A renowned scholar takes his pedigree to the ’hood.
“The image that’s most impressive to me is that of teens and 20-year-olds selling drugs in the shadows of the factories that employed their parents and grandparents,” says Bourgois.
He’s been surprised by the preponderance of high-quality powder cocaine on the streets of North Philly—he says even today, in other cities most powder coke users have money, and that poorer folks still mainly smoke crack, although America’s pipers are aging (“Young people don’t see crack as cool, they look down on you for smoking it”).
The young favor heroin and its synthetic-pill cousins, he says, adding that he’s sometimes startled by the ages of customers visiting the corners he studies.
“They’re young and they’re white. Some don’t even look like they’re out of high school.”
Asked for a representative anecdote from his two years of participant observation in North Philly’s drug culture, Bourgois recalls a hot summer afternoon when a long line of addicts, many with badly scabbed arms, waited patiently to turn in their dirty works and be handed new ones at a mobile Prevention Point needle-exchange outlet.
“Suddenly, a dealer runs by yelling, ‘Free samples!’ and yelling brand names of powder cocaine,” he says. “Some of these people had been waiting a long time, but the line emptied just like that. Everybody took off running after the guy, but soon they came back all furious. The free samples were all gone.” ■