Synopses & Reviews
Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives family, relationships, jobs into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.
Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing. Goffman introduces us to an unforgettable cast of young African American men who are caught up in this web of warrants and surveillance some of them small-time drug dealers, others just ordinary guys dealing with limited choices. All find the web of presumed criminality, built as it is on the very associations and friendships that make up a life, nearly impossible to escape. We watch as the pleasures of summer-evening stoop-sitting are shattered by the arrival of a carful of cops looking to serve a warrant; we watch and can't help but be shocked as teenagers teach their younger siblings and cousins how to run from the police (and, crucially, to keep away from friends and family so they can stay hidden); and we see, over and over, the relentless toll that the presumption of criminality takes on families and futures.
While not denying the problems of the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, through her gripping accounts of daily life in the forgotten neighborhoods of America's cities, Goffman makes it impossible for us to ignore the very real human costs of our failed response the blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
"When University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist Goffman, at the time a sophomore college student, moved into a lower-income black neighborhood in Philadelphia, she began a six-year immersion in the swelling world of fugitives in America, where nearly five million people are on probation or parole. In her first book, Goffman offers an ethnographic account focusing on the impact of probation and parole practices on one community, where living under 'fear of capture and confinement' transforms lives. Opportunities for employment, access to medical care, and availability of housing are affected, and relationships are stressed by heavy surveillance, as well as by police threats and violence directed at people linked to former prisoners. Residents fashion ingenious coping methods: the bail office may serve as a bank; a hospital janitor may mend a broken arm; an underground economy provides essential documents. Though Goffman is white, this is markedly not a tale about a white woman in a black world; 'A Methodical Note,' appended to the text, details her gradual, intimate access to this community. This is a remarkable chronicle, informed by Goffman's scholarship, detailed from personal experience as 'participant observer,' and related with honesty and compassion." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Alice Goffman brings us right into the streets of Philadelphia and into the homes of the small-time hustlers, their girlfriends, and families. She shows us, at the same time, the long and destructive reach of the criminal justice system into the urban worlds of the black neighborhood she immersed herself in for nearly a decade. We meet a handful of vivid characters, undergo with them their scrapes on the street and their encounters with violence there, and come to feel in our bones, as these ghetto residents do, what the constant threat of arrest and incarceration feels like at the gut level. Goffman takes us also to jails, hospitals, and courts, and shows us how to identify undercover cops (by haircuts, car models, language), and how to run and hide when they're coming. The context is the 40-year federal War on Drugs and War on Crime, with their stronger sentencing guidelines and the ramping up of the number of police on the streets and number of arrests they make. The regime of policing involves high-tech surveillance, also the quotas the cops have to fulfill in making a given number of arrests, and what happens to you, the fugitive, when a warrant is issued (with addresses of all your associates, their homes subject to raids, making even hospitals and schools unsafe for people being tracked).
About the Author
Alice Goffman is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in Madison.
Table of Contents
1 The 6th Street Boys and Their Legal Entanglements
2 Techniques for Evading the Authorities
3 When the Police Knock Your Door In
4 Turning Legal Troubles into Personal Resources
5 The Social Life of Criminalized Young People
6 The Market in Protections and Privileges
7 Clean People
Conclusion: A Fugitive Community
Epilogue: Leaving 6th Street
Appendix: A Methodological Note