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When Debating the Border, Let’s Remember Gangs

(Marvin Reckons/Pacific Standard)

“With well over one million gang members criminally operating in the United States…Terms like ‘occupation’ come to mind.”

As the political battle rages over the merits of constructing a physical barrier between United States and Mexico, much of the debate has centered on whether the current state of border security constitutes a national emergency. Seeking to bolster their respective positions, partisans on both sides posit an assortment of crime statistics. Dramatic, established, and alarming calculations, however, reveal an undeniable public safety danger that exists within our own boundaries.

An unrelenting battery of findings confirms that criminal street gangs represent an existential threat to the American way of life. The numbers are staggering. The following exemplary, non-exhaustive list proves the perilous pervasiveness of gang crime:

  • 2009: A federal study determined that “Criminal gangs commit as much as 80 percent of crimes in many communities” and “Gang members are the primary retail distributors of most illicit drugs.”
  • 2011: Federal calculations estimated that 1.4 million gang members from over 33,000 gangs “are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others.”  
  • 2015: Academic research reportedly discovered that actual youth gang membership may indeed more than triple federal government estimates.

Regional reports are equally disquieting. Indicative examples illustrate:

Incredibly, notwithstanding the enduring, ubiquitous, and metastasizing epidemic of gang crime, there remains no set of federal laws specifically designed to prosecute gangs or gang members for their gang-motivated crimes.

Border security, as a constituent element of public safety, is, of course, a national imperative. Advocates in favor of fortifying border protections could strengthen their arguments by pushing for comprehensive action against criminal street gangs, with Congressional passage of a federal anti-gang prosecution act serving as the lynchpin. Such measures would universally apply, regardless of a given gang member’s nationality. Compelling statistics and commentary are readily available to support this approach.       

Moreover, proceeding in this fashion with all-encompassing measures against gangs, spearheaded by a national gang prosecution law, would stymie opponents of enhanced border protections. Border security naysayers would be forced to contend with their persistent failure to address the inescapable realities of American gang crime. Evidenced by the fact that they never seem to propose plans to improve proscriptions against gangs, this indifference remains, irrespective of whether gang members—or their victims—entered this country legally or not.

Focusing on this sort of collective course of dramatic action against gang crime would similarly provide supporters of stronger borders with impactful means by which to challenge Mainstream Media narratives. Those accounts could be easily made to appear derelict, given that the volume of gangs, gang crime, and gang crime victims continues to intensify, unimpeded by anything resembling a proportionate level of serious media reports, critique, or commentary.

Former Cobb County District Attorney and recently appointed Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vic Reynolds, has imparted, “Communities do not have ‘gang problems.’ America has a gang crisis.” With well over one million gang members criminally operating in the United States, any number of equally forceful descriptions might be fitting. Terms like “occupation” come to mind.

In other words, a national emergency.

John Melvin is the District Attorney for the Cobb Judicial Circuit in Metro-Atlanta, Georgia. Mike Carlson serves as his Chief Assistant District Attorney. Both are published legal authors, routinely participate in training programs for law enforcement and prosecution sponsored by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and were hired in Cobb County by former Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds.

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