Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Yes, street gangs have a social context

Tom Hayden did a book on gangs, Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence (2004). Early in the book, he makes this sensible observation, which nevertheless makes Democrats nervous and Republicans don't want to hear at all:

This complete sundering of the subject of gangs from their roots in inner-city poverty is the political and intellectual accomplishment of American conservatives - with the gradual acquiescence of countless moderates and liberals over time. The redefinition of gangs as criminal per se, not a reflection of the institutionalized violence of life in the slums, did in fact begin in the sixties with government policies toward the turmoil of antiestablishment protests and the violent "civil unrest" that affiicted hundreds of cities as the Vietnam war escalated. The idea of a "war on gangs" emerged piecemeal, not as a conspiracy. It began with the vaunted special weapons and antiterrorist (SWAT) units in Los Angeles, then grew to the national level with the 1968 Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for cities to toughen their law enforcement capacities. Richard Ni.xon expanded the secretive war, campaigning for an undefined '1aw and order" in 1968. The apparatus for fighting gangs was institutionalized steadily thereafter by the passage of six multibillon-dollar federal anticrime bills, the drug war's draconian penalties for possession of crack cocaine, mandatory minirnum sentencing laws, three-strikes penalties, and the greatest splurge of prison construction in the nation's history. By the nineties, most police departments in America harbored an aggressive antigang unit and were busy stopping, frisking, profiling, and locking up hundreds of thousands of at-risk youth until the United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, contained perhaps 20 percent of the world's inmates. [my emphasis in bold]

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