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The Detroit Street Drug Trade as a Social Institution

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Makinna Zetty

Anthro 101 Sec 031

Prompt 3

The Detroit Street Drug Trade as a Social Institution

Getting Ghost by Luke Bergmann is an ethnographic novel focusing on the street drug trade in Detroit. Following real individuals, Bergmann shows the humanistic qualities of drug dealers, showing how their lives are shaped by a unique culture unrecognized to those not involved. These people have intimate family ties and a secure living situation, and many depend on the trade for a living. When Bergmann says that the drug trade is a social institution, he means that the people involved form their own social rules, live by a larger community standard, and contribute to the culture of the area in which it’s settled. The trade does have major consequences facing family dynamics, placing drug spots, and going totally incognito, all of which are both effective and dangerous modes of economic practice.

Family dynamics have a huge role and face major consequences amongst those in the drug trade. Many times, there are familial bonds greatly associated with the trade. For example, Ruby is a someone in the novel who has had to deal with close family members taking part in the drug trade, despite her negative views on the subject. She disapproves of her children, other close relatives, and even her significant other Marvin as being part of the drug trade. Everyone in her close family though, Elaine, Marvin, her twins Evie and Elvin, and Dude had taken part in dealing with the drug trade, which ended up bringing together and tearing her life apart (Bergmann 2008: 89-93).

Felicity is Marvin’s older sister who was involved in the drug trade. She was “killed coming from the store [... and] could only see out of one eye. [...] Some young boy killed her. Asked her to walk to the store with him. They had got into it about some drugs”, as Ruby puts it (89). This really tore Ruby apart as Elaine was like her mentor and took her under her wing. She had died due to an altercation about drugs. I can infer that because she was shot, Elaine must not have followed the social rules of the community and culture surrounding the drug trade. Something she had done must have set this killer off such as crossing over onto another dealer’s territory or refusing to sell her drugs to the killer. Either way, there are rules and consequences associated with the drug trade, showing more of how it’s considered a social institution. If they aren’t followed, then someone gets hurt. The only problem is that Elaine wasn’t the only one hurt in her killing. Ruby was affected greatly as she looked up to Elaine, and I believe that her death helped to justify Ruby’s distaste for the drug trade. This hurt that Ruby feels and how it affects her is a consequence of the social and cultural aspects of the drug trade. Had Elaine not been involved with the drug trade, the pain and consequences would not have followed through. Those in the drug trade have to face these cultural challenges as those who aren’t apart of it don’t.

Another example of family ties in the drug trade has to do with Dude’s sister Felicity. Felicity got into the drug trade at age thirteen before working for her boyfriend Droopy. Droopy let power in the trade consume him before shootouts and police intervention played a role, which caused him to move his trade to another house and “unceremoniously [burn] his dope house to the ground” (100-101). Moving dealing spots around is a strategy that dealers would get around being caught, ultimately ruining their hard work and source of income, seen both in Marvin and Droopy. Felicity had gotten into the trade and continued with it when starting a familial bond with Droopy, strengthening their bond and intimacy between family and the drug trade.

The interrelation and overlap of the trade and family helps to build the idea that the drug trade is a social institution by means of being cultural and having its own sense of community. Community and culture can mean anything to anyone, but in most cases,  you will find that community encapsulates relationships, generally familial bonds. The familial bonds that intertwine and branch off as a result of the drug trade are no different than that of any other culture or community, making it that much more of a social institution. But in consequence of this bond, the people involved with the drug trade are forced to be displaced from their homes and move quietly and inconspicuously, or else they could be caught either by police or other dealers in the area, putting both lives and income on the line.

The drug trade isn’t much recognized by people of the larger community of Detroit as being its own social cultural entity, leading to the blind destruction of neighborhoods and controversy over a new liquor store. The city had decided to rid itself of “dangerous” or “hazardous” buildings in residential areas in order to reduce and possibly eliminate drug dealing in Detroit. Bergmann states though, “for in most cases, houses that are being used as centers of drug transaction have not been sitting abandoned for long stretches, they are much more likely to be inhabited, well-maintained houses, for which the occupants are paying rent or even mortgage” (81). The city government is assuming stereotypes and placing stigmas on the people involved in the drug trade. They may think of them as very dirty, shady, poor, alcoholic scum of the city, when in reality, these people look just like anyone else. While having the negative appearance that the city assumes would be considered a cultural factor in making the drug trade a social institution, the fact that they are just like anyone else builds on their own cultural context. It helps to show the social similarities and differences between those who are involved in the drug trade and those who are not.

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