Although my review of Zach Fortier's Curbchek was less than favorable, the author asked me to read and review Street Creds, which follows much the same format but focuses on Fortier's time working on the Gang Task Force. I expected Curbchek to be a novel, which it claims to be. But it was a rather thinly disguised memoir of actual police cases, and so when I began Street Creds I was prepared for the same thing. I was not disappointed.
In the specialized Gang Task Force, Fortier once again shows us the realities of life on the other side of the law, as he infiltrates some of the toughest gangs on the streets. Using his apparent charm to get hardened criminals, drug dealers, and gang members to trust him, he not only makes arrests and gets convictions in court, but he also dodges bullets, engages in a dangerous high-speed chase after witnessing a drive-by, and even plays a key role in stopping a turf war. Reading about these exploits makes you wonder how the force got along before he joined them. The raw language, which only highlights his rough writing skills, for some reason fits in with the down-and-dirty, super-hero-like feats he pulls off.
The book is arranged as a series of chapters highlighting different cases with gangs, and unlike Curbchek, which didn't have any kind of arc, Street Creds feels more like a complete story. Chapter One explains how Fortier became part of the Gang Task Force and his disdain at discovering how mismanaged the department was, and as the chapters progress, he gradually gets to know the individual gang members, which helps him succeed in solving crimes and cleaning up the streets, at least according to him. By the end I almost felt like I knew the author better, and in some strange way, even understood him.
This time around Fortier gives us a glimpse of his violent childhood. Raised by a sadistic mother and an overworked and angry father, he and his brother are taught at a young age to steal, lie and fight. Like many children raised in such an environment, he grows up believing that his is a normal childhood. After describing this horrific upbringing, Fortier concludes that the abuse only made him better able to relate to the gang members he spends time with every day.
Street Creds also shows us the emotional state of a man who spends his days and nights with criminals and violence. In a poignant moment near the end of the book, the author observes his daughter in the bathroom. She is looking in the mirror and holding up her hands in a way that makes him think she is making a gang "sign." He is appalled and angry that his own daughter may actually be involved in a gang, and he confronts her. The girl, scared and confused, tells her father that she is only looking at nail polishes and trying to decide what color to wear. Defeated, Fortier realizes that it's time to get off the streets, or he may destroy one of the only good relationships he has.
Despite his aggression and complete lack of respect for his fellow police officers, Fortier hides his vulnerability behind a tough guy façade as he gamely tries to find his place in the world. Street Creds is more introspective and controlled than Curbchek. Fortier's anger issues are still there, but he clearly wants to make things better, both on the streets and in the Task Force. He's trying to figure out which world he belongs in, and my guess is it's somewhere in between.
Many thanks to the author for sending me a review copy of the book.