September 26, 2007 Criminal Gangs
The United States Senate recently voted to pass a $1 billion bill, entitled, "Gang Fear and Pandering Act." It was sponsored by an unlikely alliance consisting of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein. For this to have taken place, indicates a high level of concern about the threat posed by gangs in this country - a concern that transcends political and cultural lines. Indeed, this country has a criminal gang crisis on its hands.
Criminal gangs are everywhere. In Stanislaus County alone, there are approximately 4,000 documented gang members and thousands more who engage in criminal gang activity, but who have not yet been documented by police per the California Penal Code. Their presence cannot be overlooked, as most all communities are rife with gang graffiti and drive-by shootings are an every-day event. Gangs are partly responsible for this county's long-standing problems with auto thefts, and they account for the majority of homicides. Gang parties are often out-of-control and accompanied by violent acts. Additionally, gang members are fully immersed in the drug manufacturing and sales milieu. Moreover there is overwhelming evidence to suggest gangs are involved in the procurement, use and sales of firearms. Illicit gang activity and enterprises do not stop there.
Sadly, popular culture in the form of music and videos plays a significant role in directing and informing gang behavior, violence and in debasing women. Gang members have no conscious concern for others; they appreciate only their own personal needs and give little regard for the negative effects of their actions. This is the true nature of the term and concept of 'sociopath'.
Many young people exposed to this are quick to mimic the behavior and too often end up living the criminal gang lifestyle. In this country we are now seeing several generations of gangs within families, where the adults have no legitimate jobs, they are fiercely defensive of their neighborhood territory and they steal and sell drugs to generate cash. To make matters worse, some of these criminals take advantage of public funds in the form of housing assistance and welfare, so the average taxpayer ends up indirectly subsidizing the same people who perpetrate crimes against the community.
That the federal legislators are trying to do something about this problem is good, but sooner would have been better and the funding should be triple the amount presently proposed. The proposed bill would provide money for more law enforcement, prosecution and for witness protection. The witness protection element is critical because both victims and witnesses to gang crime are often too intimidated to testify against the defendants, and rightly so. They are subject to harassment, threats, vandalism, and it is not uncommon for these victims to be assaulted and even killed. Witness protection is therefore a key to making a dent in the gang problem.
While the added funding would be a big boost for law enforcement as it fights the gang problem, it will only go so far. This is a seemingly impossible suggestion, but our society has to form solidarity and rail against criminal gangs. This can be done by taking the profit out of the commercialization by refusing to purchase or allow children to be an audience to the gang-type videos and sounds. Parents need to enforce the fact that gang behavior is illegal, immoral, wrong, and that it is simply not acceptable. There are much better role models than the criminals of our society, and it does not help to adopt the gang member look or motif as a simple fashion statement. Kids of today should dress and act like anyone other than gang criminals.
There is the potential that the increased efforts to suppress such a popular element of society will help make martyrs out of gang members. It may also create division between law enforcement and the younger elements of society. Law enforcement must stay the course to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe, but the more preferable solution is for parents to take charge of their children and require them to stay clear of everything gang-related. Society must act in unison to uphold its traditional values of right and wrong. It should not be acceptable to make icons out of ruthless gang members through the commercialized selling of musical and fashion products that give them notoriety. Since those who market these products have shown little constraint or concern about the societal effects, we will have to do it for them through our everyday spending decisions.
We should also look for other ways to defang criminal gangs. Maybe it is time to seriously look at our drug laws for modification. Recall the days of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s. Without the illegal drug industry criminal gangs will lose a large source of their income as well as one of their primary reasons to exist.
Because our society has unwittingly allowed it to be so, gang members thrive here in unprecedented numbers. For the ones who are now hard-core members, there is little to do but to incarcerate them when they commit crimes. Some will argue that rehabilitation and education is the answer for these hard-core criminals. It is a foolish argument that defies logic and decades of recidivism statistics. It is a farce to believe that institutions and "programs" can change human behavior. Such change has to come from within the individual.
As gang members age or have children, some of them change their ways and try to lead a more decent and normal lifestyle. However, their replacements are being created in record numbers - far more than the number of individuals who exit the gang life style either by way of death or through conscious decision-making. Key is the prevention aspect as I pointed out above. For those who are fully active criminal gang predators, the best treatment for them is incarceration in order to protect society from their treachery. No, it is not practical to think that we can imprison them all. But through our collective negligence, apathy and lack of paying attention to the dynamics that gave rise to the record numbers of gangs, there is now a very large price to pay.
The Gang Fear and Pandering Act is a good thing. The various states and local governments need the boost of additional funds and enhanced laws to combat criminal gang law violations. By itself, the act will not deliver this country the results it really needs. It will take the nation as a whole to pay attention, to stop allowing the erosion of values, it requires parents to raise children properly and to stop writing off pre-gang involvement behavior as being harmless. Drunk driving, while not entirely similar, was a huge problem to which this nation responded. It is now an unacceptable behavior in American culture, and the problem was stemmed because of the combination of public outrage and activism, education, prevention and stiff criminal penalties. Although more complex, the gang issue can go the same way. It is up to us.