Saturday, July 23, 2011

Obliterating Gangs in Chicago

Police unleash war on Maniac Latin Disciples gang, arrest 120

“.....We’re going to obliterate that gang,” McCarthy told a roomful of police supervisors shortly after the shooting. “Every one of their locations has to get blown up until they cease to exist....”
Thus spoke Chicago's new Zarathustra, CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy after two young girls were wounded in a Humboldt Park shooting. Fresh on the job, the new chief is aiming for a PR victory, but he is woefully uninformed about the realities of Chicago's institutionalized gangs. 
Oh, the pressure was on the MLDs.  When I hung around in Humboldt Park a few days after McCarthy's declaration of war, all the talk was about MLD soldiers being arrested. And most released the next day. No one was really taking McCarthy's words as anything more than the same old rhetoric we've heard for years. Except this time, this cop, doesn't "get" Chicago and its gangs. 
I'm taking bets. I'll give 10 to 1 that the MLDs will outlast McCarthy. Any takers? Rahm? 
So what's wrong with his aim to "obliterate" the MLDs until "they cease to exist?"  Let me count the ways and provide some basic education to our new CPD Superintendent.
First, we've mentioned that most of those arrested just got back out the next day.  Hey Chief, there is still a Constitution and Bill of Rights. Being a member of a gang is not illegal, and you can pick up all the soldiers you want for crimes like "dog-fighting."   McCarthy has embraced Jody Weis' retrograde notion of collective punishment.  I know much of the public hates gangs, but guilt by association is forbidden by the constitution.  Not that the Tribune or Sun-Times has stressed that inconvenient fact.
Second, where do you think the gangs are the strongest? The state prison system. The MLDs main leader,  Fernando "Fernie" Zayas, ran the streets from prison even after he was incarcerated in 1983.  The hood and the prison yard are two adjacent spaces for today's gangs.  For those guys you succeed in locking up, the vast majority will have their gang identity strengthened in prison, not weakened. Locking them up as a strategy to "obliterate gangs" will only backfire. 
Finally, the MLDs have been around since their founding by Albert "Hitler" Hernandez in 1966. They had roots going back further in a group called the Latin Scorpions. They have had multiple leaders killed, like Hernandez and Prince Enrique "Rick Dog" Garcia in 1996.  Their main leader, Fernando "Fernie" Zayas,  has been locked up for decades. Still they don't go away.  Chief,  they have "institutionalized." 
I explained this in my last book, A World of Gangs (p. 9-10).
 "Institutionalization means that gangs persist despite changes in leadership (killed, incarcerated, or “matured out”), have organization complex enough to sustain multiple roles of its members (including roles for women and children), can adapt to changing environments (police repression or civil war), fulfill some needs of its community (economics, security, services), and organize a distinct outlook of their members (symbols, rituals, traditions)." 
 Chicago's major gangs, unlike those in New York City, have been around continuously since at least the 1960s. They've seen lots of big tough police chiefs come and go. They are street institutions, and if you can recall your organizational theory from the late Phillip Selznick, you'll remember that institutions are not just "expendable tools" but "living organisms." They instill in their members a belief in the organization itself and create myths and rituals that keep the organization going. An institution is concerned more with survival than any specific activity. It adapts. Locking up a few hundred soldiers and thinking that is going to get rid of the gang is just plain silly. The MLDs are rolling with your punches.
Have the MLDs done great damage to the Puerto Rican community over the years? Yes. But your vow to "obliterate" a street institution makes you look foolish. You have a lot to learn about Chicago and its gangs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Attributing Blame

"Gangs of toddler thugs terrorise kids and teachers"        
“Children as young as two and three are forming gangs of "thugs" - swearing at, biting and kicking other kids and teachers….”
This headline and story is from New Zealand, but it isn’t a bad place to inaugurate this blog. Gangs elicit fear and are the stuff of media stereotypes whether they are in Auckland, Chicago, Capetown, Moscow, or anywhere on this planet of fear. The mass media “cues” and reinforces deep, unconscious beliefs in the public, what are called “implicit stereotypes” or mental schema. These are common beliefs that may or may not have much to do with reality.
This story and the image which I pulled from the web reinforce the folk wisdom, or "implicit stereotypes," that some kids are just bad, whether from genetics, poor parenting, or having an evil disposition.  In countries like the US, it evokes racialized fears of youthful black “super predators.” These stereotypes lead to a simple policy conclusion: lock ‘em up and throw away the key or execute them as soon as we can. Thus we end up with our present policy of mass incarceration and capital punishment.
This is an example of what is called the “fundamental attributional error” — attributing causality to the innate dispositions of people, rather than examining situational factors. One way to think about this is to look at places that produce child soldiers who do carry guns. The horrors of civil war and the forced recruitment of children to kill for one side against another in countries like Sierra Leone can hardly be blamed on the children. The arming of factions and ethnic groups is recognized as the result of the drive of adults for profits and power. Kids are clearly the victims. 
But that is also the case in the US. It's not “toddler thugs” we should fear. Maybe someone should ask what was going on in that classroom that two year old kids would be kicking a teacher?