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Gary Potter


Photo of Gary PotterWherever he went, Gary Potter left an impact. In classrooms at Eastern Kentucky University, on Zoom calls with various political groups, or at marches and protests, Gary’s clear-eyed analysis was as common as his acerbic wit and the gravelly-voiced tone in which he delivered both. It is no surprise that the academic community, the field of criminology, friends, former colleagues, political comrades, and students were saddened to hear of Gary’s passing on March 1, 2024.

Gary graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1974 with his Bachelor of Science in Community Development. Continuing his education, he graduated in 1988 with a PhD in Community Systems Planning and Development, with an emphasis in criminal justice. This focus was reflected in his dissertation research: A case study of organized crime in a declining industrial city. Upon graduation, Gary joined the faculty at Eastern Kentucky University, where he stayed until his retirement as Emeritus Professor and Associate Dean in 2020.

Gary was a prolific scholar. Throughout his career, Gary published extensively in the area of organized crime, reflected in a slew of books and articles he authored or co-authored. This included his earliest book, The City and the Syndicate: Organizing Crime in Philadelphia, which he coauthored with Philip Jenkins in 1985; his 1986 book, The Porn Merchants, in which he offered a critical examination of the structure of the local and regional pornography industry in Philadelphia; and his 1994 Criminal Organizations: Vice, Racketeering, and Politics in an American City. Although with some variation, these works critically analyze the structure of organized crime networks, the policies in place to control them, and the larger role of the market. For example, in his later co-authored book chronicling the city of Newport, Kentucky’s criminal development, Wicked Newport: Kentucky’s Sin City, Gary and his colleagues critically assess and highlight the advantages that organized crime brought to a city often considered to be Las Vegas’s predecessor.

Gary wrote and taught about many topics beyond organized crime, including drug trafficking, drugs and society, drug cartels, research ethics and funding, police ethics, police deviance, criminological theory, white collar crime, and more. For many of Gary’s students, and at least a couple of his colleagues, their first introduction to his work was through his book The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice, which he coauthored with his longtime friend and colleague Vic Kappeler in 1993, and which is currently in its 5th edition. This celebrated and innovative textbook examines the social construction of crime, the social arrangements that inform definitions of crime, as well as the role of popular images and media in the creation of fear, crime myths, and misinformation.

Beyond his research, Gary taught many classes while on the faculty at EKU covering a wide range of topics. Students flocked to his courses regardless of the topic because of his wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge, frank delivery, colorful stories, dry wit, and wry sense of humor. It was not uncommon to hear students’ regale their peers with tales from his class, something that is still true today when running into one of his former students. Gary was truly a character who continued to crack jokes and offer pointed social commentary in his final days. His scholarly and pedagogical influence will be missed, as will his ideas, his passionate commitment to justice, and witty humor. And for that and much more, his life should be celebrated and remembered.

Published 04/10/2024


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