Just when you thought defining Juggalos as gangs and FBI hyperbolic exaggerations couldn't get worse, voilà, here comes the US Gang Intelligence Agency! With understandably muted fanfare, the creation of a new entity to investigate gangs and "domestic terrorism" was recently announced.
Why not front page in the New York Times? Maybe there was a bit of embarrassment. To get some sense of how serious this agency is, the initial press release explains that the USGIA is concerned with more than gangs and recently investigated a spat between police agencies. In what might be called "interfecine" warfare, one officer splattered sh*t on the car of another over the arrest of a Miami cop by Florida State Patrol! Things "escalated" from there. Ugh! This in their initial press release. Really. Read about it for yourself. Now, no easy jokes about what this agency is probably full of.
Despite the official looking seal, the USGIA ("G"not "C", get it?) is a private company dedicated to "assist local, state and federal law enforcement agencies identify, analyze, confirm and respond to what they call Mass Victim Related Acts ("MVRA")." For a hefty fee, no doubt. Their absurd press release is hardly noteworthy except for its easy the equating of gangs and terrorists. What needs to be noted is how the "frame" of terrorism is being extended to areas far from what you might think. For example, the USA Patriot Act defines "domestic terrorism as
... an act ""dangerous to human life"" that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
This can cover almost any crime and the label "terrorist" can be easily directed against street gangs. Many states have adopted terrorist language in their anti-gang bills like The Illinois Street Gang Terrorist Omnibus Prevention Act. What we are witnessing is the acceptance of a frame that merges young people acting out destructively with organized terrorist conspiracies, real or imagined.
A few years ago I consulted with attorneys in the Narseal Batiste trial. Batiste was accused of plotting with al Queda to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower. Actually the plot was concocted by an FBI undercover agent posing as an al Queda operative in what the defense argued — and I concur — was a clear case of entrapment. After two mistrials and tens of millions of dollars spent, in a third trial the US Attorney argued that not only was Batiste a dupe of Osama and al Queda, but he was a dupe of Jeff Fort and the Blackstone Rangers as well! Terrorist and gang member to boot put the jury over the top. Batiste's questionable conviction is now on appeal.
The American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI) manual for prosecuting gang cases states:
While they don’t call themselves terrorists, the effect is just the same—every day, innocent people are killed in the streets, often in broad daylight. Just like terrorists, gang members thrive on fear. The more fear they can instill in the communities and their enemies, the greater the freedom they enjoy while dealing in their dirty business of guns, drugs, and extortion. That fear is implanted by taking credit for the violence they
Hey, lets reduce the world to "them" and "us," no shades of difference, no subtlety, no mixed loyalties, nothing but enemies we need to wipe out before they wipe us out. Gangs, terrorists, communists, Juggalos, what's the difference? After all, since we cannot reason or compromise with pure evil, we can only destroy it for the sake of "homeland security."
US Justice Department policy toward gangs is an example of what Robert Entman calls "cognitive shortcuts." This means we simplify complex and diverse matters into a single, uncomplicated mantra. Life is reduced to a simple-minded narrative of good vs. evil. When this psychological process becomes the underpinnings of policy, we should indeed be be wary. Think about it: do we really want to take "shortcuts" to justice? Silly organizations like the USGIA just underscore the dangerous frames of our country's policy towards gangs.