Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh Character Analysis

The protagonist and narrator of Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir begins studying the projects on the South Side of Chicago as part of his doctoral research at the University of Chicago. Over the course of the narrative, Sudhir realizes that “studying” a society within the academy is very different from observing how people actually live, work, and play – how they tell jokes and stories, drink beer, and care for their families – in places like the Robert Taylor Homes. Gang Leader for a Day is therefore as much a story of Sudhir’s transformation as an empathetic researcher as it is a story of life in the underserved neighborhoods of Chicago.

Sudhir Venkatesh Quotes in Gang Leader for a Day

The Gang Leader for a Day quotes below are all either spoken by Sudhir Venkatesh or refer to Sudhir Venkatesh. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Hustling Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Gang Leader for a Day published in 2008.
Preface Quotes

I hadn’t come for the crack; I was here on a different mission. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and for my research I had taken to hanging out with the Black Kings, the local crack-selling gang.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: xiv
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 1 Quotes

How do an individual’s preferences develop? Can we predict human behavior? ... The standard mode of answering these questions was to conduct widespread surveys and then use complex mathematical methods to analyze the survey data. ... It was thought that the key to formulating good policy was to first formulate a good scientific study.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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You got blacks who are beating their heads trying to figure out a way to live where you live! Don’t ask me why. And then you got a whole lot of black folk who realize it ain’t no use. Like us. We just spend our time trying to get by, and we live around here, where it ain’t so pretty, but at least you won’t get your ass beat. At least not by the police.

Related Characters: Charlie and Old Time (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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Go back to where you came from ... and be more careful when you walk around the city. ... You shouldn’t go around asking them silly-ass questions. ... With people like us, you should hang out, get to know what they do, how they do it. No one is going to answer questions like that. You need to understand how young people live on the streets.

Related Characters: JT (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

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Beer? ... You said I should hang out with folks if I want to know what their life is like.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT
Related Symbols: Beer
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

You always take the sure bet in this game. Nothing can be predicted—not supply, not anything. The [person] who tells you he’s going to have product a year from now is lying. He could be in jail or dead. So take your discount now.

Related Characters: JT (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

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We stepped inside an apartment furnished with couches and a few reclining chairs that faced a big TV. There was a Christian show playing. ... The domestic scene surprised me a bit, for I had read so much about the poverty and danger in Robert Taylor, how children ran around without parents and how drugs had overtaken the community.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), Ms. Mae
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id

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And we don’t just fight each other. We have basketball tournaments, softball tournaments, card games. Sometimes it’s just people in the organization who play, but sometimes we find the best people in the building ... so it’s a building thing.

Related Characters: JT (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

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Regulars like me, we hustle to make our money, but we only go with guys we know. We don’t do it full-time, but if we have to feed our kids, we may make a little money on the side.

Related Characters: Clarisse (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

He [JT] had no real sense of what I would actually be writing—because, in truth, I didn’t know myself. Nor did I know if he’d be upset with me for having seen him beat up C-Note, or if perhaps he’d try to censor me.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT, C-Note
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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JT’s ambitions ran even higher. What he wanted, he told me, was to return the gang to its glory days of the 1960s, when South Side gangs worked together with residents to agitate for improvements in their neighborhoods.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT
Page Number: 75-6
Explanation and Analysis:

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Shorty-Lee was puzzled. He looked over to the three other BKs. They were toting spiral-bound notebooks in which they “signed up” potential votes. But it seemed that neither Lenny nor JT had told them there was an actual registration form and that registrars had to be licensed.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT, Lenny Duster, Shorty-Lee
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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... the man was sleeping with Coco, but he was giving her diapers and shit for Coco’s baby.

Related Characters: Price (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh, Coco
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

I was nervous, to be sure, but not because I was implicating myself in an illegal enterprise. In fact, I hadn’t even really thought about that angle. ... Only later, when I began sharing my experience with my advisers ... did I begin to understand—and adhere to—the reporting requirements for researchers who are privy to criminal conduct.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

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The next day I would wake up free of the hundreds of obligations and judgments I’d been witness to. But JT wouldn’t. He’d still bear all the burdens of running a successful underground economy...

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

For now, be careful when you help the women. They’ll take advantage of you, and you won’t know what hit you. And I can’t be there to protect you.

Related Characters: Ms. Bailey (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

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Do you want to write me another essay? Do you want to write about what just happened?

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), Catrina
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

I spent the next few weeks turning the information in my notebooks into statistical tables and graphs that showed how much different hustlers made. I figured that JT would appreciate this data at least as much as my professors would...

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

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The women wrote and spoke openly about their struggles. Each of them had at least a couple of children, which generally meant at least one “baby daddy” who wasn’t in the picture. Each of them had a man in her life who’d been either jailed or killed...

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker)
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

You didn’t have to get mixed up in this shit.
He must have heard that I’d helped drag Price into the lobby. I didn’t say anything. JT slapped my leg, asked if I wanted a Coke, and walked off to the fridge.

Related Characters: JT (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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You think I don’t know who you [expletive] are? You think we all don’t know what you’re doing? If you want to play with us, you better be real careful. If you like watching, you may get caught.

Related Characters: Officer Jerry (speaker), Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

You need to understand that the Black Kings are not a gang; we are a community organization, responding to people’s needs.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

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The pages of the ledgers were frayed, and some of the handwriting was hard to decipher, but the raw information was fascinating. For the past four years, T-Bone had been dutifully recording the gang’s revenues ... and expenses.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), T-Bone
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

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...perhaps the most unconventional thing I ever did was embrace the idea that I could learn so much, absorb so many lessons, and gain so many experiences at the side of a man who was so far removed from my academic world.

Related Characters: Sudhir Venkatesh (speaker), JT
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sudhir Venkatesh Character Timeline in Gang Leader for a Day

The timeline below shows where the character Sudhir Venkatesh appears in Gang Leader for a Day. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
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Sudhir Venkatesh, the protagonist of the book and its author, wakes up one morning in the... (full context)
Chapter 1 - How Does It Feel to Be Black and Poor?
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Sudhir begins the narrative by describing his student days in the PhD program in sociology at... (full context)
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Sudhir writes that, as professionals, sociologists are divided between those who conduct quantitative, mostly statistical, research,... (full context)
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Sudhir meets a group of older men, including two named Charlie and Old Time, in Washington... (full context)
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Sudhir appreciates speaking with Charlie and Old Time, but they recommend that he talk to younger... (full context)
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Sudhir is confused, and though he tells the young men he is a researcher from the... (full context)
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The young men do not threaten Sudhir, but they surround him until a man named JT arrives, and asks what Sudhir is... (full context)
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Sudhir stays up much of the night, as the young men around him – “foot soldiers”... (full context)
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Sudhir goes back to his studio apartment, wondering whether he should continue with his normal graduate... (full context)
Chapter 2 – First Days on Federal Street
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Sudhir begins riding around in JT’s car and following him in some of his daily activities,... (full context)
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Finally, by late spring of the first year of his research, Sudhir is asked by JT to accompany him on a gang-related visit, to Curly, another member... (full context)
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Sudhir doesn’t take notes when JT and Curly meet in Curly’s mother’s apartment in Robert Taylor.... (full context)
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Sudhir is grateful for this information. At the end of the car ride, back near the... (full context)
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While JT is preparing to take over his new role, Sudhir researches (in the UChicago library) the Robert Taylor homes. Robert Taylor, named for a director... (full context)
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Sudhir notes that, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, many in Chicago and across the... (full context)
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...is situated in his new role as regional drug manager at Robert Taylor, he invites Sudhir to come down from UChicago to see his new surroundings. Sudhir meets Ms. Mae, JT’s... (full context)
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In particular, Sudhir gets to know JT’s mother, Ms. Mae. Ms. Mae often cooks for Sudhir, and tells... (full context)
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JT also takes Sudhir on tours of the different high-rises of the Robert Taylor Homes, and begins describing to... (full context)
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Sudhir meets others in the Homes, including “regular squatters” like C-Note, a handyman with many “side... (full context)
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Sudhir meets a woman named Clarisse, in her thirties, who is a prostitute in Robert Taylor... (full context)
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Sudhir continues making notes on other “hustles” in the Homes outside of the prostitution ring taxed... (full context)
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...and, finally, begins beating and kicking C-Note, and other lieutenants from the BKs join in. Sudhir watches from afar, aghast at what is happening, but worried about what will occur if... (full context)
Chapter 3 – Someone to Watch Over Me
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Sudhir writes that, by the summer of 1990, after he has been observing the BKs (and... (full context)
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...and JT and others beat him so badly he lies bleeding on the ground, as Sudhir again watches, from a parked car, and wonders what to do. This time, Sudhir says... (full context)
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JT responds to Sudhir, however, that both Brass and C-Note had “questioned his authority,” and that they therefore deserved... (full context)
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Sudhir takes a short break from his narrative to describe the larger black-market economic system in... (full context)
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Sudhir is especially surprised to learn from JT that the Black Kings pay off local city... (full context)
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Sudhir continues by saying that “community-based organizations,” or CBOs—charities supporting neighborhoods in the South Side—also have... (full context)
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Sudhir describes in more detail the BKs’ relationship to political life. He attends, with JT, a... (full context)
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Sudhir goes along with some of these foot soldiers as they “canvas” Robert Taylor. Sudhir describes... (full context)
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Sudhir follows other members of the Robert Taylor community, since JT is spending more and more... (full context)
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Another day that summer, Sudhir observes an incident in which Robert Taylor community members become angry, especially a woman named... (full context)
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Sudhir attempts to see other parts of the Robert Taylor Homes. He visits Ms. Bailey, the... (full context)
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Autry invites Sudhir to a meeting about the “Midnight Basketball” organization, which some in Robert Taylor hope to... (full context)
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Sudhir argues that he is still writing JT’s biography, at least primarily, and that he wants... (full context)
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...in stray gunfire between the BKs and the Disciples, the gang congregating near zone B. Sudhir attends, with Ms. Bailey, an official meeting with the Chicago Police soon after, and notes... (full context)
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Ms. Bailey hints to Sudhir, however, that he should return to the meeting room in a couple hours, and he... (full context)
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After the meeting, JT confronts Sudhir again in private, and politely but firmly tells him that, since Sudhir is attending gang-related... (full context)
Chapter 4 – Gang Leader for a Day
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Times elapses, and its been three years that Sudhir has observed JT and others in the BKs and in the Robert Taylor Homes. In... (full context)
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Sudhir listens to JT talk frequently about how he is the “CEO” of a group of... (full context)
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Sudhir immediately has to reckon with several problems. Some tenants in Robert Taylor have thrown a... (full context)
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Sudhir then drives with T-Bone, Price, and JT to meet with Johnny, who owns a corner... (full context)
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Next, Sudhir must resolve a quarrel between two low-level foot soldiers, Billy and Otis. Sudhir knows them... (full context)
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Sudhir says that, because both Billy and Otis have broken the rules, their punishments should “offset,”... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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Sudhir is shocked to learn, during these rounds, that many people “rip off” JT to an... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 5 – Ms. Bailey’s Neighborhood
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Other professors at UChicago encourage Sudhir to focus more on the women living in the projects, since, as one adviser notes,... (full context)
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Sudhir meets with Ms. Bailey in her “office,” which is rundown, but which she rules with... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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One day, Sudhir is meeting with Ms. Bailey when Clarisse, the prostitute living in the Homes, comes by,... (full context)
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Sudhir attends a meeting Ms. Bailey holds for residents of the building to air their grievances.... (full context)
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Afterward, Sudhir asks Ms. Bailey about her philosophy of running the project building of which she’s leader.... (full context)
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One day, Sudhir is talking to Catrina outside Ms. Bailey’s office when a commotion breaks out in the... (full context)
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After the incident Sudhir talks to Catrina, who has spoken to Taneesha – and although the girl has been... (full context)
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After the incident, once Sudhir has cooled down and collected his thoughts, he goes back to the Homes. There, he... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Sudhir observes what happens when a family loses their front door. Ms. Bailey helps the family... (full context)
Chapter 6 – The Hustler and the Hustled
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Sudhir, after speaking with his professors, learns that some of his research might require him to... (full context)
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Sudhir meets with Ms. Bailey and JT and tells them what he’s learned about the legal... (full context)
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Sudhir begins interviewing pimps and prostitutes within the buildings – the interviews are arranged by JT... (full context)
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Sudhir learns other interesting facts about Robert Taylor: that unemployment is listed at 96 percent, but... (full context)
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Sudhir continues his research. He interviews C-Note and some of the other “hustlers,” finding out that... (full context)
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But after a few days, Sudhir realizes that he’s angered nearly everyone he normally speaks to in the homes. JT and... (full context)
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Sudhir attends a funeral later that summer for Catrina, Ms. Bailey’s assistant. Sudhir, like many in... (full context)
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...others in the Homes in order to keep their apartments or gain other material advantages. Sudhir is upset to hear this, and he wonders how the women have managed to “get... (full context)
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Finally, Ms. Bailey tells Sudhir to come to another community meeting, where angry residents ask Sudhir why he’s meeting with... (full context)
Chapter 7 – Black and Blue
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Sudhir describes an incident that causes him to bond more closely with JT. One day, sitting... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Sudhir learns from T-Bone that JT has been given a new job in the BK hierarchy,... (full context)
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Sudhir also begins meeting more frequently with Officer Reggie, sometimes in his police precinct not far... (full context)
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In short, Sudhir realizes that the police have a “hustle” just as he does, and just as the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Shortly thereafter, Sudhir learns from JT that his new job as a higher-up in the BKs is the... (full context)
Chapter 8 – The Stay-Together Gang
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JT invites Sudhir to several of the BKs’ large-scale “gatherings” in the suburbs of Chicago, where gang leaders... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Sudhir attends a final party in Robert Taylor, sitting outside in the sun as he has... (full context)
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Sudhir learns that his dissertation and doctorate have earned him a job at Harvard as a... (full context)
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Sudhir meets with JT one evening in Ms. Mae’s apartment, and tells him that he’ll be... (full context)
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Sudhir recalls a meeting with JT in 1998, when they go out for dinner, and Sudhir... (full context)
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Sudhir reports to the reader that JT eventually moved into “legitimate” business and had “some money... (full context)