By Randol Contreras
One summer night, I was conducting field research on a group of Dominican men in a South Bronx neighborhood. It was just past midnight and some of us were high or inebriated from smoking weed and drinking hard liquor. Only the dim streetlights broke the darkness as we huddled against two beat up parked cars. We talked about familiar topics – women, sports, women, drugs, women – in loud, exaggerated tones. But we also talked about their new drug market activity: Stickups.
On the streets, these Dominican men were known as Joloperos in Spanish, or Stickup Kids in English. Their specialty, robbing upper-level drug dealers, involved unimaginable brutality, violence that mimicked state-sponsored torture from around the world.
Tukee: He told a story of a non-compliant drug dealer who would not talk, would not reveal the cash, the drugs, nothing, nada, leading him to chop off the dealer’s pinky with a kitchen knife.
David: He told a story of how his accomplices became angered when a stubborn dealer insisted that he did not have three kilos of cocaine (“Mierda! We knew he had them! The dealer’s own partner set him up!”). They found a clothes iron in the dealer’s closet and used it to burn his back.
Neno: He told several stories, ones where he and Gus pistol-whipped dealers; burned them with la plancha, or iron; threatened to sodomize them, sometimes following through on the threat as a last resort.
Aye mi madre! I thought to myself when I later transcribed the tape-recordings. On their face, these stories rendered these men as sociopathic monsters. They seemed heartless and irredeemable, as sadists pursuing violence for pleasure.