pay for goods and services – then you’ll really have to pay.
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