Offering employment where legitimate industry collapsed years ago, the hugely profitable narcotics trade endlessly engages police, dealers, and drug abusers in Philadelphia’s Kensington area, one of the poorest places in America. It’s also the center of drug activity in the city with more than twice the number of incidents of anywhere else, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Servicing the unslakable appetite for product is an astonishingly well-paid army of Latino dealers.
That a young man without job prospects would hustle dope in the open-air bazaars of Kensington is practically a foregone conclusion, says Philippe Bourgois, a University of Pennsylvania anthropologist who lives in the area two or three nights a week to chronicle drug dealing. It is akin to small-town folks who used to go to work in the local Ford plant or coal mine. “They are selling drugs in the shadows of closed-down factories that used to employ their parents and grandparents,” says Bourgois. “You’d almost have to be abnormal not to go into the drug trade. Not everyone buys Bourgois’ deal-or-perish scenario. Some former dealers say it’s the lifestyle, not just the dearth of jobs, that compels many young hustlers. “A lot of young men have a home and parents who work and don’t have to be out here dealing,” says former Kensington dealer Edwin Desamour, who served 8 1/2 years in prison for third-degree murder. “They just want the hustler life. They’re attracted to it.”