[Paleopsych] Foreign Policy: Gang World

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Foreign Policy: Gang World
Page 1 of 4 [The rest follow.]

[A very informative article, but the author seems to think it is wicked 
for the U.S. to deport gang members.]

    Gang World
    By Andrew V. Papachristos
    [21]March/April 2005

    Street gangs are proliferating around the world. The United States has
    unwittingly spurred this phenomenon by deporting tens of thousands of
    immigrants with criminal records each year. But that only partly
    explains how gangs went global. Credit also goes to the Internet,
    where gangs are staking out turf and spreading their culture online.
    Gang members may have never heard of globalization, but it is making
    them stronger.

    It's a cold winter day in Chicago, and Hector is doing what he does
    almost every day, standing on his drug spot "serving" customers.
    Hector, a 19-year-old member of the Latin Kings street gang, is the
    son of Mexican immigrants. He speaks Spanglish skillfully, mixed with
    urban slang, and wears a uniform typical of the youth in his
    neighborhood--puffy coat, baggy jeans, and meticulously clean, white
    athletic shoes (in a city where snow salt decimates entire wardrobes).
    Hector has never traveled outside of Chicago and only rarely ventures
    beyond a three-mile radius of his apartment.

    Hector stands at the end of a long and familiar global commodity
    chain. The little plastic bags in his palm contain $10 chunks of crack
    cocaine that look like jagged, disfigured sugar cubes. By the time the
    crack hits the streets of Chicago, it has been touched by more than a
    dozen people in three countries. Hector has no interest in its global
    supply chain. His daily concerns and activities center on a few city
    blocks, his aspirations reaching just as far. The majority of Hector's
    day is spent doing what other 19-year-olds do--sleeping, hanging out
    with friends, trying to talk to teenage girls, playing video games,
    and standing on the street corner laughing. He sells drugs for only a
    few hours a day, going home with around $50 profit, little more than
    he'd make working at McDonald's.

    Hector's image--that of a young, minority, "inner-city," male gang
    member--is transmitted, exploited, and glamorized across the world.
    The increasing mobility of information via cyberspace, films, and
    music makes it easy for gangs, gang members, and gang wannabes to get
    information, adapt personalities, and distort gang behaviors. Most
    often, these images of gang life are not simply exaggerated; they're
    flat-out wrong. Flashy cars, diamond rings (real ones, at least), and
    wads of cash are not the gang world norm. Hustling to make ends meet,
    trying to put food on the table while staying out of jail, wearing the
    same T-shirt and blue jeans until they have holes in them, and dealing
    with the humdrum of school, unemployment, and child support are more

    Nonetheless, two images of street gangs dominate the popular
    consciousness--gangs as posses of drug-dealing thugs and, more
    recently, gangs as terrorist organizations. Although the media like to
    link gangs and drugs, only a small portion of all gangs actually deal
    in them. Fewer do so in an organized fashion. The National Youth Gang
    Center (NYGC) estimates that 34 percent of all U.S. gangs are actively
    involved in organized drug dealing. Gangs that do sell drugs
    essentially fill a void in the postindustrial urban economy, replacing
    the manufacturing and unskilled labor jobs that traditionally served
    as a means for social mobility.

    Similarly, the name Jose Padilla is inevitably followed by two
    epithets--al Qaeda terror suspect and street gang member. The link
    between the two is extremely misleading. Padilla was arrested at
    Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in June 2002, reportedly en
    route to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. But, as with drug
    dealing, most gangs lack the organizational wherewithal to operate
    transnational clandestine networks. Instead, most gangs engage in what
    one criminologist calls "cafeteria-style" crime--a little bit of drug
    use, a smattering of larceny, a dab of truancy, a dollop of fighting,
    and so on. Padilla's attempted terrorist act had little to do with his
    gang affiliation.

    That said, there have been a handful of extreme examples that suggest
    that some gangs do in fact have the global reach necessary to commit
    terrorist acts. In 1986, the Chicago-based El Rukns conspired to
    commit terrorist acts on U.S. soil on behalf of the Libyan government,
    in exchange for $2.5 million. [[25]click here for the sidebar.] In the
    1990s, the Latin Kings funneled money to the FALN, a militant group
    based in Puerto Rico, through ties that were cultivated inside the
    U.S. prison system. And, most recently, leaders of the Mara
    Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, which operates in at least 31 states and
    three countries, met in Honduras with Adnan el-Shukrijumah, a key al
    Qaeda leader, to discuss smuggling immigrants into the United States
    via Mexico.

    One of the most urgent challenges for policymakers is distinguishing
    between the average street gang and groups that operate as criminal
    networks. Until recently, gang membership was a common part of city
    boyhood and not terribly detrimental. Members left as they got
    married, got a job, enlisted in the military, or simply grew out of
    gang behaviors. But, as cities have changed, so have gangs. The
    globalization of the world economy, and the resulting exodus of
    manufacturing jobs from developed urban centers to the developing
    world, has left poor neighborhoods geographically and socially
    isolated. Not surprisingly, street gangs and gang violence have
    increased dramatically with globalization. Today, gangs serve as de
    facto protectors, families, and employers. Members are staying in
    gangs longer, young women are increasingly involved, and gangs are now
    reported in all 50 U.S. states and in countless countries.


   21. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=220

Page 2 of 4

    Globalization and street gangs exist in a paradox: Gangs are a global
    phenomenon not because the groups themselves have become transnational
    organizations (although a few have), but because of the recent
    hypermobility of gang members and their culture. At the same time that
    globalization isolates neighborhoods heavily populated by gangs, it
    also helps spread gang activity and culture. Gangs have, in a sense,
    gone global.


    Gangs exist in 3,300 cities across the United States--essentially, any
    municipality with a population of more than 250,000 people--and in a
    growing number of small towns and rural areas. This figure is about a
    433 percent increase from estimates in the 1970s, when gangs were
    reported in roughly 200 cities. The NYGC estimates that today there
    are more than 731,500 gang members in 21,500 different gangs in the
    United States. Such proliferation is not confined geographically.
    Gangs and other violent "youth groups" have been reported in France,
    Greece, South Africa, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany,
    Belgium, Britain, Jamaica, Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, Australia,
    and elsewhere.

    A common myth used to explain such proliferation is that gangs
    "migrate" in search of new members, turf, or criminal opportunities.
    Although that is true in the rare cases of groups like the Latin Kings
    and MS-13, very little evidence suggests that gang proliferation is
    associated with calculated entrepreneurial ambitions. A more plausible
    explanation is that when people move, they take their culture with
    them. For example, Trey, a member of Chicago's massive Gangster
    Disciples, moved to a small town in Arkansas where his brother, who is
    not a gang member, had found a job. Although Trey tried to "go legit,"
    he soon found that his status as a Gangster Disciple from the housing
    projects of Chicago gave him a formidable reputation in small-town
    Arkansas. Within nine months, he started a new Gangster Disciples
    "chapter" with 15 members. But this new gang had no formal connection
    with the group in Chicago.

    The same trend is occurring internationally, particularly in Latin
    America and Asia. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 gang members,
    the National Gang Crime Research Center found that about 50 percent of
    gang members believed that their gang had international connections.
    Analysis conducted by this author suggests the rate is considerably
    higher for Hispanic (66 percent) and Asian (58 percent) gang members,
    who are more likely to be immigrants.

    The movement of gang members overseas not only spreads gang culture
    but also helps to establish links between gang members in different
    countries. When Lito, a member of Hector's Latin Kings gang, ran into
    trouble with the law in Chicago, his family sent him to live with an
    aunt in Mexico. There, he quickly became a go-between for gang members
    in the United States looking to avoid detection and for Mexican
    immigrants searching for jobs in the United States. The Latin Kings,
    in fact, turned these connections into a lucrative business by
    manufacturing fake ID cards. A 1999 investigation of several Latin
    Kings recovered 31,000 fraudulent IDs and travel documents.

    Of course, gang members do not always travel overseas as a matter of
    free will. Since the mid-1990s, U.S. immigration policy has
    dramatically boosted the proliferation of gangs throughout Latin
    America and Asia by deporting tens of thousands of immigrants with
    criminal records back to their home countries each year, including a
    growing number of gang members. In 1996, around 38,000 immigrants were
    deported after committing a crime; by 2003, the number had jumped to
    almost 80,000. Often, gang members have spent nearly their entire
    lives in the United States. But once they run afoul of the law, their
    immigrant status leaves them vulnerable to deportation.

    The countries that receive the flood of deportees are usually
    ill-equipped to deal with so many returning gang members. Although
    estimates vary, experts believe that there are now nearly 100,000 gang
    members spread across Central America and Mexico. In 2003, the United
    States deported more than 2,100 immigrants with criminal records to
    the Dominican Republic. The same year, nearly 2,000 were deported to
    El Salvador. The U.S. government does not keep track of how many of
    these criminal deportees are gang members, but many Latin American
    states see a connection and say gangs are now one of their biggest
    threats to national security. In 2003, Honduras, El Salvador,
    Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico agreed to work together to find new ways
    to beat the challenges gangs pose.

    It's not as though many gang members wish to remain in the countries
    of their birth. With little or no connection to their new homes,
    deported gang members typically face a simple choice: either find a
    way to return to the United States or seek protection from local gang
    members. In the case of MS-13, the U.S. government has deported
    hundreds of members, many of whom continue to illegally migrate back
    and forth, often carrying goods or people with them. Those that remain
    in their home countries are almost sure to connect with other deported
    gang members, and authorities in these countries say they are
    responsible for a large upswing in crime and violence. In a sense,
    U.S. immigration policy has amounted to unintentional state-sponsored
    gang migration. Rather than solving the gang problem, the United
    States may have only spread it.

Page 3 of 4


    A search for particular gang slogans or phrases on any major search
    engine uncovers Web sites with gang manifestos, bylaws, pictures,
    symbols, and, yes, even turf. The Internet provides a new platform for
    gang warfare, and cyberspace is serving as an outlet for activities
    that could lead to violence if attempted on the street, such as
    "disrespecting" rival gangs, making claims of superiority, or
    disclosing gang secrets. Reputations are developed through verbal
    combat with vague, often anonymous, rivals. Individual gangs flaunt
    their Internet savvy by posting complex Web sites, including some with
    password protection. Entire Web sites are dedicated to celebrating the
    history and cultural icons of individual gangs, including internal
    documents, prayers, and photos. But, unlike exchanges in the real
    world, virtual spats rarely lead to actual violence.

    Still, few gang members ever discuss or mention the Internet. Many
    don't possess the hardware, software, or technical skills (not to
    mention the necessary telephone lines) to manage the Web. Most
    gang-related Web activity appears to come from gang members who have
    moved beyond their neighborhood, perhaps to attend college, or gang
    members and wannabes in suburbs or smaller towns. On the Internet,
    it's easy to co-opt the identity of well-known, mythic gangs.

    A now defunct Web site of a gang calling itself "The Black Gangster
    Disciples," after the notorious Chicago gang, contained several pages
    of gang prayers, oaths, and other sensitive organizational materials.
    The Web page's guest book was a virtual street corner where surfers
    gave shout-outs (salutations or greetings) or disses (slanderous
    remarks) toward the group. Ironically, the site also contained a
    picture of the gang--a group of white, adolescent males flashing gang
    signs (the wrong ones, I might add), in someone's well-furnished

    Such digital proliferation has unlimited global potential. Police in
    the Netherlands have identified groups using the names of
    California-based gangs, such as the "Eight Tray Crips." But these
    exported gangs miss the hyperlocal point of their namesakes--the
    "Black" in the Black Gangster Disciples was added during the 1960s as
    the gang identified with civil rights activity on Chicago's South
    Side; "Eight Tray" refers to specific streets in California. Neither
    of these copycat gangs is able to, geographically or historically,
    live the local meaning found in the names of their gangs.

    This proliferation of gangs on the Net might give the false impression
    that they are now soliciting members across the globe. The anonymity
    of cyberspace might build up the egos or reputations of people
    pretending to be something they are not, giving psychological reasons
    to seek other gang outlets or create them where none exist. Of course,
    it is possible that some of the more sophisticated gangs may already
    be exploiting cyberspace for illicit purposes, such as arranging drug
    deals or transferring illegal funds. Although it is impossible to stop
    gangs and gang members from posting Web pages, differentiating between
    the banal and the potentially dangerous virtual gang activity will be
    an important task in the years ahead. Gangs will no doubt take
    advantage of technological advances. The difficult part is figuring
    out what is real and what is not.


    Street gangs are proliferating. What comes next depends in part on how
    globalization continues to affect our cities and how we deal with its
    consequences. As the global economy creates a growing number of
    disenfranchised groups, some will inevitably meet their needs in a

    Criminal organizations such as the Gangster Disciples, Crips, Bloods,
    MS-13, and Latin Kings are dangerous entities. But these groups are an
    anomaly in the gang world; they represent the worst of what gangs can
    become, not what most gangs are. Treating all gang members like mafia
    kingpins or terrorist masterminds is overestimating people who, more
    often than not, are petty delinquents. At their core, gangs are not
    just a criminal justice problem; they are a social problem. One of the
    biggest challenges is reintroducing an offender into a community.
    Labels such as "ex-offender" and "gang member" follow people
    throughout their lives, making it next to impossible for someone to
    make a fresh start. Scores of gang members go through the revolving
    criminal justice door and return to communities that offer no viable
    employment opportunities. In some prisons, gang members are trained
    for jobs that are not available when they are released.

    No amount of law enforcement will rid the world of gangs. Strategies
    at all levels must move beyond simple arrest and incarceration to
    consider the economic structures of the cities and neighborhoods that
    breed street gangs. Otherwise, there will be nothing there to greet
    them but the waiting and supportive arms of the gang.

    For Hector, globalization is just a word. It means nothing to him.
    It's possible that he has never even heard it. And it's certain he
    never sees globalization's benefits or associates its forces with his
    everyday life. On this cold winter day, I ask Hector where he thinks
    the drugs he sells come from. He laughs. "Man, what do I care? All I
    care is that the shit gets here," he says, stomping his feet to stay
    warm. A block away, I hear another gang member shouting, "Rocks and
    blow." The Latin Kings are open for business.
    Andrew V. Papachristos, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University
    of Chicago, has worked with gangs for more than 12 years.

Page 4 of 4

    The El Rukns represent the worst of what gangs can become. Originally
    known as the Blackstone Rangers, the gang emerged in the late 1950s on
    Chicago's South Side. Their leader, Jeff Fort, eventually consolidated
    the Blackstone Rangers with 21 smaller gangs, creating a powerful
    organization. In 1968, Fort was convicted in federal court of
    embezzling $1.4 million dollars in anti-poverty grants from churches
    and community organizations. Rather than create jobs, as the grants
    were intended, Fort used the funds to purchase guns, cars, and drugs.
    Released from Leavenworth prison in 1976, Fort joined the Moorish
    Science Temple of America and converted to Islam. The Blackstone
    Rangers then assumed the new identity of the El Rukns (Arabic for "the
    foundation of knowledge").

    Three high-ranking members of the El Rukns traveled to Libya in March
    1986 to broker a deal with military officials in which the gang would
    commit "terrorist acts on U.S. soil" in exchange for $2.5 million.
    Again, the gang was apparently motivated by a desire for cash and
    notoriety. In May, a second meeting between the El Rukns and Libyan
    officials occurred in Panama. But upon their return, customs officials
    searched the luggage of two of the gang members and turned up
    documents that contained the vague outlines to several terrorist
    plots. Their plans, concocted in Chicago, included destroying federal
    buildings, blowing up an airplane, assassinating a Milwaukee alderman,
    and simply committing a "killing here or there."

    Two months later, the El Rukns purchased a light anti-tank weapon for
    $1,800--from an undercover FBI agent. The purchase, as well as the
    testimony of informants and conversations recorded on wiretaps,
    convinced a federal judge to issue search warrants. Authorities
    ultimately uncovered the anti-tank weapon, as well as 32 firearms,
    including a MAC-10 machine gun, a fully automatic .45-caliber pistol,
    and several rounds of armor-piercing bullets. Five senior members of
    the gang, including Jeff Fort, were convicted of conspiracy to commit
    terrorist acts and remain in prison today. Still, their story shows
    how a small, seemingly ordinary street gang can turn into something
    far more dangerous. -AVP


    Want to Know More?

    For discussion of the cause-and-effect relationship between
    globalization and gangs, the proliferation of gang culture via the
    media and cyberspace, and the impact of gangs in various nations
    around the world, see Gangs in the Global City (Champaign: University
    of Illinois Press, forthcoming), edited by John Hagedorn. Useful
    overviews of gang activity include Irving A. Spergel's The Youth Gang
    Problem: A Community Approach (New York: Oxford University Press,
    1995) and The American Street Gang: Its Nature, Prevalence, and
    Control (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), by Malcolm W.

    Some of the best resources on gangs are found online. The Web site of
    the National Gang Crime Research Center offers a wide variety of
    information, including profiles of all U.S.-based gangs discussed in
    this article. Hagedorn's GangResearch.net contains numerous articles
    exploring the relationship between gangs and globalization. The
    National Youth Gang Center Web site features surveys of gang activity
    in the United States.

    The U.S. Southern Command monitors the proliferation of gangs in Latin
    America. Recent studies include Latin American Gangs: Their Center of
    Gravity (Open Source Report 005, Dec. 13, 2004). Ginger Thompson
    chronicles the bloody results of recent street gang activity in
    Honduras in "Tattooed Warriors: The Next Generation; Shuttling Between
    Nations, Latino Gangs Confound the Law" (New York Times, Sept. 26,
    2004). In "`Getting High and Getting By': Dimensions of Drug Selling
    Behaviors Among American Mexican Gang Members in South Texas" (The
    Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, February 2004), Avelardo
    Valdez and Stephen J. Sifaneck explore the complex intersection of
    gangs and drugs.

    FOREIGN POLICY`s award-winning coverage of other forms of cultural
    globalization include Kym Anderson's "Wine's New World" (May/June
    2003), Theodore Bestor's "How Sushi Went Global" (November/December
    2000), and Douglas McGray's "Japan's Gross National Cool" (May/June

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