Gangs

Well, well, well, the media is on a blitz with criminal gangs here in the Lower Mainland, as we now have hit the 12th killing in 24 days. The news papers are a buzz with people’s opinions, and law enforcement officials talking the talk and spewing out all sorts of social, judicial and administrative problems as the public screams for answers and results. No one is immune from it, the criticisms I mean: judges, lawyers, politicians, police, academics. It is like everyone is fodder for the moral panic that is flooding the airwaves.

This morning in one of my classes, we talked about the escalating gang violence problem. The prof said very bluntly, “we are giving the gangs what they want…” He was refering to “fear.” The media is pumping everyone up with the fear from the spike in gang violence. The public, who only a fraction of it knows just how the justice system functions, has been very quick to criticize and lay blame to it. There was a community rally a couple of days ago in Surrey, BC where members of the public wanted tougher sentences and swifter responses from law enforcement officials to keep gang members off the streets, and change the justice system. One sign read, “Elect Judges!,” while another said “Longer Sentences.”

The problem that I see right off the bat is that people maybe angry and fearful of gang violence, but do they really understand the problem when they ask for legislative change? For the media, they know that printing a dead body on its cover of the newspaper, or running it as the lead story on TV is going to sell better than talking about a snow storm in Newfoundland the night before. As sick as this sounds, people like to see this type of news, so it is easy to “amp up” the stories and sell those papers. Crime is one of the best topics to capture people’s opinions with: that is partly why I became a criminologists, I wanted to study this phenomena.  A reporter says, “gang violence is growing out of control in our community,” well, everyone goes into fear mode, and then asks for “swift” justice. Shootings are no doubt one of the biggest criminal events that can shake any community down to its core, so naturally and rightfully so, people are going to react to it. People are going to think that there is a break-down in the justice model, so quick fixes are needed to deal with this serge in criminal violence, meaning change, “like right now.”

I ask, are you willing and ready to give up your way of life just to stamp out organized crime? How far should we all go to stop all gang members from becoming gang members?  Do we need to elect judges, hire more police, spend more money, create stiffer penalties?

For the public these are issues that are answered without any forethought to the problem because no one really knows how to address them. Take for example, a police officer, a politician, a criminologist, and ask them, “What is the definition of a Gang”?  It is very difficult to find a good bases point to address what is, or isn’t, a gang. Then add the problem of defining what is organized crime. Even the so called “self experts” from the right wing spectrum of the political map have a problem with this one too. Then ask, why are gangs always affiliated with ethic stereotypes? The only “White” gang that I know of are the Hells Angels. So gangs are big mysteries, and with great mysteries the media scare waves can broil the public into panic.

Then we have the political “Band-Wagon” of crime, and everyone will want to jump on it as passes by. With crime waves comes politicians begging for attention, “look at me—I’m going to GET THOUGH WITH CRIME! Watch me—Vote for me—I have the answer.” The danger with the band wagon of reform is, the public will pay a price and that price will be more than just cost because we will see drastic changes in the way the justice system will serve the public. All political parties, regardless of their stripes will boast about their stance on crime, and pulling the crime-card will make voters wary about who to choose, or believe. The back-fire from all of this will be those who are innocent, whether they are the bystanders or the wrongfully convicted, public opinion will always be split on the effectiveness of any crime control scheme imposed by any government.

So, are we giving the gangs what they want? Probably not, but when the public goes into fear mode then everyone is effected by it and that is where the so called gang wins. Drive-by shootings are selfish acts that effect entire communities, and law enforcement officials need to have the best tools to fight this type of crime with, but also keep in mind too that we should not be willing to sacrifice our freedoms due to fear. We must keep level heads and our ideals when faced with a handful of mindless acts. Hey, if you want to see a bad place with a huge drug and gang problem, go to Mexico, we can learn a lot from their issues.

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