Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
JT invites Sudhir to several of the BKs’ large-scale “gatherings” in the suburbs of Chicago, where gang leaders go, Sudhir writes, to buy “large, suburban homes” for their mothers. Sudhir enjoys going to these events, and takes some measure of joy from JT’s advancement. But Sudhir also realizes that many of the leaders, like T-Bone and Price, want to find legitimate work outside the gang, even as they fear what that life might mean for them without the BKs’ protection. And Sudhir realizes that the Robert Taylor Homes will be torn down in a year or two (the year is now 1995) – meaning that JT and the BKs may no longer have control of as substantial a portion of prime drug-selling turf in the city.
Sudhir realizes that, as his research comes to a close, so too does a larger era in Chicago demography and social politics come to an end. Sudhir notes that by the 1990s, people in positions of government power wanted places like Robert Taylor no longer to exist. And city and state governments were more and more willing to raze those kinds of buildings, and to suffer whatever consequences in attempting to relocate remaining residents into “mixed-use” communities throughout the surrounding urban area.
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One evening, T-Bone meets with Sudhir and provides him with “ledgers” containing many years of complex economic data for the BKs – what they sold and when, what their finances really looked like. This information becomes the quantitative backbone of Sudhir’s dissertation. T-Bone does this, in part, because (Sudhir believes) he is proud of the work he’s done in the gang, and his business acumen. But T-Bone also has some desire, Sudhir perceives, to separate himself from the life he’s lived among other gang members. From these ledgers, Sudhir learns that gang profits are unequally distributed, with those at the top making large amounts, and foot soldiers making very, very little.
An enormously important moment for Sudhir’s research. The question is: why does T-Bone do this? Sudhir has a couple guesses, first thinking that T-Bone is probably proud of the work he has done, accounting for all the money that’s changed hands over the years. Related to this, in Sudhir’s eyes, is T-Bone’s desire to find a life for himself outside the gang – to indicate that the life he lived with the gang had its own order too, its own rules and internal solidity. If T-Bone could make order out of BK life, this reasoning goes, he’d be able to make a new life after the BKs.
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The Robert Taylor Homes, Sudhir learns, will be replaced with a “mix” of living-spaces, some, apparently, being made available to low-income families, although Sudhir and others in the Homes are doubtful that this will mean many of them, or even any at all, will be allowed to stay in that area after Robert Taylor’s demolition. Some tenants, like a woman Sudhir meets named Dorothy, organize themselves into random groups in order to find affordable housing together in nearby neighborhoods after the demolition. But Dorothy is only marginally successful in doing this, as are a great many other groups – housing prices are very high in surrounding areas compared to subsidized CHA rents, and many families, having grown up in the projects, are not used to dealing with landlords and other institutional roadblocks on their own.
Sudhir seems to imply that, although people like Dorothy are extremely well-intentioned, and do everything they can to protect themselves and the people around them, they are simply not as powerful as larger, more systematically-organized institutions. Dorothy can’t replace a housing authority that works, and she certainly can’t stand in for a series of poorly-planned government policies that have resulted in the significant neglect of places like Robert Taylor. Sudhir fears that this kind of government neglect will continue, in a new form.
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Sudhir attends a final party in Robert Taylor, sitting outside in the sun as he has many times before. He recalls President Clinton’s visit to Robert Taylor two years earlier, in 1994. During that period, and even though the President only passed through very briefly, Sudhir had noticed just how much tenants had cleaned and polished their buildings, even going so far as to plant flowers. Sudhir notes that there are again some flowers at Robert Taylor today – but his pleasant recollection is interrupted by gunfire, which, though not indicative of a gang war (and instead attributable, JT thinks, to people high on drugs), is nevertheless a reminder of the constant dangers of life in that area.
There is, therefore, a good deal of pathos in Bill Clinton’s visit to the projects, as places like Robert Taylor are being phased out, torn down, and removed from cities, so that “renewed” neighborhoods can have things like convention centers, arenas, or extensions to airports. Bill Clinton’s visit represents “progress” for Chicago in some sense, but it also signals the decline of the community around Robert Taylor as it’s existed to this point.
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Sudhir learns that his dissertation and doctorate have earned him a job at Harvard as a post-doc at the Society of Fellows. It’s a prestigious position, and Sudhir realizes that he is pulling away from people like JT and Ms. Bailey, perhaps for good. Sudhir notes that the drug trade in Robert Taylor, as buildings are condemned and destroyed, trickles down to a small fraction of what it once was – this, too, dovetailing with a drop in crack addiction rates in American cities by the end of the 1990s.
Sudhir adds in that, at this juncture, he has achieved genuine academic success, of a kind that might not have seemed possible to him only a few years before. And this success itself derives in large part from the work he has done in Robert Taylor – and to the information and access people like JT and Ms. Bailey have provided him.
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Sudhir meets with JT one evening in Ms. Mae’s apartment, and tells him that he’ll be moving to Cambridge and turning his research in new directions. At this point, JT knows finally that Sudhir will not be his biographer, but that, instead, Sudhir has gathered what information he’s needed from JT and others, and that he has “hustled” in the same way JT has attempted to. But Sudhir notes that he’s struck by the quiet sadness in the room, with JT hoping to squeeze what money remains from the gang-related crack business and other “side hustles” in the neighborhood around the Homes.
JT never explicitly acknowledges the manner by which his relationship with Sudhir has changed. He doesn’t really push Sudhir when Sudhir hints that his work will no longer focus exclusively on JT – but instead will be a broader portrait of how different underground and gray-area economies interact in Robert Taylor. JT seems to have recognized this a long time ago – and to have come to terms with it, although he still appears sad to see Sudhir leaving.
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Sudhir recalls a meeting with JT in 1998, when they go out for dinner, and Sudhir realizes that he’s now a professor, not just an apprentice, and that JT, too, is transitioning into a new life. Although Sudhir listens eagerly to JT’s stories, both know that they have grown apart in a significant way. Yet they are cordial with one another.
JT used to call Sudhir “Mr. Professor” as a joke. What is poignant in this section is that Sudhir now really is a professor, or very close to one – his research career has turned out. And JT is soon to be out of a job as a gang leader.
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Sudhir reports to the reader that JT eventually moved into “legitimate” business and had “some money saved” from the gang; he also “consulted” with BKs when they needed his advice from time to time. But JT the gang leader was no more, just as the Robert Taylor Homes were gone by the very end of the 1990s. Sudhir notes that, despite their differences, he and JT forged a genuine bond, and that Sudhir cannot forget the many lessons he’s learned, both about practical matters and his academic work, from spending years talking to JT and observing the livelihoods and families around him. He says that this knowledge has informed, and will continue to inform, his future work as a sociologist studying how communities operate.
Thus Sudhir does what he can, in the closing pages of the narrative, to describe just how sad the transition away from Robert Taylor has been for him – and the kinds of dislocation JT experiences soon thereafter, when the Homes are finally torn down. In this way, the book reflects just how difficult it is for any group to move on and change – especially a group whose circumstances, like those in Robert Taylor, are difficult, pressing, and materially constricted. One gets the sense that Sudhir is deeply appreciative of JT’s role in his life, and that JT feels the same way – even if it is hard for each party to express this to the other.
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