Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gangs, Juggalos, and the FBI's Crooked Frames

There it is, right in the FBI's list of Haitian and Somalian and other scary gangs,  the "Juggalos!" Yeah, the Insane Clown Posse's groupie group has made the FBIs most dangerous gangs list. You gotta be kidding. 

But lets leave to one side too-easy-to-make comments about FBI paranoia or tactics to scare lawmakers and get more funding.  Rather, let's look more carefully at what the FBI says about the overall US gang problem.  How are gangs being "framed" by the nation's most powerful law enforcement agency?

First, all sorts of gangs are lumped together in their report "2011 National Gang Threat Assessment." Fair enough, the FBI is charged with investigating "threats," as in the mafia, communists, terrorists, gangs, or now, eeek!,  Juggalos.  The "frame" provided by their report means some aspects — gangs as threats — are given more prominence than others.  As in a picture frame: you are directed to look inside the frame and end up not looking outside it.  

Gangs as threats may be a justified target of the FBI,  but aren't gangs more than threats?  We may not like it, but gangs, for example,  provide emotional support for troubled kids.  They are signs that not all is right with our schools and become a refuge for drop outs.  [note: according to a recent report only 47% of high school age black males actually graduated].  They provide jobs, even if from vice industries, for youth in minority neighborhoods where unemployment is staggeringly high.  They bring money into poor minority neighborhoods when gangs sell drugs to a richer white clientele  [evenso, white kids are more likely to use and sell drugs than black kids].  Yes, gangs do more harm than good, but we need to recognize that gangs (including Juggalos) are more than one thing.  Come to think of it,  just like the FBI, as those who've had experience with their investigations will attest

But FBI "framing," double entendre intended, is not on the up and up.  Let's look at what their report did not say or what we can find buried in their text.  For example, their report claims there are now 1.4 million gang members, a "40 percent increase from 2009."  Huh? Forty percent, actually a reported 500,000 more gang members over 2 years?  How did they arrive at this number ?  Read the small print: 

Better reporting and collection has contributed greatly to the increased documentation and reporting of gang members and gang trends. 

Uh, huh. They got these numbers by asking law enforcement agencies to estimate how many gang members in their jurisdiction and this year there was "better reporting" meaning the cops found more gangs. Do locales have a common methodology in estimating gang membership? Nope. Any checks on validity? Nope. Any reason to think a jurisdiction might exaggerate their findings? Well, if you got a bigger gang problem you will certainly need more funds to fight them. How many local estimates did the FBI reject because they were suspect? We don't know but I'll take a guess: None. So how do they know how many gangs and gang members there are? Do they count them? Nah, they ask the local cops to do what amounts to a "guess-timate."  So why do the FBI think this massive increase occurred?  Read and weep:

Law enforcement in several jurisdictions also attribute the increase in gang membership in their region to the gangster rap culture, the facilitation of communication and recruitment through the Internet and social media, the proliferation of generational gang members, and a shortage of resources to combat gangs.

Ah,  gangsta rap and Facebook are to blame. Really.  But there is more.  In 2010 the FBI tells us 

Gangs are becoming more violent.....

But Director Mueller, we have a problem here. USA Today reported that in 2010.  

Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show.

In fact, the murder rate in 2010 of 4.8 per 100,000 was less than HALF that in 1991 (9.8) or 1980 (10.2).  In fact, the absolute number of homicides in 2010 (14,748) is almost exactly the same as 1969 (14,760) when there were 100,000,000 fewer people in the US!   Rape, robbery, and assault are also all sharply down.

The report goes on to say other silly things, for example linking gangs to the computer game Second Life, because gang members "could potentially use Second Life to recruit, spread propaganda, commit other crimes such as drug trafficking, and receive training for real-world criminal organizations." "Potentially?" Is this a feeler for the FBI to investigate the 21.3 million Second Life accounts registered in 2010?

Now the problem with such "crooked frames" is that there is a real threat from gangs, but it becomes lost in rhetoric that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. In many cities gangs are not becoming more sophisticated and organized but fragmented with fewer controls from powerful city leaders. This has both good and bad aspects. Less organization often means more violence.  At the same time, the reach of Mexican cartels and prison gangs has influenced gangs in many areas, and this deserves more than cursory attention. We also are not informed of increasing penetration of Latino gangs into politics, following the well trod Irish and Italian paths.  Gangs and politics have always been closely knit, but the FBI apparently doesn't think corruption is a threat worth mentioning.  I wonder why?  FBI gang reports like this are meant for cheap headlines and little else. 

Now I have to admit that I have mingled with Juggalos and watched the Insane Clown Posse perform in person. They are outrageous. But no more so than the FBI's "Threat Assessment." 

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