Only later did I learn that gang members routinely rebuffed all sorts of visitors with this line: “No one by that name lives here.” They would try to prevent social workers, schoolteachers, and maintenance personnel from coming inside and interrupting their drug trade.
“How’d you get to do this if you don’t even know who we are, what we’re about?” His tone wasn’t accusatory as much as disappointed, and perhaps a bit bewildered.
The older members explained that the gang was trying to forestall demolition but that it wasn’t a pure act of charity: When this building was torn down, they would lose one of their best drug-selling locations.
Then, as I began gathering up my bag and clipboard, he talked to me about the proper way to study people. “You shouldn’t go around asking them silly-ass questions,” he said. “With people like us, you should hang out, get to know what they do, how they do it. No one is going to answer questions like that. You need to understand how young people live on the streets.”