Q&A Andrew Papachristos
Sociology professor on martial arts, “The Wire” and what works to prevent gun violence
Andrew Papachristos is a sociologist who applies network science to study gun violence, police misconduct, illegal gun markets, street gangs and urban neighborhoods. A born-and-raised Chicagoan and proud father of two, Papachristos also helps evaluate gun violence prevention programs in major U.S. cities.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
The variety. In a given week, I talk with students, politicians, philanthropists, gang members, outreach workers, police officers and more. I am always doing something different with different types of folks.
There’s a rhythm to cities — Jane Jacobs called it sidewalk ballet — and I get to see many different facets, which is really neat.
Who are your personal heroes?
My childhood karate teacher, who didn’t charge me for lessons and became my mentor. My freshman high school English teacher, who taught me how to love reading, and my high school Greek teacher who taught me how to think critically. These are people who invested in me and cared about me above and beyond. I wouldn’t be where I am today without some of those boosts when I was younger.
What do your kids know about your job?
Since they were very young, my kids have known I was a professor, and now they know I study gun violence. Years ago, one of them actually wrote me a letter saying, “Dad, you have such a cool job. You get to go all over the country and talk with police.”
How do you disengage from work?
My sons and I practice jiu-jitsu. I didn’t have a hobby for a really long time during the first part of my professor career, and it’s really nice to have one again. I also go to movies and plays with my family, and we love to travel when we can.
What myth about gun violence do you most want to debunk?
That nothing works. It really infuriates me. We actually know a lot of stuff that prevents gun homicide and suicides, and, in fact, most people agree that we should do these things. We know licensing works. We know background checks work. We know that regulating secondary markets works. Those are the three things we can do, with majority support of gun owners in this country, and have a massive effect on gun violence in a relatively short term.
Have you ever considered running for political office?
There’s a joke in my household that I would love to run for mayor of Chicago, but I don’t think I could ever do it. I did once consider becoming an investigative reporter, though.
What’s in your headphones?
‘90s hip-hop. Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, De La Soul, Biggie, Tupac, Wu-Tang Clan. The best years of hip-hop were ’92 and ’93.
If you could make one contribution to the field, what would it be?
I would love people to become relational thinkers. I want people to understand that we can map our networks, and we can measure and really understand how our relationships affect what we feel, think and do.
What do you consider the best crime TV show ever?
“The Wire” — no doubt about it. I tried to find something obscure, but it’s definitely “The Wire.” That show captured so many different parts of the streets of Baltimore — the “ballet.” There were good and bad cops, good teachers and bad, families, offenders, victims, et cetera. It really captured the cadence in a way I’ve never seen another show do.