REVIEWS OF WOUNDED CITY
“Wounded City is one of the most important books about urban violence that has been published in a long time. In a style that is engaging and insightful, Robert Vargas pushes the reader to consider why some communities are highly organized against violence while others are not, and shows that the answer lies in the intersection between politics, institutions and residents.” – Patrick Sharkey, Associate Professor of Sociology, New York University, author of Stuck in Place
“Wounded City is extraordinarily bold and smart. Through meticulous research, Vargas uncovers the precise points at which relationships go bad in specific places in the city. The cause is a broken system that breeds competition rather than cooperation, turf wars among and between the most dispossessed and the most powerful. This book should fundamentally change both the study of and the interventions against crime in the city.” – Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University
"Street gangs and politicians both spend their time protecting turf. In Chicago, sometimes the boundaries between a gang's turf and the politician's turf are a bit hazy. Wounded City dives deeply into the intersection of politics and street gangs as one Latino community navigates the social and political boundaries of its own health and safety. Vargas masterfully describes how gang leaders, politicians, and community members negotiate and create their social order through the use of violence, unsuspecting alliances, community organizing, and federal grants." -Andrew V. Papachristos, Associate Professor of Sociology, Yale University
"This book is very important for several reasons. First, the author uses multiple methods in carrying out an ingenious new study. Second, the research was conducted in a gang hotspot (the west-side Little Village community) in Chicago, which often is considered the gang capital of the United States. Third, it draws attention to the ongoing conflicts in Little Village among self-help indigenous community organizations, gangs, politicians, and police. Fourth, it provides valuable insights into gang-police relations. Fifth, it is very well written." - James C. Howell, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books Review, Rutgers University
In Wounded City, Robert Vargas charts a new direction for understanding and addressing neighborhood violence, one that focuses on the under-examined role of adversarial relations (or turf wars) among politicians, gangs, and the police. Through a case study of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Vargas investigates why shootings and arsons were concentrated on clusters of blocks in the neighborhood’s eastside. Using a mix of ethnographic, historical, and statistical data, Vargas discovers two turf wars that triggered incidents of violence and undermined residents’ violence prevention efforts.
First, the political turf war between Chicago’s Democratic Party and the neighborhood’s independent political leadership curtailed community efforts to prevent violence. While Little Village’s westside was home to a ward with politically independent leaders who brought violence prevention resources, the majority-Democrat city council routinely gerrymandered ward boundaries in the neighborhood’s eastside to prevent it from becoming another politically independent ward. With no ties to the city’s political system, blocks on the eastside had insufficient resources and no organizational infrastructure to prevent violence. Second, the turf war between gangs and police routinely triggered acts of violence. To prevent residents from cooperating with police, gangs committed acts of arson against informants. In response, police appropriated violence by arresting gang leaders, which ignited violent competition among neighborhood gangs for territory made vacant by the police operation.
Through the stories of Little Village’s struggle to prevent violence and win a seat at the table of the city’s political system, Vargas uncovers links between urban political economy and rates of violence on residential blocks. The book demonstrates how cities and communities plagued by violence need to heal not only from bodily wounds inflicted by violence but also the wounds inflicted by competition for political power.