Family or a Business? History

This stated, “Black Kings brothers must join as one to resist the oppression that faces all black youth. With this oath you have found a new family, a brotherhood that will always be with you” (Venhatesh & Levitt, 2000, p. 439).


One of the most interesting facets of Venhatesh and Levitts (2000) research is their unique access to the financial records of the Black Kings, for four years. This research positions gangs beyond simple criminal actors and instead sees them as outlaw corporatists. Furthermore, credit is given to the complexities of Chicagos street gangs. These are not only the loosely connected groups of hooligans often associated with gangs, but instead these are well-run, highly organized groups that are excellent examples of the changes that were being made in American businesses. Hierarchical administration, rational management procedures, and increased attention to revenues and profit margins shed light on the modern street gang as a force very similar to mainstream corporations. As such, their presence too not only shapes the members involved in the organization, but also the communities and society as well. This is in contrast to much of the past research that has focused on how street gangs are in contrast to social norms. However, in the rise of the capitalistic gangs, one sees an echo of the same transformation in organizational process happening in American business.

The authors effectively describe the metamorphoses of Chicago-land gangs from primarily social groups of individuals, that considered themselves family and sometimes worked together to conduct illegal operations, into mirrors of some of the most effective American corporations.

Crack cocaine was the catalyst of this evolution and organizational alignment. In addition, crack was much more affordable than cocaine, especially for the gangs primary marketing demographic – other community members in their poverty stricken neighborhoods. Where cocaine was often $100 per gram, a bag of crack often cost between $5 and $10. This turned illegal drugs into a high-volume market that required multiple trade sites. Again, the product, crack cocaine, would further facilitate the transformation of the gangs. The distribution challenges required gangs to become more organized. This is much like how American corporations have had to reorganize to meet the changing distribution needs of their markets. Like successful corporations, the Black Knights were successful where other gangs were not due to their ability to take a disparate group of socially delinquent individuals and harness their differing ideologies into a cohesive force. Even the challenge of determining whether or not gang members were still brothers or competitors is felt in corporations today, with companies having to find a careful balance between cooperation and competition with other organizations in the same industry.


Venkatesh, S. & Leviit, S. (2000). “Are we a family or a business? History and.

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