American tragedy

HMD summarizes Goffman:

when Goffman began her acquaintance with Sixth Street, the half-brothers Chuck, Reggie, and Tim were 18, 15, and nine, respectively. All had different fathers by the same crack-addict mother, Miss Linda. Their Section 8–subsidized house reeked of vomit, alcohol, and urine; roaches and ants crawled over the inhabitants as well as the furniture; cat feces covered a kitchen corner. Chuck’s and Reggie’s arrest records had begun in their early teens; Tim would graduate from middle school to the juvenile courts when he turned 12. Fatherlessness is a virtually universal condition among the young men in Goffman’s tale, but gradations exist within it. Chuck’s father came around during his early years, which helps explain, says Chuck, “why [Chuck] knew right from wrong and his young brothers did not”—a poignant acknowledgment of the role of fathers in raising sons, even if its premise (that Chuck knows right from wrong) is questionable.

On Sixth Street, drug dealing is tantamount to a bourgeois occupation. Chuck complains that his middle brother, Reggie, lacks the patience for “making slow money selling drugs hand to hand.” Instead, Reggie favors armed robberies, to the admiration of his mother, Miss Linda. “He fearless,” she says. “A stone-cold gangster.” It would be a mistake, however, to think of drug dealing as a peaceful activity. Early on, a disgruntled supplier firebombs Chuck’s car. Chuck responds by shooting at the supplier’s home. In 2007, at the end of Goffman’s chronicle, Chuck is fatally shot in the head while standing outside a Chinese restaurant, one of three shootings that night in Philadelphia. The killer, Goffman writes, was “trying to make it at the bottom rung of a shrinking drug trade.”

Accompanying this drug-related violence is a more random violence that springs from dog-eat-dog exploitation and lack of impulse control. In an earlier incident, Goffman’s fourth main character, Mike, another crack dealer, is walking home one night with a large wad of cash from a dice game. An armed robber accosts him—presumably tipped off to Mike’s stash by the other players. Mike tries to pull his own gun but gets shot in the hip first. Several days later, Mike sees the gunman in a Buick and opens fire. Two days after that, Mike and his attacker drive past each other, guns blazing. Mike’s car takes seven bullets, and he starts wearing a bulletproof vest. During another dice game, a young thug from Sixth Street named Tino puts a gun to a fellow player’s head and demands his money. His target, Jay Jay, refuses, so Tino, who is high on PCP, kills him. Jay Jay’s fellow crew members take to driving up and down Sixth Street firing at residents. Chuck gets shot in the neck—this time, not fatally—and his friend Steve is hit in the thigh.

Ned, 43, supports himself in part by stealing credit cards and intercepting checks in the mail. When he and his girlfriend Jean, a crack addict, need money for property taxes, they lure a cousin of Reggie’s (Miss Linda’s second son) to their house with the promise of gossip about a former girlfriend. Waiting there is a man in a hoodie, who robs the cousin at gunpoint. The unintended punch line of the story: Ned and Jean also get income from working as foster-care parents

Rahe discusses the verboten 83% factor.

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