Sudhir describes an incident that causes him to bond more closely with JT. One day, sitting outside and enjoying the fine weather, Sudhir is talking to JT’s uncle, drinking beer. A car drives quickly near Robert Taylor, and shots are fired from out its window – a drive-by. Price, standing nearby, is hit, and when others flee inside, Sudhir grabs Price and helps others to pull him to safety inside. He does this even though Ms. Bailey tells Sudhir to “run” when the shots are fired, both to protect him and because she fears he won’t be able to protect himself.
This moment of drama disrupts the kind of outdoor party to which Sudhir has become accustomed at Robert Taylor. Sudhir takes this opportunity to imply just how likely violence is at all times, how it can strike before anyone else expects it. It is also a testament to Sudhir’s presence of mind that he is able to help Price at all – JT, for his part, is cheered, if also nervous, to hear that Sudhir was so willing to lend a hand in this way.
JT allows other gang members to tend to Price upstairs once they’ve got him stabilized, and asks to borrow Sudhir’s car to take Price to the hospital. (Price will be driven by a woman, since JT doesn’t want any BKs to be associated on official hospital records with a report of gun violence if he can help it). Someone takes Price in Sudhir’s car, and later JT thanks Sudhir both for his compassion in helping Price and for his ability to deal calmly with the chaos of the day.
JT has always had a great deal of respect for Sudhir’s courage (as Dubner himself notes in the Introduction to the book). But JT doesn’t ever say this to Sudhir straight out – that Sudhir is brave to be working in the projects. Nevertheless, both Ms. Bailey and JT recognize that, although life in Robert Taylor is normal to them, there are a great many US communities in which it would be far, far from normal.
Sudhir learns from T-Bone that JT has been given a new job in the BK hierarchy, and that he’ll now be responsible for managing even more drug-selling units across the city. T-Bone, for his part, is also excited, since he wants to “get out of the game” after saving up money for a couple years. In the downtime Sudhir finds for himself, with JT often away for “training” with gang higher-ups, Sudhir decides to teach a course for gang members on “history, politics, and math.” But Sudhir has great difficulty managing the students, and older gang leaders have to come in frequently to tell the students to listen, and not to “play with guns and deal drugs” while “Mr. Professor” is teaching.
Here is one of the few instances where Sudhir discusses in detail his life in front of a classroom. Presumably, he is also teaching at the University of Chicago as part of his doctoral training. But he is humble enough to admit that, in this circumstance, he has an enormously difficult time connecting with any of his students. Indeed, the “informal” classroom of conversations Sudhir has with gang members and other Homes residents are far more productive than the slightly forced educational situation presented here.
Sudhir also begins meeting more frequently with Officer Reggie, sometimes in his police precinct not far from Robert Taylor. By putting together information he learns from Reggie and has heard from JT and others in the BKs, Sudhir realizes that policemen, especially a rogue cop named Officer Jerry, sometimes “volunteer” to bust up gang parties or to “shake down” gang members for cash and valuables during traffic stops or in the Homes. Sudhir recalls other moments, when he’s seen Chicago PD stop gang members in cars and effectively “hold them up,” taking whatever the members have on them and threatening them, if they don’t hand items over, with imprisonment on various weapon and drug possession charges.
The relationship between the BKs, Officer Reggie, and the rest of the Chicago police precinct near the Homes is an interesting and complex one. Reggie does a fine job of mediating when there are disputes between South Side gangs, as indicated earlier in the book. Sudhir notes elsewhere that he trusts Reggie’s moral compass. But many in the police department are as skeptical of those helping the Homes (non-profit volunteers, researchers like Sudhir, CHA officials) as they are of the gang members themselves.
In short, Sudhir realizes that the police have a “hustle” just as he does, and just as the gang members do – and the police hustle is really no more “legal” than the gang version.
This is a crucial moment in the text – and the moral equivalency seems to hold. The police protect their own interests, as do the gang members.
In a local “cop bar” one afternoon, Officer Reggie introduces Sudhir to Officer Jerry, a corrupt, white cop whom Sudhir often sees around Robert Taylor, shaking down residents for cash and threatening to imprison them if they don’t pay. Jerry is leery of Sudhir, and when Sudhir tries to ask him about his work in the bar, Jerry only gets angry and hurls expletives at Sudhir. Reggie explains later that Jerry is somewhat crooked, but that his anger derives from a defensiveness about the work he does. Sudhir doesn’t really believe this, even as he finds Reggie to be a “creative” and empathetic policeman, who really is trying to make the Homes more livable. Sudhir finds that his car has been broken into a few weeks later, and eventually learns that Jerry and similarly crooked cops were trying to “find his notes,” to see what sort of incriminating information Sudhir had taken down about their extralegal activities.
If Sudhir’s recollection holds true in this case – and he is really our only eyewitness source for information – at least some of the cops in the area are so crooked that they would be willing to intimidate a researcher devoted to describing and helping people who live in poverty. In truth, Officer Jerry benefits, in terms of money and power, from a gang system that keeps official institutions (like the non-corrupt members of the Chicago PD, and the CHA) out of places like Robert Taylor.
Shortly thereafter, Sudhir learns from JT that his new job as a higher-up in the BKs is the real thing. Sudhir is happy to hear it, but JT, on telling Sudhir this, doesn’t understand that Sudhir’s research is soon going to be over, and that Sudhir will not in fact be writing his biography. Sudhir wonders how exactly to break this information to JT, and realizes just how much he has “hustled” during his time in the projects. He is happy about all the information he’s learned, but worries that he’s perhaps been using people like JT and Ms. Bailey to further his own career.
It’s not evident exactly when JT abandons hope for the idea that Sudhir is writing only about his life. JT has expressed anxiety about “losing” or “not being able to protect” Sudhir, and so Sudhir senses that JT has intuited this new state of affairs. But, nevertheless, Sudhir is nervous about explaining to JT just how his research will benefit Sudhir, and not really depict JT, in its final form.