Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Believe That's Why We Call Them Criminal Gangs

Joe Warmington seems to think that because Gangs kill people, that we should kill gangsters.

Our justice system does not have the death penalty.

Theirs does. In fact in the gang world, they have child executions. Our system is soft. Theirs is deadly, and conducted in our schoolyards or wherever they darn well choose.

The implication is knee-jerk and impulsive. That because we don't apply the same brutal penalty that gangs do, we are being "soft on criminals".

In light of last week's carnage in Calgary, I can almost understand Warmington's logic - but he's still dead wrong.

First of all, he's forgetting the old adage about two wrongs not making a right. The state killing someone because they killed someone else doesn't really accomplish anything. In fact, the states with the highest murder rates in the US happen to also be the most zealous about using the death penalty. Kind of tells you something doesn't it?

Second, gangs are closer to paramilitary organizations than they are anything else. You don't shut them down by 'getting tough' - that doesn't work - in fact it plays into their hands. You shut them down by dismantling the social conditions that allow the gang to flourish in the first place.

Calgary is an interesting example in this respect. It has been a relatively peaceful city for many years - even in the light of dramatic growth and prosperity. So, why the flaring violence this year? I can think of several factors at play. First is money. There is a LOT of it floating around this city. I've seen 20-somethings tooling about in cars I wouldn't even dream of purchasing; housing is at a premium - if you aren't making a six figure salary, kiss home ownership goodbye, and chances are pretty good that finding rental options that aren't falling apart that you can afford is next to impossible.

So, not only is there huge money around, but the lower income bracket is getting squeezed. Don't have a degree? Tough luck, right? Well, not entirely - when you can pull down a pretty healthy bit of cash selling some dried up leaves or rocks of crack, suddenly drug dealing looks pretty compelling.

Crime will always exist to some degree; violent, organized crime is almost always an indication that something in the social balance equation has gotten out of whack. If we are going to conquer this problem, it won't be through 'tough' laws that throw people in jail for longer periods of time. We need to look at other large cities who have been through this same experience - like New York, which in the early 1980s was the most dangerous city in the USA, and now is actually fairly safe. It wasn't done by throwing people in jail or making the penalties harsher - it was done by addressing the problems that enabled the criminal elements to thrive in the first place.

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