Monday, December 8, 2008

Well-Dressed Gangs

In 1994 the City of Houston established its anti-gang task force to deal with the growing problem of gangs within the city. According to the City's web site, the mission of the task force is:
The mission of the Mayor's Anti-Gang Office is to assist youth, young adults, families, and communities in the prevention of gang involvement and juvenile delinquency through partnerships with service organizations, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, schools, and the general public.

This all sounds fine and dandy. Who could possibly be opposed to the "prevention of gang involvement and juvenile delinquency"? I know that I'm not opposed. I don't like gangs or juvenile deliquency. I don't like adult deliquency either.

Like many government programs, Houston's anti-gang task force is founded on a flawed principle. Indeed, despite this task force, the City of Houston is the biggest promoter of gang activity within Houston.

To begin, let's define "gang". Here are a few definitions I found:
A group of persons working together (Merriam-Webster)

A group of individuals, juvenile and or adult, who associate on a continuous basis, form an allegiance for a common purpose (allegedly this is the police definition)

A group of people who through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage share a common identity (Wikipedia)

These definitions have something in common--a gang is a group of people who are seeking to achieve some common purpose. But if this is the definition, then a business or a sports team or the PTA could be called a gang-- each is a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. The concept of "gang" must also represent some other characteristic(s), because the concept is usually used in reference to those engaged in criminal activities. What then, is the differentia? What distinguishes gangs from other groups?

The distinguishing characteristic is the use of force as a modus operandi. The gang, unlike a business or a sports team or the PTA, uses force to achieve its ends. A business operates on the voluntary consent of its employees, customers, and vendors, as does a sports team and the PTA. A gang is unconcerned with consent, and compels individuals to act as it chooses. And this compulsion is used against both gang members and the public. It is the use of force, and specifically the initiation for force, that distinguishes a gang from other groups.

So, the definition of a gang is: a group of individuals who initiate force to achieve a common purpose. A gang believes that might makes right, that its desires can rightfully be achieved by force. It takes what it wants because it can. It compels others to act as it desires because it can. And it has no qualms about its methods. A gang does not recognize individual rights, including property rights.

Initiating force can take many forms. The most obvious is to hold a gun to someone's head. But one can also use others as a proxy. One can also use others to initiate the force, and government is the most common and socially acceptable proxy.

For example, when the anti-gang task force was first formed, the City quickly passed an ordinance that forced property owners to remove graffiti from their buildings or face fines. When the home owners in Southampton and Boulevard Oaks disliked the Ashby High Rise they rushed to City Hall to find methods to force the developers to change their plans. In each instance, some individuals acted in concert to achieve their ends through the use of force.

Some might believe that gangs only dress in droopy pants and are covered in tattoos. These are non-essentials. Gang members can also wear suits and ties. A gang is not defined by how it dresses, but by the ideas it embraces and how it acts. Middle-class Americans, acting together to compel others to act as they choose, are a gang. And they act on the same premises as the poor Latinos from the barrio who steal cars, tag buildings, and rob their neighbors.

Some might argue that the City's efforts to remove graffiti or stop the Ashby High Rise are just democracy in action. And they would be correct. However, democracy is nothing more than rule by a gang of the majority. Democracy means that the majority may do as it pleases because it is the majority, and it may use force to achieve its ends. The majority determines right and wrong--which means, might makes right. The dear citizens of Southampton may not like be equated with hoodlums, but their desires do not change the facts.

As Shakespeare might have written:

What's in a name? that which we call a gang
By any other name would be as mean;
So a gang would, were it not a gang call'd,
Retain that club and fury which it owes
Without that title.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was actually a very insightful piece on the problems we've been facing with violent juveniles. I must agree, the government generally brings up topics such as gang violence, education and healthcare to appease the public more than anything else, and I think the public is complacent enough to accept it as is. Even when groups such as 99problems speak out against such issues, they could definitely use such insight to help the cause.