“There are white gangs, Asian gangs, black gangs, Hispanic gangs, and gangs of all nationalities. To focus only on illegal immigrant gang members, as many conservatives do, is to take the easy way out.”
The lack of media reporting on America’s Gang Crisis is truly perplexing, particularly as the level of gang crime soars in the United States. While this may be expected from the mainstream media, which tends to lean left, it is now happening in conservative media, as well. Several right-leaning journalists continue to look away when it comes to gang crime, rather than promote meaningful suggestions for change.
The first major issue that conservative commentators should discuss—if they are truly as tough on crime as they purport to be—is the fact that federal prosecutors currently have no mechanism to directly dismantle gangs. Instead, United States Attorneys often find themselves only able to prosecute gang members who commit federal crimes, as well as having to rely upon immigration courts to prosecute illegal immigrant gang crime. But the latter strategy only applies to a minority of gang members; most gang members, after all, are American citizens.
When prosecution is possible, many gang prosecutions get lumped in with other criminal charges such as RICO and drug trafficking. As such, what we really need is a federal gang prosecution law, which would allocate specific resources to disabling and dismantling gang crime by directly prosecuting organizers (and those who support organized gang activities). This type of legislation would also create systemic accountability and reliable statistics for anti-gang activity, which could be used by federal law enforcement personnel as well as prosecutors.
Returning to the media side of things, two recent columns by Conservative Review political commentator and senior editor Daniel Horowitz exemplify how conservative media misses the mark when it comes to covering gang crime. While Horowitz’s work is noble in its efforts to report on the victims of gang crime, he continues to focus on seemingly everything except robust anti-gang legislation.
With over one million gang members in America, there is clearly a Gang Crisis. Yet, Horrowitz’s article entitled “7 ways for conservatives to counter gun control with criminal control” suggests fast tracking the death penalty for mass murderers, fixing case law loopholes for criminal defendants, and relying more on existing prosecution vehicles like “felon in possession of a firearm” to reduce crime. But among the best solutions is one he omits: a federal law specifically tailored to allow prosecutors to take out gang members.
Horowitz, however, is not alone. Conservative commentator Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has produced great work on the brutality of gang culture, but she has not zeroed in on the solution. John Lott’s Crime Prevention Research Center’s webpage is much of the same. And, perhaps most concerning of all, self-styled conservative criminal justice reformer Marc Hyden advocated for the abolition of Georgia’s death penalty, more sentence reform, and—wait for it—expanded cash free bail all in the wake of the 2018 murder of a Georgia police officer by Bloods gang member.
Conservative voices, even when they have provided much-needed recent criticisms of the First Step Act, likewise fail to properly engage with the gang side of things. Horowitz is surely correct to point out that, “dangerous gangbangers…will enjoy both upfront reductions in sentences and early release” as a consequence of the First Step Act. But instead of just bemoaning the problem, he should focus on the solution: a federal anti-gang law to make prosecutions against gang members stick. Also, many of his articles play to the red meat, favorite conservative talking point of illegal immigrants, but Horowitz would be wise to recall that—at least in the gang context—most gang members are American citizens. There are white gangs, Asian gangs, black gangs, Hispanic gangs, and gangs of all nationalities. To focus only on illegal immigrant gang members, as many conservatives do, is to take the easy way out.
The media is forsaking its duty by falling short in its coverage of the gang issue. If members of the media chose to actually detail the harsh realities of gang crimes and the tragedies that befall their victims, they might be able to generate the public support necessary so that every law enforcement agency and United States Attorney can prosecute gangs head on. It should be on the media to report accurately on the Gang Crisis and document who is doing a good job standing up to gangs and who isn’t. If lawmakers were under this sort of pressure—and, especially if it came in the form of thoughtful commentary rather than partisan talking points—there would be better debate (and even better data collected) on how best to protect America from gangs and the violence that accompanies them.
Bill Black is a Georgia attorney who graduated with honors from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School where he was Editor-in-Chief of the John Marshall Law Journal. In addition, Mr. Black is concluding his LL.M. degree at Georgetown University Law Center and is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Among other topics, Mr. Black has previously published on the issue of improving memorials and recognition for African American veterans of World War I.