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 Americas most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young livesfamily, relationships, jobsinto 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 surveillancesome 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 watchand cant help but be shockedas 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 familiesand 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 responsethe blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
"Employing a 'sociological storytelling' method, Black, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, recounts the lives of three Puerto Rican brothers living in poor, gang-dominated Springfield, Mass., whom he befriended and followed for 18 years. The book is not so much about the brothers Julio, Fausto and Sammy and their friends as it is about the cultural and social forces and the economic and political policies that in the latter decades of the 20th century determined the boys' fates and the fates of thousands of others. Flawed bilingual education programs doomed them to virtual illiteracy, while harsh drug laws warehoused them in a rapidly expanding prison system. While the author provided concrete forms of assistance especially for the two younger brothers, who battled addiction the pull of the street as well as the inadequacy of their education led to failed or marginally productive lives, even for the motivated eldest son, Julio. Extensive references to sociological literature provide a scholarly framework for understanding the dynamics at work, but tend to interrupt the flow of the story." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Alice Goffman's On the Run is the best treatment I know of the wretched underside of neo-liberal capitalist America. Despite the social misery and fragmented relations, she gives us a subtle analysis and poignant portrait of our fellow citizens who struggle to preserve their sanity and dignity."
"This is a remarkable chronicle, informed by Goffman's scholarship, detailed from personal experience as 'participant observer,' and related with honesty and compassion."
"On the Run is riveting--a clear-headed and sobering account of the 'way it is' for too many of the nation's young black men who live in the killing fields called American cities. It reveals how the everyday lives of these men--their loved ones--are closely monitored and mined for evidence that is then used against them, exacerbating their alienation and fueling the prison-industrial complex. This brilliant book should be required reading for everyone, including President Obama, Congress, and public officials throughout the nation."
"On the Run tells, in gripping, hard-won detail, what its like to be trapped on the wrong side of the law with no way out--the situation of so many young Black Americans today. A brilliant fieldworker and a smart analyst of what she saw and heard, Goffman has made a lasting contribution to our understanding of the administration of the law, urban life and race relations, in a book you will never forget reading."
"By turns On the Run is heartbreaking and clear-eyed, sad and entangled. With rich ethnographic detail, Alice Goffman reveals the emotional arc of deceptively complex young lives that are criminalized daily in one Black neighborhood in Philadelphia. A triumphant achievement!"
“A remarkable feat of reporting.”
“This is a truly wonderful book that identifies the casualties of the war on drugs that extend beyond the prison walls. The punitive ghettoisation of the poor leaves few families untouched. The detail is incredible. The research is impeccable. Read it and weep."
"Extraordinary. . . . The best work of ethnography I have read in a very, very long time."
"An exceptional book. . . . Devastating."
"Powerful. . . . It's clear that Goffman didnt just research this book; she lived it. . . . Goffman has a gift for bringing to life the troubles and anxieties of ordinary people. . . . Invaluable. . . . A dramatic record of how race is still a key predictor of whether or not some young Americans will have a chance at a 'pursuit of happiness.'"
A WASHINGTON POST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
This provocative and compelling book examines how jobs, schools, the streets, and prisons have shaped the lives and choices of a generation of Puerto Rican youth at the turn of the twenty-first century.
At the center of this riveting account–based on an unprecedented eighteen-year study–are three engaging, streetwise brothers from Springfield, Massachusetts: Fausto, incarcerated for seven years and in and out of drug treatment, an insightful and sensitive street warrior playing on the edges of self-destruction; Julio, the family patriarch, a former gang member turned truck driver, fiercely loyal to his family and friends; and Sammy, a street maven, recovering drug addict, father of four, straddling two realms–the everyday world of low-wage work and the allure of the drug economy–as he shuttles between recovery and relapse.
Timothy Black spent years with the brothers and their parents, wives and girlfriends, extended family, coworkers, criminal partners, friends, teachers, lawyers, and case workers. He closely observed street life in Springfield, including the drug trade; schools and GED programs; courtrooms, prisons, and drug treatment programs; and the young men’s struggle for employment both on and off the books. The brothers, articulate and determined, speak for themselves, providing powerful testimony to the exigencies of life lived on the social and economic margins. The result is a singularly detailed and empathetic portrait of men who are often regarded with fear or simply rendered invisible by society.
With profound lessons regarding the intersection of social forces and individual choices, Black succeeds in putting a human face on some of the most important public policy issues of our time.
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 theyre 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
TIMOTHY BLACK is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, where he directs the Center for Social Research. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut.
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