Category Archives: University Of Chicago Press

The Demon in the Machine – Paul Davies


The Demon in the Machine

How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life

Paul Davies

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $17.99

Publish Date: October 16, 2019

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Seller: Chicago Distribution Center

What is life? For generations, scientists have struggled to make sense of this fundamental question, for life really does look like magic: even a humble bacterium accomplishes things so dazzling that no human engineer can match it. Huge advances in molecular biology over the past few decades have served only to deepen the mystery. In this penetrating and wide-ranging book, world-renowned physicist and science communicator Paul Davies searches for answers in a field so new and fast-moving that it lacks a name; it is a domain where biology, computing, logic, chemistry, quantum physics, and nanotechnology intersect. At the heart of these diverse fields, Davies explains, is the concept of information: a quantity which has the power to unify biology with physics, transform technology and medicine, and force us to fundamentally reconsider what it means to be alive—even illuminating the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe. From life’s murky origins to the microscopic engines that run the cells of our bodies, The Demon in the Machine journeys across an astounding landscape of cutting-edge science. Weaving together cancer and consciousness, two-headed worms and bird navigation, Davies reveals how biological organisms garner and process information to conjure order out of chaos, opening a window onto the secret of life itself. Electronic rights 50/50 Ebook notes:  The Publishers will not knowingly or systematically sell or allow downloads of the Electronic Edition outside the Territory. The Electronic Edition shall not be enhanced, amplified, adapted, abridged, bundled or combined with any other work/s nor vary from the Print Edition in any material way without the prior written approval of the Proprietor. For the avoidance of doubt, the right to sell or distribute the Electronic Edition via any digital subscription service is not permitted under this Agreement.

Link – 

The Demon in the Machine – Paul Davies

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Invoking Immigrant-Induced Mayhem, Sessions Announces Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

Mother Jones

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has set his sights on a new target: sanctuary cities and counties. In a guest appearance at Monday’s White House press briefing, Sessions announced that the Justice Department will begin cracking down on state and local governments that do not help the administration identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Painting a picture of violence perpetrated by “aliens,” Sessions announced that the department will punish sanctuary jurisdictions by withholding federal grants.

“Today, I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws,” he said. “The Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with US Code 1373 as a condition for receiving those awards.” Sessions’ announcement comes as several mayors have expressed an unwillingness to use local police forces to help detain and deport undocumented immigrants. According to Sessions, the Justice Department issues more than $4 billion in grants each year that would be subject to the new restrictions.

Sessions announcement is in keeping with an executive order President Donald Trump signed in January mandating the withholding of federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. Sessions added that the department would seek to “claw back” grants to localities that later appear to willfully violate the law. The statute Sessions referred to, 8 US Code 1373, prohibits government officials from restricting communications between a government agency and immigration enforcement about the immigration status of any individual. But the language in the statute is vague, and it’s unclear if the federal government can force local law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement, a situation that will likely lead to court challenges to Trump’s executive order and Sessions’ new policy.

In his remarks, Sessions depicted undocumented immigrants as a violent scourge—raping, murdering, and sexually abusing children. “Countless Americans would be alive today and countless loved ones would not be grieving today if these policies of sanctuary cities were ended,” he said. That characterization is in line with the president’s critical language about immigrants, and last week, at Trump’s direction, Immigration and Customs Enforcement published its first weekly list of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities. But the depiction is misleading, since immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes.

Sessions’ remarks also ignore the academic literature showing that sanctuary cities improve public safety by increasing trust and communication between immigrant communities and law enforcement. As three researches noted in a Los Angeles Times op-ed recently, “Sanctuary jurisdictions—39 cities and 364 counties across the country have policies that limit local law enforcement’s involvement in enforcing federal immigration laws—increase public safety.” They noted a study published last year by the University of Chicago Press in which a majority of 750 police chiefs and sheriffs across the country expressed opposition to using local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. Other studies have also found lower crime rates in sanctuary jurisdictions.

One thing that is likely to hurt public safety, however, is withholding federal grants that help fund law enforcement.


Invoking Immigrant-Induced Mayhem, Sessions Announces Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

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One Bold Way to Blow Up the College Debt Nightmare

Mother Jones

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In 2008, sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab began studying a group of 3,000 students as they entered public universities in Wisconsin. For six years, she tracked how financial aid affected their college experiences and whether it would help them graduate. The results were stunning: Even with aid, half the students dropped out of school, often because they couldn’t afford to keep studying. Less than 1 in 5 earned a degree in four years.

A four-year college degree is one of the most important predictors of economic success: Americans who have one earn an average of 98 percent more per hour than those who don’t. But how much should students pay for this piece of paper? In her new book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, Goldrick-Rab argues that for most families, it’s become financially unmanageable to send a kid to college. Poorer families are hit the hardest: the poorest quarter of households can spend up to 84 percent of annual income on college bills, with little guarantee of return.

University of Chicago Press

The sociologist from Temple University thinks it’s time to overhaul how we handle financial aid. “The system is broken in so many ways that we need to stop trying to save it,” she tells me. She advocates a “first-degree free” approach, where all students—regardless of their family’s income—can earn at least an associate’s degree without paying a cent of tuition; in her model, financial aid, no longer earmarked for tuition costs, could help students from low-income families cover the additional costs of living while they finish their degree. I caught up with Goldrick-Rab to hear about the biggest surprises of her research, her advice for college students, and her thoughts on Donald Trump’s education plan.

Mother Jones: You followed these students for six years. What stood out to you?

Sara Goldrick-Rab: A lot of people talk about student loans with regard to how things are after you finish college, such as the challenges of repaying debt. But they don’t talk about the fact that people are so worried about debt even while they’re still in college. Watching people go without enough food to eat because they’re afraid to take out a loan, or decide to not go abroad or not hang out with friends because they’re so worried about what will happen—that to me says that we’ve changed what college is.

MJ: How so?

SGR: Well, it’s always been the case that you go to college and you get a fair bit of choice in deciding where you’re going to go, what you’re going to study and how you want to set that up. And the thing that distinguishes one choice from another is your ability—how intelligent you are and how hard you want to work. Increasingly, that’s not true. What distinguishes you and your choices is your income.

MJ: You say in the book that it’s sort of a failure of the American dream.

SGR: Well, it’s a betrayal. We tell people that the way to get ahead in life is through education, but then we only give them educational options that are unaffordable and end up shoving them backward. Imagine going to college and ending up with debt and no degree. That’s a betrayal.

MJ: Half the students in the study dropped out. Was that a surprise?

SGR: It’s aligned with national figures, so on the one hand, it’s not that surprising. But numbers like that still surprise you when you see that students were doing most things right—they were trying to go to class, they were interested in school, they were working and taking on debt and doing all the things that we tell them to do. And they still didn’t get a degree.

MJ: Do you know what happened after they dropped out?

SGR: We stopped collecting data for the most part in 2014. We have enough information to recontact them, but contacting people in a study like this is very expensive. They’re probably around 25 or 26 years old now. What I really want to know is how they view their own education now—whether they think it was worth it, and whether they plan to send their own kids to college.

MJ: They might have so much debt that they won’t.

SGR: Exactly. Or such a bad taste in their mouths.

MJ: So why is college financial aid so broken?

SGR: The first reason is that it tries so hard to figure out who needs what and who doesn’t deserve money. Think about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It introduces all kinds of bureaucracies that alienate people. It also leaves out the constituency that’s needed to make it politically viable: the middle class. It makes it a program for poor people—and programs for poor people are poor programs. It doesn’t have a broad base support, which means it’s perpetually underfunded. The other thing is that, in the FAFSA’s effort to decide who gets what, it uses a bunch of fake numbers that don’t mean much. It produces the “expected family contribution,” a number that doesn’t even consider the family’s debt. The FAFSA also relies on prices for tuition and living costs that are set up by colleges with no assessment of whether they’re accurate. So if a college says it costs $10,000 a year to attend, well, that’s all you can get. If a college says it costs $30,000, you might be encouraged to take loans up to an amount that would be ridiculous to repay. So they overstate and understate the actual cost of college.

MJ: You point out that there’s no federal authority that requires states to make colleges affordable, and since the 1980s states have slowly decreased their funding for public schools, leaving families to take on more costs. College is much more expensive than before, but, as you note, the proportion of state budgets going to higher education is about the same today as it was in 1966.

SGR: Right. The whole federal system is based on the assumption that states would also help out, but they didn’t do anything to encourage states to do that. I don’t know what the federal government was thinking when they put trust in states in the beginning.

Sara Goldrick-Rab Chris Kendig

MJ: So what’s the way out of all this?

SGR: The way out is to build a different type of system. We can do some small things, such as expanding the federal work-study program so students can have more jobs on campus, or making sure that when students file for financial aid, they can get information about other benefits available to them. But we better be working on a system that more effectively lowers the price of college for a lot more people. Doing that requires focusing on the public sector. We need to have a conversation about whether we’re going to continue funding private colleges and universities when we’re underfunding public ones. I wish more people realized every time they see a commercial on TV for the University of Phoenix that they are funding those universities. I don’t think most Americans have a clue how much they’re spending on private education.

MJ: What do you think of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s education plans?

SGR: Donald Trump has talked about taking the federal government out of making student loans, and I think it’s very dangerous.* We actually just started making student loans from the federal government about six years ago. If we stopped doing that and let banks do it instead, taxpayers will end up with a lot more wasted money. Note: Though Trump’s policy director has mentioned this plan, Trump has not mentioned it during campaign speeches, calling instead for increased federal and state funding for students to attend either public or private schools.

Hillary Clinton’s plan is a decent step in the right direction. I would like to see it be a little more focused. Debt is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. All the talk right now is about making college debt-free, but I’d rather see a strong, clear message of making college tuition free and putting support in to cover living expenses for those who need it.

MJ: Wasn’t one of the main criticisms of debt-free college that if we make college tuition free for all families with an income under $125,000, it would actually hurt poor students and help more affluent ones?

SGR: This is driving me crazy. In order to make good policy, we need to stop counting who gets what dollars and think in terms of who gets what benefits. Think of it this way: Right now, there are students who don’t go to college because the current financial aid system is so underfunded, so in the current system, they get nothing. That’s Person 1. Person 2 is going to college, and they’re not getting a full Pell Grant, so the tuition is not covered. They’re probably from a middle-income family. If we make college tuition-free, then two things happen. First, the person who’s already going to college is going to see tuition costs eliminated and we will have given them some money for living expenses. Some people think that we shouldn’t give them that money because they already go to college, but they’re missing that these students are not always finishing college—the small subsidies could go a long way to help. Second, the person who doesn’t currently go to college, if he gets money, he comes into the new system—he gets to come to college.

The idea that tuition-free college is going to only benefit the upper-middle class ignores the huge benefits to the lower-middle class. The other thing is that we can count on the wealthy to go to private schools. Hillary Clinton said when she was debating Bernie Sanders that she didn’t want Donald Trump’s kids to benefit from free college…But we really don’t have to worry about it: Donald Trump is not going to suddenly send his kids to public schools.

MJ: You said you were surprised by the study. Did you have an emotional reaction?

SGR: It’s totally distressing. These are actual people to me. I know some of them still. Some of them I’m in regular touch with.

MJ: What would you tell a student who is facing some of these struggles?

SGR: I would tell them that the struggles they’re facing are happening to lots of people. I know it doesn’t solve anything for them, but knowing you’re not alone matters when you’re really struggling financially. Students also…have to let people know this is happening to them. And even though it might be too late for them and their kids to escape these struggles, students have a responsibility to change the future system. They need to make it a voting issue. This is not a private trouble—it is a public problem, and it needs to be treated like one.

Excerpt from – 

One Bold Way to Blow Up the College Debt Nightmare

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How Zero-Tolerance Policing Pits Poor Against Poor

Mother Jones

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Corner of Fifth and San Pedro in Los Angeles. Forrest Stuart

As a graduate student in sociology at the University of California-Los Angeles, Forrest Stuart embarked on a stint of what one might call immersive urban ethnography. Now an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, he was interested in how America’s most desperate people—homeless, addicts, parolees—went about trying to start over. “I had worked with prisoner advocacy groups and in minimum-security prisons,” he told Mother Jones. “I’d meet guys who would be released at five am with no food, no nothing. If I were one of those guys, maybe just a guy who needed food, or an addict who hadn’t had any treatment in prison, I would do whatever I had to do to survive—and maybe that would mean something illegal.”

Forrest had heard that the 50-block section of Los Angeles known as Skid Row was among the most impoverished and heavily policed locations in America—the “ground zero,” as he puts it, of the bootstrap story—so he went there. “I started by sitting in the courtyards, standing on the corners, hoping that people would strike up conversations. I started selling loose cigarettes, and people finally began talking to me.”

Five years of field research resulted in Stuart’s new book, Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row. The excerpt below was adapted from the book, which is out this week from University of Chicago Press. Also, don’t miss this eye-opening chat with the author.


Jackson moved with his typical nervous energy as he set up his “sidewalk shop” on the corner of Fifth and San Pedro Streets. The late afternoon light gave a sense of urgency to his motions as he unloaded his wares from his battered shopping cart onto the worn blue tarp he spread across the sidewalk. Six dented cans of chili, a bundle of women’s cosmetics, a stack of college textbooks. The scavenged inventory looked remarkably similar to those of the three other street vendors who had set up only feet away. He grabbed a splintered broom that hung from the chain-link fence behind him and began to sweep cigarette butts, soiled paper napkins, and other small debris into tight piles. He squatted low to better grip the broom’s broken stub of a handle, muttering in annoyance as passing pedestrians disrupted his tidying.

Jackson’s complaints grew audible as he glanced up from his task and noticed that a group of four visibly drunk men had assembled on the corner, pulling tall cans of Old English malt liquor out of brown paper bags. Jackson jogged in their direction, veering slightly from his path to tug on the shirt of another vendor, a clean-shaven, bald man named Larry, who followed without question.

“Hey y’all,” Jackson said forcefully as he pushed his way through the perimeter of the group. “You go a get your drink on somewhere else, you hear? Y’all can’t be partying over here.”

While startled, the men appeared undeterred. Jackson was hardly an intimidating guy; his high-pitched voice matched his five-foot-five-inch frame. One of the men swallowed a mouthful of malt liquor, teetered slightly, and leaned in to offer a slurred response. Just as the words formed on his lips, however, Larry’s deep voice suddenly boomed from above. Standing almost a foot taller than Jackson and outweighing him by at least a hundred pounds, Larry stared down at the group through his dark sunglasses.

“Time to leave, fellas, and I’m only gonna tell you once. I’m really not playing, so don’t test your luck.”


The four men exchanged defeated looks with bloodshot eyes. Putting up no further fight, they rewrapped their cans in brown paper bags and vacated the corner. Hands on his hips, Jackson watched with satisfaction as the four staggered their way up San Pedro Street.

I spent roughly two and a half years alongside Jackson, Larry, and 14 other street vendors as they conducted business along Fifth Street, one of Skid Row’s main thoroughfares. These men devoted their time on the block to far more than simply hawking their wares. Tidying the sidewalk, quelling arguments, and, most notably, intercepting alcohol and drug consumption, the men maintained a vigilant system of informal social control.

Since the 1990s, American cities have embraced aggressive zero-tolerance policing policies. Police officers fan out across the country’s poorest minority neighborhoods to detain and search pedestrians, and to issue citations and make arrests for things as trivial as jaywalking, blocking the sidewalk, and loitering. An overlooked effect of these policies: Residents often feel pressured to step outside of their routine activities to regulate the actions of their fellow citizens before the police arrive on the scene and make matters worse. In Skid Row this “third-party policing” now extends all the way down, so to speak, forcing even onlookers and pedestrians to become accountable for the behaviors of others.

Before moving into Skid Row, Jackson spent much of his adult life employed as a machinist in LA’s once-booming aerospace sector. But for decades, Southern California was losing aerospace jobs, and plenty of the region’s semiskilled black workers bore the brunt. Facing a string of downsizings, layoffs, and evictions, Jackson and his wife Leticia reluctantly moved into a dilapidated SRO hotel room on Skid Row’s western border.

“That’s when we got into crack,” Jackson recounted matter-of-factly one afternoon as we shared a basket of fries in a noisy downtown diner. While the couple had frequented bars after work and occasionally smoked marijuana on the weekends, they didn’t try harder drugs until they moved into Skid Row. “At that place, you got people knocking at your door at all times of the day. It’s easy to fall into it.” To pay for their mounting habit, Jackson began peddling “knickknacks” he scavenged from downtown alleyways.

Jackson was at the height of his addiction, smoking crack at least once a day, when he and I first met. I sold cigarettes nearby, but eventually Jackson invited me to set up shop next to his tarp and volunteered to “show me the ropes.” He insisted that it would be mutually beneficial: When pedestrians stopped to buy my cigarettes they might be enticed to buy one of his products, and vice versa. And so our partnership began.

Forrest Stuart

Throughout my time on the corner, I marveled at the rigorous order the vendors maintained along the sidewalk. Of all the nearby activities they stepped in to regulate, none received a more concerted reproach than drug-related behavior. The vendors had become a powerful example of what urbanist Jane Jacobs famously called “eyes on the street.” One afternoon, Jackson was sifting through a mound of wrinkled clothes in his baby stroller. I noticed that a small glass crack pipe had slid out of the pocket of a jacket that had been resting atop the other items. Keith, a round black vendor whom I had only met minutes earlier, saw me staring at the pipe and called Jackson over in a quiet voice: “You know you can’t have that out here,” he reprimanded in a hushed tone, gesturing behind Jackson toward the pipe. “Ain’t no room for that out here.” For the past year, Keith had tried to help Jackson get clean. He occasionally held onto Jackson’s cash while they worked and constantly forbade him from “mixing business with pleasure.”

As Keith lectured on, Jackson finally noticed the pipe. “Aw, shit,” he said, clearly ashamed. He tried to reassure Keith. “I know, I know, I know. It’s just, yeah, okay…I’ll take care of it right now. Don’t you worry. I got this.”

Jackson quickly walked back to the stroller, where he put on the jacket, shoved the pipe back in the pocket, and turned to me. “I go a run home real quick,” he said. “Watch my stuff.” Before I had a chance to respond, Jackson started walking in the direction of his SRO. He returned a half hour later without his jacket and, I assumed, without the pipe. Thus began a regular pattern in which Jackson would “run home” to “talk to Leticia” or “check on something” most days. In the lead-up to excusing himself, Jackson tended to grow irritable toward me and his fellow vendors and customers. He always returned noticeably energized, talkative.

But in a few months Jackson began to curb his addiction, and I realized that returning to the corner meant that he had to leave his stash and pipe back home. It meant that he was able to separate himself, if only for the duration of the day, from the dealers and addicts he complained were fixtures at his SRO building. It meant surrounding himself with vendors who not only demanded abstinence on the job, but who stepped in at the first glimpse of drug paraphernalia.

As conflicted as I felt about possibly enabling his addiction, I also realized that holding Jackson’s place on the corner also helped maintain his exposure to what Princeton sociologist Mitchell Duneier, in his ethnography of street vendors in New York’s City’s Greenwich Village, calls the “rehabilitative forces of the sidewalk.” According to Duneier, vending allows even the most impoverished, addicted, and otherwise defeatist individuals the opportunity to “become innovators—earning a living, striving for self-respect, establishing good relations with fellow citizens, providing support for each other.”

Forrest Stuart

On the other hand, what people are really trying to do is avoid the police. And that means that support and community and providing for each other can only go so far. Fearing harmful and potentially deadly police encounters, the vendors acted like surrogate cops. Although they sometimes protected certain of their peers from detrimental police encounters, they mercilessly punished others for attracting too much law enforcement attention. Knowing that the cops tend to target homeless people, addicts, and idle groups of “suspicious looking” pedestrians, the vendors took it upon themselves to forcibly purge these people from the vicinity. Their attempts to cool off the block ended up exposing fellow Skid Row denizens to even more miseries. As if zero-tolerance policing hadn’t done enough harm, the vendors had introduced their own brand of anxiety, fear, violence, and marginalization.

Leticia spent very little time on the corner. When she did stop by to bring Jackson lunch or money or to pass along a message, she seldom stayed longer than a brief conversation. But that changed. Jackson had been arrested a few months back while trying to steal textbooks from the bookstore at a nearby community college. For this crime, he served just over 90 days in county jail, where he suffered debilitating withdrawal symptoms. But by the end of his sentence he had sobered up.

When he got out, Jackson was determined to get his and Leticia’s lives back on track. Without the income provided by his hustles, Leticia was unable to pay the rent on their SRO room and building management had forcibly removed her from the unit and marked their rental history with the note “abandonment”—a stain that would make it even harder for them to secure housing in the future. With nowhere to turn, Leticia followed her addiction out into Skid Row’s streets. At first, Jackson couldn’t find her. He spent a month scouring the neighborhood, spending a few hours a day scraping together cash on the corner. Finally, he heard from friends that Leticia had been spotted at the Union Rescue Mission. He was overjoyed to reunite with his partner of 17 years, and the two became inseparable.

His fellow vendors, however, were less than enthusiastic about the reunion. Their discontent came to a head one afternoon. Larry, Craig, and Terrance had all set up their shops a noticeable distance from Jackson’s. “What are you looking at?” Craig called out as Jackson glanced their way.

“Not much, apparently,” Jackson shot back, avoiding eye contact.

“What’s that, little man?” Terrance yelled. “Did you say something?”

Jackson turned his back on the two. “These assholes,” he said under his breath.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

“They’re just being assholes,” Jackson replied, trying to appear unconcerned. “They’re pissed off that I got Leticia out here helping me out, trying to say she’s the reason we all got tickets a couple days back.”

Over Jackson’s shoulder, I saw Craig walking toward us, with Terrance in tow. “You talking more shit? You got something to say to my face?” Craig peered down at Jackson, fists clenched.

I tried my best to intervene. “It’s all good, man. Nobody’s talking shit. It’s all good.”

“No, man,” he scolded me. “It ain’t all good. This little nigga’s fucking it up for every one of us. He knows he can’t have her hanging around all damn day.” Craig turned back to address Jackson. “We told you that last time. Or don’t you remember?”

Jackson stood tall. “I can have anybody I…”

Craig’s fist caught Jackson mid-sentence, thudding into his stomach. Jackson buckled over. Leticia ran to his side. Craig took a step back and turned toward me, as though expecting me to attack. Instead, I froze, at a loss.

Craig continued to lecture, almost reluctantly, as if surprised at his own punch. “I done warned you. I’m done playing with y’all. You need to take this bitch and dip.”

“Who you calling bitch?” Leticia screamed, taking a step toward Craig, raising her fist.

Jackson grabbed her other arm, pulling her back. “Naw, baby.”

Craig stood staring at us for a moment, then turned away. He and Terrance walked back to their shops. I reached down and began gathering Jackson’s inventory and loading it back into his duffel bag. Leticia helped me as Jackson propped himself against the fence, catching his breath. The three of us headed toward their friend’s SRO room, where the couple had been spending their nights, sleeping on the floor. This was a violation of the building’s rules, but Leticia had been barred from the mission for showing up high.

Forrest Stuart

I pieced together the motive for Craig’s attack as Leticia ranted for two blocks. She flailed one arm in explanation, keeping the other arm tight around Jackson’s waist as she huddled close to his body. This was, apparently, precisely the kind of behavior that had been catching the officers’ attention. Over the course of the previous week, Leticia and Jackson had been detained twice while they stood on Fifth Street.

“We was just standing here minding our own business,” Leticia complained, “when two of them came up and asked me if I was ‘working.’ At first I didn’t know what they meant. I thought they was asking if I needed a job or something. But then I realized these assholes was asking if I was trickin’! I said, ‘This is my husband right here.’ But they didn’t even believe me. They made us take out our IDs and show them we had the same last name. Then they asked us if we were on probation or parole, if we had any warrants on us. Just for standing here talking. After all that, they still told me to take off.”

“Not before they wrote us all up,” Jackson added. “Craig too.” Jackson’s sobriety made him seem reserved next to Leticia’s constant fidgeting.

We arrived at the SRO building, where Leticia ran inside to use the bathroom and Jackson and I leaned against the wall. “Those guys really fucked me,” he said after a short lapse in the conversation. He gazed out at the street, deep in thought. “I mean, I know she makes it harder for me, and for them. I understand. But I don’t have a choice, man. That’s my wife.” His voice quieted. “Next week, I’m fucked.”

“Why? What’s up?” I asked. “It’s Mother’s Day,” he replied.

“Mother’s Day already happened.”â&#128;¨

“No. The other Mother’s Day. That’s what they call it when the checks come in. The GR General Relief checks. Her pick-up date’s on the fourth, but I can’t leave her alone at all that week. Last time she damn near smoked up her whole check before I could get her to give me her money. And she fought me on it. When I got out, she was using even worse. I can’t make her stop completely. She ain’t strong enough to go cold turkey like me. It kills me, man. That’s my wife. That’s the mother of my child.”

He sighed, and continued. “I go a make sure she don’t kill herself, or up and disappear or something. We’re broke, Forrest. How am I supposed to keep my wife alive and keep saving enough money to get a place? We can’t be in the mission no more!”

I offered what I assumed to be the most obvious solution. “Dude, why don’t you just move? Set up somewhere else and then you don’t have to worry about Craig or anybody.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna have to. That’s the only way I can have her out there with me. But that was the first place all my regular customers go when they get paid. Nobody wants to go nowhere else for movies ’cause they don’t wanna spend their money on a disc that don’t work. Ain’t no refunds and returns in this business.” Jackson sometimes proved to his customers that a DVD was good by previewing it on one of the other men’s portable DVD players—one of the resources they readily shared. “Customers don’t wanna take a risk on a movie that don’t work. That means I go a sell them for less. Probably half price! That three-dollar movie I got is gonna end up going for a buck, if I’m lucky.”

Forrest Stuart

The two of us stood in silence. We both understood Jackson’s predicament. Returning to Fifth Street would require leaving Leticia unsupervised. Abandoning Fifth Street to support his wife through her recovery would immediately reduce the couple’s already meager income. This would mean they wouldn’t be able to move off the streets and into their own room for the foreseeable future. As research on homelessness consistently demonstrates, Jackson’s chances of keeping Leticia (and himself) away from crack and crack-addicted peers would be extremely low if the two couldn’t find housing.

Down on Skid Row, the intensification of policing does more than just crack down on minor neighborhood problems and disturbances. It alters the equation that determines how residents view each other—and whom they consider a problem or disturbance in the first place. When they act on these views, they sometimes end up hurting the most marginalized among them—people desperate for help. With hyper-policing, neighbors may help keep a watch on crime and bad behavior, do so to the detriment of the larger community. We get eyes on the street, but they’re not the kind of eyes we want.

A week after the altercation with Craig, I stood with Jackson and his wife on Seventh Street, on the opposite side of Skid Row. I watched as he sold one of his DVDs at half price, just as he had predicted. He turned to me, defeat in his eyes. “You wanna know what living in Skid Row’s really like?” he asked, referring back to our very first conversation more than a year earlier. “Trying to make a living down here, getting done the way Craig and those guys did me, you know what it’s like? It’s like hustling backward.”

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How Zero-Tolerance Policing Pits Poor Against Poor

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