For decades, the American government has battled gang violence. Now, with an intensifying drug war along the Mexican-U.S. border, academics and think tanks are studying these deeply-rooted criminal entities and reshaping policy in the process.
A landmark street gang study arrived in 2000 from economist Steven D. Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. Their work from the University of Chicago, entitled “An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances,” used an innovative data set to deconstruct the economics of Chicago drug gangs. Both academics wrote best-selling books based on their findings and Venkatesh spent considerable time inside a Chicago street gang for his 2008 book, “Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets.” The result was a sea change in how the country is addressing street gangs.
Even fake academics are studying the issue. In the groundbreaking HBO series the Wire, a local academic uses a government grant to study street and drug culture at a Baltimore-area middle school.