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The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream

Randol Contreras
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Stickup Kids
    Book Description:

    Randol Contreras came of age in the South Bronx during the 1980s, a time when the community was devastated by cuts in social services, a rise in arson and abandonment, and the rise of crack-cocaine. For this riveting book, he returns to the South Bronx with a sociological eye and provides an unprecedented insider's look at the workings of a group of Dominican drug robbers. Known on the streets as "Stickup Kids," these men raided and brutally tortured drug dealers storing large amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and cash. As a participant observer, Randol Contreras offers both a personal and theoretical account for the rise of the Stickup Kids and their violence. He mainly focuses on the lives of neighborhood friends, who went from being crack dealers to drug robbers once their lucrative crack market opportunities disappeared. The result is a stunning, vivid, on-the-ground ethnographic description of a drug robbery's violence, the drug market high life, the criminal life course, and the eventual pain and suffering experienced by the casualties of the Crack Era. Provocative and eye-opening,The Stickup Kidsurges us to explore the ravages of the drug trade through weaving history, biography, social structure, and drug market forces. It offers a revelatory explanation for drug market violence by masterfully uncovering the hidden social forces that produce violent and self-destructive individuals. Part memoir, part penetrating analysis, this book is engaging, personal, deeply informed, and entirely absorbing.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95357-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    By the early 1990s, the South Bronx had changed. On my visits home from an upstate community college, I noticed that more and more neighborhoods had dried up. The “crackheads” and “crack whores” were gone, along with the drug peddlers who had barked:Red Top! Gold Top! I got Blue!Someone had cleaned the streets, dusting the drug dealers and drug users off the planet, leaving the South Bronx a ghost town.Coño, que pasó?

    Eventually, my sociological interests landed me at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Since I still lived in the South Bronx,...


    • ONE The Rise of the South Bronx and Crack
      (pp. 35-55)

      The bronx is a land of steep hills, green parks, and elegant architecture. The borough is slightly smaller in square mileage than Boston, but with over 1.3 million residents, it has almost two and half times its population. Still, it is only New York City’s fourth most populated borough, coming ahead of just Staten Island.¹ The Bronx is also the only borough attached to the mainland; Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island—water separates them all. The land borders Long Island Sound to the east, the East River to the southeast, the Harlem River to the west, and the county of...

    • TWO Crack Days: GETTING PAID
      (pp. 56-71)

      Gus, who was twenty-five years old, was born in the South Bronx. His mother, Regina, had emigrated from the Dominican Republic with her first two children, Sylvio and Maribel. In the D.R., she was a small-time entrepreneur, selling homemade candy and cooked food from a street cart. After her husband died in a car accident, Regina moved to the United States for better work.

      When she arrived during the early 1970s, Regina moved in with her sister, into a cramped apartment in the South Bronx. Like other Dominican immigrants, she immediately found employment in a sweatshop and worked long hours...

      (pp. 72-86)

      In my neighborhood, stories about Rikers abounded, mostly about how jail house wolves welcomed new detainees by robbing them of their jewelry and sneakers (“Welcome to the ‘Rock’ ”). The most attention-grabbing stories (which had us laughing nervously under the streetlight) were about how the wolves eyed the new guy, how he cried as he made his entrance, how he cried again as he went to bed. Sensing a lamb, the wolves dishonored him, made him the jail house sex. So, as soon as you entered the jail, the Rikers veterans advised us, you had tohit the first motha’...

      (pp. 87-104)

      In a broad sense, Pablo, Gus, Tukee, Manolo, and I were part of what I call the “tail enders.” We were squeezed between the crack era generation and the marijuana/blunts era generation.¹ (“Blunts” refers to marijuana in cigar wrappings.) The crack era generation had come of age during the early to mid-1980s, the onset and peak years, when it was more likely to produce committed crack users or profitable crack dealers.² The marijuana/blunts era generation was younger, coming up during the mid-1990s. Its young people witnessed the horrors of crack and repudiated its use, making their drugs of choice marijuana...

    • FIVE Crack is Dead
      (pp. 105-114)

      1994–1997. The hustle and bustle of the Bronx drug world had quieted, almost disappeared. Beepers and cell phones replaced brazen street dealers. Profits were down; corporate-style earnings, gone. New crack dealers were in for a big surprise. No customers. Crack had stopped its rumble, settled into a deep sleep.¹ Times had changed.

      While Gus was doing his prison bid in New Jersey, Pablo made one bad business move after another. He was not alone. Most of the crack dealers I knew were also doing poorly and complaining about low sales. Yet the heroin dealers in the area were experiencing...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)

    • SIX The Girl
      (pp. 117-135)

      Melissa shuddered visibly as she reflected on her drug robbery role. “Afterwards, I was like, ‘Arrggh!’ ” Melissa said, breaking into a laugh. “I kissed aviejoin the lips and all that. Arghhh!” Sensing her disgust, I asked if she would do it again.

      “Yeah,” Melissa said, smiling.

      “Why?” I asked, surprised.

      “Why not? For the money. It’s easy and fast.” We laughed.

      I was in Julio’s apartment, listening to Melissa’s accounts of Saturday night’s drug robbery. We sat in his bedroom, which was neat, but with old linoleum covering the floor. Melissa, who spoke in a low, calm...

    • SEVEN Getting the Shit
      (pp. 136-150)

      Around 5:30 a.m. a pitch-dark apartment in the South Bronx.

      Gus and David, each with a gun, wait silently on either side of the apartment door. Several moments later, the building’s hallway light shines through as the door opens from outside. Melissa and the dealer enter, shutting the door behind them. It is dark again. Gus suddenly smacks the dealer across the neck, grabs him with both hands, and pulls him down to the floor.

      “Yo, don’t move, motherfucka!” Gus says, angrily.

      “Que lo que pasa? [What’s happening?]” asks the bewildered dealer.

      As David holds a gun to the dealer’s...

    • EIGHT Drug Robbery Torture
      (pp. 151-175)

      After reading the accounts of violence presented here, readers might have one of two alarmed reactions. The first:These men are sociopaths who gain fulfillment through inflicting physical and emotional harm. Even if they are drug market participants, there must be a self-selection process. Not anyone can inflict pain so ruthlessly, so mercilessly. They must have been born that way. These men are monsters. (This was the response from some non-academics in casual talks about my work). The second:Like most minorities, these men are bound up in an inner-city culture of violence. Thus, violence is socially inscribed in their...

    • NINE Splitting the Profits
      (pp. 176-190)

      One late summer night, Gus, Pablo, Dee, Neno, David, Topi, and I hung out by the public stairwell. Some of us drank liquor and others smoked weed. The neighborhoodbodegahad closed for the night, so the weed smokers sent a local “weed head,” Joey, to another store for some “munchies.” When he returned, Pablo harassed him.

      “Damn, bro, where the hell did you go?” Pablo asked Joey, angrily. “Did you go to fuckin’ Japan or some shit?”

      “I went to 167 [street],” answered Joey, in a low voice.

      “Yo, I swear that shit felt like ten hours ago....

    • TEN Living the Dream: LIFE AFTER A DRUG ROBBERY
      (pp. 191-202)

      After getting his share, Gus drove back to his uncle’s apartment, where he was staying. He weighed the stashed drugs on his scale. Two hundred grams. Sixteen thousand dollars.Yo!But not so fast. Gus needed to find buyers, which wasn’t so easy. For help, he told Julio about the hidden drugs and offered him half the earnings for what ever he sold. Julio agreed. Now both searched for dealers willing to buy large amounts of drugs.

      The cocaine found a quick buyer, a small-time dealer agreeing to buy it at twenty dollars a gram. However, the dealer did not...


    • ELEVEN Fallen Stars
      (pp. 205-234)

      Gus was in the Dominican Republic when he received the call. He had gone back to the island to clear his head. Now Pablo urged him to get on a plane and come back to the Bronx.I need you for a job that’s easy,Pablo told him.

      When Gus arrived, Pablo informed him about how Willie had “fucked up” an earlier robbery. Now they targeted the same drug dealer; they planned to confront him on the street and snatch his briefcase, which carried one hundred and forty-seven thousand dollars. The informant, who had set up his business partner—his...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-242)

    The crack era was (to paraphrase Charles Dickens) indeed the best of times, the worst of times—the age of power and respect, the age of violence and self-destruction. It was the hour of instant bliss and riches; it was the hour of panic, confusion, and doom. We had the world right before us, the world was no longer before us, we reveled in the season of hope, we anguished in the season of despair. It was the most crucial point of our lives.

    And more than a decade later, members of the crack era generation are still recuperating from...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 243-266)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 267-271)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)