New Research Finds “Coolness” Motivates Young Suburban Drug Dealers Who Quit to Avoid Problems

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Young, white suburban drug dealers and stereotypical urban dealers are motivated to sell drugs for the same reason – to be “cool,” but when suburban dealers are exposed to extreme violence or serious legal consequences they are more likely to quit, according to a new book by criminologists at Georgia State University.

It’s unfortunate and unfair that the ‘stereotypical dealer’ in America is a young black male from a disadvantaged urban neighborhood.

Young, white suburban drug dealers and stereotypical urban dealers are motivated to sell drugs for the same reason – to be “cool,” but when suburban dealers are exposed to extreme violence or serious legal consequences they are more likely to quit, according to a new book by criminologists at Georgia State University.

“It’s unfortunate and unfair that the ‘stereotypical dealer’ in America is a young black male from a disadvantaged urban neighborhood. Statistics suggest whites use and sell drugs at an equal or greater rate than blacks,” said Scott Jacques, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

His new book, “Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers,” describes and tries to understand the lives of the non-stereotypical dealer. It was co-authored by Professor Richard Wright, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Their research is based on interviews with 30 young, mostly male, white drug dealers from the suburbs of Atlanta.

“We look at why these teenagers got into dealing, how they did it, the problems they faced (legal, parental and victimization), and how they handled those problems,” Jacques said. “We also look at why they ultimately quit selling.”

He noted that while the pursuit of cool drives both types of dealers, the frequency and seriousness of “bad things” that happen to them differ greatly.

“Black dealers from disadvantaged areas,” Jacques said, “are far more likely than the ones I studied to be seriously victimized, get arrested and face serious legal penalties for drug dealing. The suburban dealers I interviewed were sometimes victimized, but they were never seriously injured. The worst injury that ever happened was a black eye. And only two were ever arrested, though they escaped conviction.”

Another important difference relates to what the authors dubbed the “code of the suburb” in contrast to the code of the urban street.

“Whereas stereotypical dealers see violent vengeance as crucial to status and security, the opposite is true for their suburban counterparts,” Jacques said. “The general idea behind the code of the suburb is that when something bad happens, the best way to handle it is to do as little as possible and certainly not to turn violent.”

Jacques said it is important to look at the problems faced by suburban dealers.

“These problems,” he said, “actually had a good effect in that when suburban dealers experienced serious problems, they often became motivated to quit dealing to avoid experiencing further problems.”

The book is published by The University of Chicago Press. For a review copy, please contact Ashley Pierce at apierce(at)uchicago(dot)edu.

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Leah Seupersad
Georgia State University
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