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On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) [Kindle Edition]

Alice Goffman
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"This is a truly wonderful book that identifies the casualties of the war on drugs that extend beyond the prison walls.... The detail is incredible. The research is impeccable. Read it and weep." (Times Higher Education) "Extraordinary.... The best work of ethnography I have read in a very, very long time." (LSE Review of Books) "An exceptional book.... Devastating." (Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker) "A remarkable feat of reporting." (Alex Kotlowitz, New York Times Book Review)


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.


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5.0 von 5 Sternen Pflichtlektüre -auch in Europa 29. Juni 2014
Von Xenia K.
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Sehr gutes Buch! Es macht einen traurig, es zu lesen, aber es bleibt eine bemerkenswerte Arbeit über das Leben in Stadtvierteln, die auch heute von allen öffentlichen Institutionen im Stich gelassen worden sind.
War diese Rezension für Sie hilfreich?
Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.2 von 5 Sternen  74 Rezensionen
21 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A passionate, profoundly insightful and disturbing book... 7. Mai 2014
Von Thomas Ball - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Goffman's book is a triumphant tour de force on multiple levels. She eloquently describes her gradual and life-transforming process from a naive, Caucasian undergrad into total immersion in the subculture, families and lives of a roughly five block neighborhood of inner city Philadelphia in the 10 years ending in 2012. Her commitment to the people that form the core of this book goes way beyond anything I've ever read or even heard about. Among this book's many strengths is the uncompromising candor and honesty she brings to bear in documenting her questionable status as an educated, white girl in a male dominated, urban black street culture. But the book isn't about her, a point she makes quite forcefully in a riveting methodological section, and the strongest testimony for this fact is the extent to which she was able to successfully assimilate, blend in and not become the focus of or change the ongoing behaviors, dynamics and tragedy of the lives of the people in her research. At least, based on her scrupulous reporting, it seems that way.

Her key themes are highly political, controversial and shocking to most of us living in the bubble that is mainstream America. She describes the day-to-day lives of an alternate society consisting to a significant degree of young fugitives, "on the run" from a social and legal structure that officially espouses neoliberal principles of equal opportunities for all while instituting a stunningly punitive judicial system that is guilty of blindly disenfranchising, imprisoning and oppressing significant numbers of black youth. In her view, this is nothing less than an updated version of racism, segregation and apartheid -- a horrifying American Gulag Archipelago. Based on the evidence, this is an accurate and compelling statement.

The controversy, of course, revolves around the appropriateness of the social responses to the riots of the 60s, the culture of murder and violence spawned by the demand for a hugely profitable, illicit drug trade in the 70s and 80s, enactment of harsh, Rockefeller-type anti-drug legislation, "James Q Wilson" enforcement of so-called "squeegee" laws for minor infractions of social codes, the racist profiling in routine stop and search sweeps that disproportionately target minorities. After all, it could be worse, right? We could be as paralyzed by drug cartels and corruption as countries like Mexico. Among the many disconnections that form the background to this book is the fact that there are millions of illegal aliens struggling and working -- WORKING -- in a vast underground economy which systematically excludes the subjects of her story.

These are definitely minority opinions in the current zeitgeist. The fact is, however, that you would have to be a complete ignoramus not to know of the astounding rate of incarceration and imprisonment in this country - which in 2014 stands at 3% of the adult population. And that's just those currently in the prison system. If the numbers of people ever imprisoned for a felony at least once in their lives are included, the rate jumps by a lot more. Today, more people are in jail in this country on a per capita basis than were ever imprisoned in Stalin's gulags or are imprisoned in North Korea's penal system. This should not be a source of pride for any American.

Books like Goffman's will serve to solidly anchor the ongoing debate regarding the dysfunctions, dislocations and gross social inequities inherent in these policies. Fortunately, it's not hard to envision a time when her minority opinions will diffuse into the opinion held by the majority. It should go without saying that if the inherent talent and brains in this dispossessed subculture were put to work in a socially profitable manner, the economic multipliers would be worth billions, if not trillions over the long run.

Easier said than done.
32 von 39 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen fascinating and infuriating 28. Mai 2014
Von D - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I am incredibly impressed by the personal sacrifice the author made for her research. Her drive and compulsion takes her deep into a culture few of us can relate to. She writes with refreshingly simple and clear language (especially considering her association with Cornel West).

I found the meat of the book, however, to be incredibly frustrating. All of the criminal actions of her subjects felt like they were described in the passive voice. The police acted to inflict pain and punishment. The "boys" were victims.

I kept wondering about her conclusions of cause and effect and whether she could have gained some insight if she hadn't blown off her statistics class. There are lots of descriptive statistics about percentages of minorities in the criminal justice system (all well trodden ground), but no attempt to quantitatively untangle the cycle of violence, police response, more violence, more response, etc. To me, this is the core of the issue. Maybe that is work for others, but it requires some note if her conclusions are to have clout.

Stockholm syndrome was always on my mind as I read the book. For the first half I felt like she had fallen in too deep with her subjects which led her to conclude that the boys were the victims, despite their continuous criminal actions. By the end, I became more convinced that it was her academic environment that clouded her conclusions.

Her descriptions of her personal experiences and those of the "clean" were beyond compelling and were more honest (by my reading) than the main part of the book that focused on the sociological conclusions. Her work chronicling of the "clean" and "decent" was inspiring. The writing on her personal experiences kept me up late at night.
18 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen An on the ground look at those On the Run 3. Mai 2014
Von Martin Zook - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
On the Run is an on-the-ground authentic look at an emblematic neighborhood in Philly where more than half the men at some point have a warrant out for their arrest, causing them to be on the run. On the run from the police. On the run from parole officers. On the run from the courts. On the run from girlfriends. On the run from those who would use their vulnerability to victimize them.

This is the world behind the statistical sketch Alice Goffman paints in her preface. Briefly, the US locks up five to nine times more people than western Europe. More than in Russia, or China, excluding Stalin's reign. And it's the Black communities suffering the brunt.

Blacks, who make up 13% of the population, account for 37% of the prison population. 10% of black men are behind bars compared with 1% for whites. 60% of Blacks who do not finish high school will go to prison.

All of this is well known, and has been known for more than three decades. What Goffman does is bring the reader face to face with people caught in this cycle. She follows a group of young men in whose neighborhood she lived and shared their lives for six years while a student.

She introduces us to Chuck. His predicament with the law begins after a scuffle on the playground in high school. It sets in motion the cycle described in the statistics above. He does time for it. Upon release, he's denied re-admittance to high school because he's turned 19. A chippy arrest follows for failing to appear in court. Chuck is on the run.

There is an art to running. Chapter one begins with Chuck teaching his 12-year-old brother how to run: not to a relative's house - the cops armed with enhanced technology know places the refugee frequents. It's to a church lady's house ultimately. In addition to Chuck, Goffman introduces us to four other friends with legal entanglements. It's these entanglements and the subsequent running from them that form the warp and weave of their world, and the world of their families.

Running from the police is an art that according to Goffman resulted in 58% of the men succeeding in eluding the police despite the fact that the enforcement officers devote up to five squad cars in one instance to pick up one suspect on a minor charge.More than 70% of the time, the police had no idea who it was they were chasing in instances where the target escaped.

Running requires the ability to spot police well in advance.

For those who have done time and report to a parole officer, running from the parole officer also becomes an issue. In a quite humorous anecdote, Goffman recounts the instance of Jevon, a born natural actor, who develops a business on the side by taking curfew calls from parole officers. In addition to parroting his client's voice, he is briefed on identifying information the parole officer requests to ensure he has the right subject. It may seem like a lot of trouble to go to, but the penalty for missing curfew in the chippy world of law enforcement in the Black community is two years.

The author herself is caught up and subjected to what might be considered enhanced interrogation. It's what the women of men on the lam suffer, midnight raids with their living quarters turned upside down and subjection to intimidation to reveal the whereabouts of their sons.

Of course, those caught up in these legal entanglements cannot go to the law for protection or to register grievances. Others know this and take advantage. In once instance, a boy's car is torched because he's late in making a payment to a drug dealer. In another, one of the boys is mistaken for someone else and beaten severely suffering injuries that have been with him into his adult life. He refused medical treatment at the hospital because a parole violation would be filed against him for curfew violation.

In one instance, however, the boys in the hood sought the protection of incarceration by turning themselves in to the law to avoid a shooting war that broke out. One even asked his parole officer for a urine test he knew he would fail.

This is well worth the read to better understand the numbers that are all too familiar.
8 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen 2.5 Stars 28. September 2014
Von Read-A-Lot - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I approached this book with a heavy dose of suspicion. Who gets a book contract, based on their undergraduate thesis? That is almost unheard of. And unfortunately my suspicions were indeed warranted. My fear was the look at black life from the base of pathology. She obviously anticipated some of these concerns, she writes in the introduction, "The appendix recounts the research on which this work is based, along with some personal reflection about the practical and ethical dilemmas of a middle-class white young woman reporting on the experiences of poor Black young men and women."

Her thesis is based on the lives of young black men caught up in the criminal justice system in a black community in Philadelphia,PA and how that impacts not only their own lives, but the lives of family and community members as well. She becomes completely immersed in the community, and her goal is to become a fly on the wall. "Blending into the background became an obsession." On some occasions this works, and in other situations not so much. This method however skates the ethical line.

At times the book reads like a memoir, she attempts to become a honorary member of the community dubbed "6th St." The numerous times she documents clear cases of police brutality yet remains silent because the community seems unconcerned and there is not a lot of conversation around the event. Well, had she done some historical studying about policing in Philadelphia, she would have been well aware of the sordid and brutal history of the Philly PD, concerning the black residents, and what seems to her like apathy could indeed be fatigue, fear and a historical understanding of how reporting police brutality often leads to more of the same.

So, she is writing from a place of privilege, while attempting to act as though she is organic to the community. To her credit she acknowledges this privilege. "People have asked how I 'negotiated my privilege' while conducting fieldwork. Given that I am a white woman who comes from an educated and well-off family, this is a good question. In fact, I had more privilege than whiteness, education, and wealth: my father was a prominent sociologist and fieldworker."

While this method doesn't completely derail the book, it does dent the project somewhat. The undented parts allow us to see how a simple arrest, can lead to a life diminished by law enforcement. ..."Though the crimes that start them off in the penal system are often crimes of which richer young men, both Black and white, are also guilty: fighting, drug possession, and the like." This is a worthy exposition, and one I think we all sometimes lose sight of. "Thus, the great paradox of a highly punitive approach to crime control is that it winds up criminalizing so much of daily life as to foster widespread illegality as people work to circumvent it. Intensive policing and the crime it intends to control become mutually reinforcing. The extent to which crime elicits harsh policing, or policing itself contributes to a climate of violence and illegality, becomes impossible to sort out."

I wanted to go 2.5 stars, but not possible, so 2 it is.
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen A Stereotypical Account of Life in a Black Community 7. Januar 2015
Von Zelda - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Growing up in Brooklyn and familiar with the struggles of an inner city, I really wanted to like this book. But it reads more like a dissertation and removes the reader from hearing Goffman's authorial voice. The structure of the book is quite cumbersome to read and very choppy--there are paragraphs full on conclusions and random dialogue between characters sprinkled throughout the book. Goffman is also very repetitive--repetitive to the point that paragraphs seem to be copied and pasted in different sections throughout the book. I have read about Miss Linda's roach-infested house at least five times. Rather than mentioning trivial details, she chooses to constantly repeat them.

I give her credit for immersing herself in a neighborhood foreign to her, but the book does not reveal anything more than her observations. The reader does not get to know the author, her own thoughts, her reactions, etc. She witnesses police beatings and even two murders--yet there is virtually no inner reflection. Also, the main characters--Chuck and Mike--as well as the supporting ones are painted as one-dimensional characters. As a reader, I wanted to learn more about Mike and Chuck instead of cloaking them as the stereotypical drug-dealing convicts. I wanted to know more about Miss Linda, other than her crack addiction, roach infested house, and the fact that her three sons have three different fathers. These descriptions reinforce the stereotype of black communities. I am sure there is more to these characters than what she chose to include.
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