“Do the right thing” & Criminal theory

          “I want my money Sal”                  

To examine the causes of crime using the film “Do The Right Thing”, it is important to first identify the crimes in question.  The four crimes in the film are Sal’s destruction of Radio Raheem’s radio, the following assault by Raheem, his death at the hands of the police, and the destruction of Sal’s by the community.  These crimes can be explained structurally by using Merton’s anomie theory by contrasting the goals of the four entities that commit the crimes.  The backbone of Robert Merton’s Anomie theory is that our society has one culturally approved goal of economic success, which cannot be achieved by most people.  Americans are led to believe that the American dream is out there for everyone and indeed we are granted the rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The problem with this happiness is that it is equated with money, which sets the tone for the film with Mookie counting his money.

 No one in the United States is telling our children that there is no chance at all they will grow up to be president. Unfortunately, the facts are such that if you are born in poverty you will most likely die in poverty and the same goes for people born rich.  This creates a part of society who has the same “American dream” as everyone but cannot achieve this dream through any legitimate means.  The American cultural norms are so different from the reality of street life in east Brooklyn that the effect is the humiliation of this community.  The structure of society will never let them succeed and this is known and understood by the residents. For example, the perceived reason for the lack of black owned businesses in the neighborhood is because “We black”.  This large-scale structural deprivation of dignity leads to violence as the limits of respect are pushed.

          Sal, Radio Raheem, and the police are all in different modes of adaptation, showing that everyone in this community feels the pressures of the conflicting American ideologies.  Sal is the conformist because he is using legitimate goals and means to make the money that he thinks will make him happy.  Nonetheless, he still recognizes the restrictions placed on the rest of the neighborhood and shows charity throughout the film.  While there is no hard evidence that Radio Raheem is a criminal, his alpha-male status in the neighborhood and the fact that he does not seem to have a job leads me to this conclusion.  He is the innovator who uses different means to achieve his status goal: the loudest radio on the block.  The patrolmen are Ritualists, meaning they have rejected the goals of police in society; “To protect and serve” but have retained the legitimate means at their disposal to achieve their goals, namly violence.  These different ways of living transform into a mutual lack of respect on all sides though the police and Sal at least have a working relationship. These strong tensions between significant parts of the community explode into violence and the neighborhood responds in kind due to identification with Raheem as a fellow marginalized individual.

          Katz’s Social psychological theory can be also be used to explain the criminal actions of Sal, Radio Raheem and the local police mainly by showing that these three characters were responding to a disrespect shown to them.   The discussion of “righteous slaughter” is relevant to the crimes in this film because they all involve interior rationalizations for the crime.

          Katz discusses the interior rationalizations of murder and assault in some detail. Shame and humiliation are deeply felt by most people and in situations where this mental pain is felt it can transform into rage.  Someone imposing their will on another person, relieving them of their dignity, and having the victim of the shame commit the crime, exemplifies this explanation. The sense of worthlessness and humiliation would fit with Katz and this data except in this case there is a long period of building shame before it overflows.  When this shame does transform into rage, it requires a transcendence on the part of the perpetrator.  The transcendence is a transformation of one’s mental state in order to rationalize the crime.

          There are many examples of how important respect is in this neighborhood and this sets the stage for the involvement of the whole block in the destruction of Sal’s.  Radio Raheem is the top dog on the block and he walks around all day to maintain this status.  He does this by looking mean and making sure that his radio is completely overwhelming.  Sal maintains his respect by having a successful business and not tolerating any dissent in his store.  The police are feared and hated by the community, which is tantamount to the greatest level of respect from a civilian.  The community, on the other hand, has to deal with the constant disrespect shown to them by the police and the contradictory societal structure.  It is for this reason that the community so quickly projects this shame-induced rage onto Sal’s pizzeria.  Sal is the first one to have his dignity and respect challenged and so projects his shame onto someone for whom respect is his only currency.  Radio Raheem, for the first time, has to turn his radio down in order to buy pizza and this later leads to an attempt to regain his status by entering the store with no intention of lowering the volume.  This places Sal and Raheem in a situation where their respect is openly challenged.  As each player in the unfolding drama projects their shame onto someone else by means of violence, a chain reaction of transcendence is created. Raheem attacks Sal with noise, Sal attacks Raheem through his radio, Raheem responds with violence and the police respond in kind to maintain their power in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood responds to the shame of having a resident killed by the hated police by projecting their rage onto the only entity they can connect with authority.

          Anomie theory does a fine job of explaining the positions of the people in the neighborhood, as well as the reasons for tensions between the conformists, innovators and ritualists.  The different modes of adaptation show how the characters have decided to deal with the realities of the American dream.  The disadvantages of this theory have to do with a lack of explanations concerning class struggle solutions and why they have failed in east Brooklyn.  The idea of financial success as the ultimate goal is accepted but exactly why the people cannot rise above the street is not specifically shown.  Crimes of passion are not accounted for and there is a tacit assumption that crimes are done for money or lack thereof.

          The other main problem with this theory is that a real solution to this problem of weakened norms cannot be effective without the destruction of a cultural ideology, not an easy task.  The other solution would something like increasing the welfare state or education, neither of which is economically feasible. Anomie explains the class deficit in America but is not effective in explaining individual motivations.

          Katz’s theory concerning projections of shame and crimes of passion is effective for explaining some of the individual motivations behind the crimes but does not fully explain why the community would destroy a pizzeria they had grown up with and liked.  There is little discussion of the mob mentality.  The lashing out against any non-black businesses because of the police actions is not accounted for.  For example, why would they spare the Korean Grocery, which the community had actively disliked as supposed to Sal’s, which was respected?  The theory can explain the murder of Raheem because his actions could be conceived internally as an insult to white businesses in black neighborhoods but then why didn’t the black cop intercede?  The theory also omits a discussion of repressed memories as a cause of violent crime.  Attacks on one’s dignity and respect are often forgotten but build up inside a person and explode only when their personal capacity for disrespect has been reached.

          The theories of Katz and Merton are the most effective in explaining this crime both because they compliment each others strengths and weaknesses as well as the fact that anomie explains the explosive environment and Katz can explain the reason for the specific explosion.


A poem inspired by the Wire

A Witness


A witness

Is an idiot

For helping the cop

Not very bright


Darwin’s nightmare

Adapt or die

Keep quiet or die

Law conflicts with evolution


Can’t see the forest but for the trees

We are the forest

Structure is a tree

Nature still applies

I can’t believe the professor encouraged me to write on this topic

Powder Road: a primer in drug trafficking


“Always there is more”—The Greek


Drugs are a commodity, like many others, in that they are produced, distributed, and sold—by individuals or corporations—to make a profit. Like many other products, the people at the beginning and the end of the distribution chain are the people making the least amount of money, and yet have the largest amount of risk. The Afghani opium farmer, for instance, does not make very much money, but grows opium anyway—either because it is still the most profitable crop for him personally, or a local warlord has a gun to his head.  On the opposite end, the street-level dealer who sells heroin to his consumers also makes very little money, and generally ends up dead or in jail.

            It’s intriguing to see how much the grower and the dealer have in common, which prompts the question “where does all the money go?”  In the international drug trade, it’s the middleman who gets rich and has the least risk. The scope of this study will be limited to the traffic of morphine and cocoa-based products, such as heroin and cocaine, since, currently, most of the other vast spectrum of types of drugs—for example, marijuana and methamphetamines—are produced locally or, at least, within the borders of the United States.  Cocaine and heroin, however, originate in South America and the Middle East, and make a long and elaborate journey on their way to the street corner. The risks and demand for these drugs allow for an extraordinary mark-up at all stages of the distribution chain.

It’s important to understand how this sort of business works, so as not to mistakenly place the blame for drug abuse and related crimes on the street dealers or their third-world counterparts.

The farmer is most often a victim of his circumstances because he does not have the geographic mobility to do anything else. In the areas where poppies and cocoa are grown, the militias are the law, and the drug cartels pay the militias. Generally, this means that growing something other than what the cartels want is not a smart thing to do. It can also be considered a lethal move because a farmer growing anything else may not provide enough crop (read: money) for his survival. This is the only major advantage the farmer has over the street dealer—he’s not nearly as likely to be killed by a rival, or jailed, because he is insulated and protected by the militias, as well as the police, who incidentally are also being paid by the drug cartels (McCoy p.31).

The farmer starts the process by planting Coca or Poppies in areas of the world where the official laws of the country are not enforced. Columbia and Afghanistan are the two largest suppliers of cocaine and heroin with about three quarters of the world’s cocaine production coming from Columbia (NDIC) and 87% of the world’s heroin coming from Afghanistan (Nazemroaya).  Despite state- and internationally- sponsored programs aimed at eradicating supply, the supply has not been significantly affected. We can see a clear parallel between the street-level enforcement and the supply reduction methods used internationally. Local narcotics teams may shake down a corner and take a small amount of drugs off the street as UN planes spray a poppy field with poison. Despite these hands-on approaches, neither method works to significantly decrease the consumption, or supply, of drugs.


            After the harvest, the unrefined product is transported to a suitable refining area by smugglers. Drug-smuggling operations are becoming more vertically integrated and, as a result, the distribution chain has become harder for law enforcement to infiltrate, and thus the quality of product has increased (CS). The refinement process generally occurs in semi-industrialized regions, due to the large amount of chemicals and laboratory instruments that are necessary. These areas tend to be in Eastern Europe and Mexico, as both have fairly easily-bribed public officials and are also close to the consumer markets. Smuggling the product across the border is the most dangerous aspect, with respect to evading authorities. If done successfully, however, it can also be the most financially rewarding (CS). The methods used in smuggling are numerous and often very intricate, but the most common and effective method is shipping as legitimate cargo, using a front company.

            Once the cocaine and heroin are inside the United States, they are generally wholesaled to independent interstate smugglers who often have gang connections to the retailers in a given market. It is important to understand that the structure of a drug-trafficking organization is not like the traditional mafia, with a pyramid hierarchy—until the product reaches the street, the distributors operate in independent cells that are ignorant of the higher-ups (CS). This limits the potential for police investigations because no one has the ability to make a deal with anyone regarding information they simply do not have.

These illegal drugs are usually purchased by the head of a localized gang that in turn distributes to the consumer. These gangs can be independent, low-level organizations, but more often than not are affiliated with a national gang, such as the Bloods, the Crips, MS-13, or the Aryan Nation. This happens oftentimes simply because the members of the gang are close-knit or related to each other (Jacobs p.31).

            Once the product is at this level, the pure product is generally diluted to a less-potent form, in order to increase profit, and then is distributed to the street corner dealer. These “cutting” agents can be any number of benign or harmful substances, and are often used liberally because the demand is completely inelastic. The dealer is then responsible for the day-to-day retail drug business.

            The organization of the street operation is important to understand because it is effective in theory, and gives the operators a sense of progress. A young kid may start off as a lookout, be promoted to handling drugs, and eventually might get to run his own operation if his superior sees him as competent. The extensive use of minors contributes to the effectiveness of this type of operation, mainly because they can not be punished like an adult and, as such, are less likely to cave to police pressure (Bourgois p.194). Other ways the street organizations effectively protect their players are with quick, helpful handouts, such as bail money and lawyers fees. There is also the concern for physical safety, its subsequent protection, and its use as a threat, that comes along with being part of a gang.


People sell drugs for many reasons, but in low-income ethnic neighborhoods, there are several factors that weigh in heavily. The first is simply the desire to make quick, easy money. On the surface it seems that street dealers are making significant amounts of cash, and are more than happy to spend it. This is not the reality, however—most of that easy cash goes to superiors, leaving a very small percentage to the street dealers.  In addition, the conspicuous-consumption dealers engage in to maintain street respect often leaves the dealers living from hand to mouth their entire careers(?) (Bourgois p.91). A lack of legitimate employment opportunity is yet another factor that is particularly hindering for people trying to get out of the drug business, because most employers are loathe to hire someone with a police record. Ultimately, it seems like a bad option for anyone to take, but it is one of the only options available (Jacobs p.41).

            The drug business is run like any other business, with the caveat that there is a huge amount of money and resources dedicated to totally eradicating drugs and drug addicts. The war on drugs, therefore, is not a “war” by any definition of the word, because only one “side” is trying to destroy the other “side”.  Drug dealers do not usually try to fight the police, nor are they mounting a general attack on the citizens of this country. On the other end of the distribution network, the farmers are not actively trying to hurt anybody either. On the most basic level they are trying to feed themselves by growing the only crop anyone wants to buy. This is by no means a defense of drug dealers, but in looking at the drug trade as a whole, it seems clear that we are punishing the poorest and most helpless persons involved. We are also losing the “war”.







Adler, Patricia A. (1985). Wheeling and Dealing; An Ethnography of an Upper Level Dealing and Smuggling Community. New York, NY: Columbia University Press


Bourgois, Philippe. (2003). In Search of Respect; Selling Crack in El Barrio. San Francisco, CA: Cambridge University Press


CS = Confidential Source


Jacobs, Bruce A. (1999). Dealing Crack; The social world of streetcorner selling. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press


McCoy, Alfred. (2004). The Stimulus of Prohibition: A Critical History of the Global Narcotics Trade. In Steinburg, Michael K., Hobbs, Joseph J., Mathewson, Kent. Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the transformation of the Indigenous Landscape. New York, NY: Oxford University Press


Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius (October 17 2006). The War in Afghanistan: Drugs, Money Laundering and the Banking System. GlobalResearch.ca.



NDIC (2006). “National Drug Threat Assessment 2006




Forces of Habit: Drugs and the making of the modern world

                                                             In Forces of Habit, the author examines the historical evidence of known drug use in order to establish how each drug found its place in society.  David Courtwright does not differentiate between legal and illegal drugs in looking at the effects of the drug.  This is important because the licit/illicit label is really just a matter of timing.  The status of a particular drug, both legally and culturally, changes as societies develop better ways to administer and distribute a drug as well as advances allowing people to see the side effects.  The most significant point in the book is that there is usually a correlation between a drug’s legal status, the politics of the major distributors, and the evidence of misuse and health problems.            In discussing the prevention techniques, it is first important to realize that there is a balance producing societies must adhere to.  This is the balance between the perceived harmful effects of a drugs and the income derived from its distribution.  This balance has to be maintained both for illicit drugs and prevention and licit drugs and taxation.  The prevention policies should reflect the relative harm the drug does to a person or society as a whole.  At the other end if a widespread legal drug is taxed too heavily, the black market will respond as it does with banned drugs.            Drugs could not come into popular use unless there are people making a lot of money as producers or distributors. Even drugs that can be created or found by the consumer, it requires large economies of scale to make a drug efficient and affordable for the full spectrum of society.  The first parts of Forces of Habit examine how some of the most common drugs were discovered and distributed.  With the exception of alcohol, these drugs such as tea and opium were local plants that were introduced sparingly to other cultures through warfare or trading.  Once the positive effects of the drugs were known, merchants began capitalizing on what was a delicacy at first.  They became cash crops because the markets grew very rapidly and had a seemingly inexhaustible demand.  Without education as to the harms of a drug or treatment available, a drug market is constantly growing because of tolerance and addiction.  The big three, Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine became extremely widespread because of the demand Europeans developed for them and the plantation system, which lowered the price to the workingman’s level while still yielding huge profits for the importers and the government through taxes.  Courtwright makes the point that it was this selective distribution by Europeans that led to the unalterable position these substances occupy in western societies today.            The puzzle of distribution deals with how to most effectively get a drug into the consumer’s body.  The refining process and the developments of global commerce made the distribution of certain drugs economically feasible.  A refined product such as cocaine vs. coca leaves or spirits vs. wine not only has a much longer shelf life but is more quickly absorbed, intensifying the effects and experience of the user.  The problem with trying to identify how certain drugs were chosen to be mass produced by Europeans is that they associated many drugs with the cultures in which they were found and so many drugs were viewed as evil, or in league with godless societies.            With the rise of the scientific process and advances in medicine, the harmful effects of many drugs became provable and more evident and so the drugs for pleasure market took a backseat to the drugs as medicine market. The irony is that the use of these drugs was not as widespread before they came in medicinal form.  Drugs like opium have always been seen as having some curative properties but the disguise and miraculous claims by doctors prompted an epidemic of patent medicines that were just as harmful as their illegal counterparts.  People trusted their doctors and certainly enjoyed the medicine, but when the abuses in the patent medicine industries were exposed and some very widely distributed drugs were outlawed a great many people were already addicted.            The most useful thing Courtwright gives us in regards to prevention is the knowledge of why people use drugs.  Drugs are poisons and the continuing consumption of poison seemingly contradicts the law of natural selection. (p.91)  The authors looks at several different theories about why people would wants to alter their consciousness but the bottom line is that most people in the world constantly do things they do not want to do and an escape from this unpleasant reality is embraced.  This escape could be taken after something unpleasant to change mindset or during to offset the reality of the task itself.  It is also important to note that most drugs operate on the pleasure center of the brain and in general, particularly if the effects are not well known, people will do what makes them feel good.             Ultimately it would seem that education is the most powerful tool in preventing the use of harmful drugs.  This education should not only be about the effects of a particular drug but also about who is using them and why.  People who are poor are more likely to be depressed and people who are depressed are more likely to abuse drugs.  We are also bombarded from the right and the left by statement of opinions with very few discernable facts being shown.  Apparently some drugs are good and some drugs are bad but how is the public supposed to know which are which when you turn on the TV and are told that marijuana will make you run down a group of schoolchildren while Propecia will give a man an erection but may cause explosive diarrhea.  Attacking the roots of production has historically been a failure while attacking the roots of abuse has had some success, perhaps a war on poverty instead of a war on drugs might be more effective.           



A small time drug dealer accidentally kills a cop and makes a run for the border to avoid arrest.


            A drug dealer is making a deal when he decides to rob the person he is selling drugs to. There is a short struggle during this altercation and the buyer is killed unintentionally by falling on a rock.  The dealer is freaked out but believes he has gotten away with it.  Later on, the dealer finds out from watching the news that the dead man was actually an undercover police officer.  Knowing that he will probably be charged with murder, he decides to make a run for Canada. Barely evading the police at his own house, the dealer travels a distance with the help of accomplices.  The second accomplice turns out to be another undercover who promptly locks him in the trunk and drives the car backwards into a wall


                        MANHUNT Fade in:EXT. secluded area in a park–DAYJAY is leaning on a tree smoking a cigarette. There is a backpack on the ground next to him. Fred enters and shakes hands with Jay. FREDWhats good man? JAYIt should all be good dude, you came back real fast… I hope you’re not gonna say you short. Fred hands Jay an envelope. FREDNo its all there don’t worry. JAY(looking in the envelope)Oh I’m not worried. Jay suddenly drops his cigarette and punches Fred in the stomach. JAYI have a monopoly on this neighborhood so I don’t want to see you around anymore ok? Fred is bent over and nods. Jay hits him again, sending Fred sprawling. Jay turns away and puts the envelope in the back. Turning back around, Jay sees Fred’s unmoving body on the ground. JAY(concerned)Oh shit. Jay nudges the body with his foot and sees blood on Fred’s head. JAY(rapidly)Shit shit shit! Jay walks away quickly and nervously. CUT TO: EXT. parking lot–DAY Jay gets in his car and screeches off. FADE TO BLACKFADE IN: INT. cluttered living room–NIGHTJay is smoking a joint and his hand is shaking. The TV is on the news. NEWSMANThe body found earlier today in ThorndenPark has been identified as Officer Fred O’Neill, a member of the New York State police Drug task force.  Jay picks up the phone and dials. JAYHey man I need your help, I fucked up man…like really bad. VOICEIf you fucked up why would you think your phone is safe to talk on? The voice hangs up and Jay drops the phone on the ground.  There is a loud banging on the front door. POLICEJason Sizemore, we have a warrant for your arrest! Jay grabs the backpack and runs out the rear window of the apartment. CUT TO: EXT. Porch–NIGHTJays runs to the door and knocks, breathing heavily. Tim Open the door. TIMDamn Jay I just saw your mug shot on the news JAYIt was an accident man, I just- TIMYeah yeah I know you don’t have the balls to intentionally kill anyone and no one would kill a cop if they could avoid it.
Man this is fucked, I think I need to get to Canada. TIMNot a bad idea.  I’m not drivin you across though…I could give you a ride up north but I’m not crossing the border with your ass in the trunk. JAYThat’s fine, I got a buddy who can take me across the lake. TIMI’m goin to bed then, we’ll get up early. Tim goes to bed and Jay sits on the couch, unable to sleep. FADE TO BLACKFADE IN: INT. Moving car–DAY TIMSo where is this guys meeting us? JAYHe should be just around the corner there. CUT TO:    EXT. Parking lot–DAYThe car pulls into a lot next to another car with PETE in it. Jay and Pete get out of the cars. CUT TO: INT. Car–DAYTIM(to himself)Good luck Jay. CUT TO: EXT. Parking lot–DAYTim drives away.JAYHey Pete thanks for meeting me. PETEDon’t give me that happy bullshit, You killed a cop from what I see on TV. You think I need that kind of heat? JAYWell I wasn’t asking you to do anything for free. Last I checked it was your job to sell drugs. PETEIs that what’s in the bag? JAYYep and its all yours once I’m out of this country. PETEHmm how about you tell me who you pick up from? JAYThat’s not how things work. PETE(irritated)Fine get in the trunk, I sold the boat so we’re takin the back road. Jay gets in the trunk PETEOh here is a flashlight in caseYou’re afraid of the dark. JAYHaha thanks. The trunk closes. CUT TO EXT. Parking area with brick wall–DAYPete gets out and walks to the trunk. PETE(tapping the trunk)Jay you are a terrible judge of character, I work for the FBI. JAYSon of a bitch! PETEIf you give up your connection in Canada, I might be able to put in a good word. JAYFuck you! PETEMight be able to avoid the death penalty. Jay pauses before answering JAYHis name is shelly and he has bars in Ottawa on the south side. PETEThanks Jay, too bad I can’t blow my cover by bringing you in. Jay starts yelling and Pete walks back to the front of the car and drives it backwards into the wall. FADE OUT.