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by Peter Moskos

April 18, 2008

In the Economist

I'm quoted prominently in an excellent article about Baltimore in the current Economist. But it's a real shame he didn't plug my book (Cop in the Hood). Or my school (John Jay College of Criminal Justice). But it is still a very good article.

A big problem for the police (and more so for respectable ghetto residents) is the unfortunate truth that for many young men, gangster culture is alluring. Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered, drug-dealing is not a bad job, says Peter Moskos, a sociologist who spent a year as a policeman in Baltimore's eastern district. You hang out with your friends. People “respect” (ie, fear) you. You project glamour. You get laid.

You also become otherwise unemployable, says Mr Moskos. To survive on the street, you learn to react violently and pre-emptively to the slightest challenge. This is a useful trait for a drug-dealer, but, oddly, managers at Starbucks do not value it.


Civil libertarians argue that America punishes non-violent drug offenders far too harshly. Mr Moskos reckons that, at least in Baltimore, the people jailed for drug possession are usually violent dealers whose more serious crimes cannot be proven or whose plea bargains have been accepted by an over-burdened judicial system. He thinks drugs should be legalised, though, because their prohibition fuels a criminal economy where disputes are settled violently.


Melvin Stankass said...

I notice you are fond of the term "ghetto". Being a lifelong Baltimore resident and a member of the BPD most of my adult years, I am a little bit disappointed by your liberal use of that term. I have ordered the book and do plan to offer an unbiased review. Prof or no - I pounded a lot of foot on Pennsylvania Avenue, "played" in the Gilmor Homes after burglars and the like - but I never felt the compulsion to refer to the area as the "ghetto". I met a lot more fine upstanding folks than criminal ilk in the area.

PCM said...


Thank you for this comment. I address the use of my term "ghetto" in Cop in the Hood. I even sort of apologize for it.

I know the term is offensive to many people. I know the term isn’t accurate. But I use the term because it was the term used by all my squadmates and many (but by no means all) of those I policed.

I make the distinction, as I assume you do, between "ghetto" as a geographic area and "ghetto" as a class term. I subscribe to the latter. I believe there is much, if not most, in the geographic ghetto that is not culturally ghetto (and vice versa is also true).

But if you believe that there is such a thing as the “ghetto,” I think it's safe to say that much of Sector Two in the Eastern District qualifies.

Please do read my book (and thanks for buying it). I really would like to hear your comments and thoughts after reading it.