Networks vs. hierarchies, LA gang style
The new LAPD Chief of Police, William Bratton, recently strutted into town and is gitting tough on gangs, promising to “dismantle the Bloods, the Crips and other gangs in much the same way that law enforcement picked apart the five families of the Mafia in New York City, where he formerly served as police commissioner.”
“He needs to pack his bags and go back East,” said Matthew “Studder Box” Brown, who lives in South-Central Los Angeles and is a longtime community activist who works with gangs. “He doesn’t know Los Angeles and doesn’t know L.A.’s gangs…. The Mafia is like a money-making enterprise. In Los Angeles, the gangs are like tribes.”
Father Greg Boyle, an Eastside priest, said, “If gang violence is anything, it’s disorganized crime.” (Boyle is a legend in LA, known for his tireless work with gangs. His motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”)
The NYC mafia families have maybe 100 main members each. LA gangs have thousands. And they are tribes. Which means, as I’ve been discussing here recently, that gangs are networked organizations. They are not hierarchies. There is no kingpin and no head to cut off that will kill the beast. Bratton appears clueless about this. This is the same mistake the Bushies make in dealing with terror organizations – thinking that if they just kill the leaders the organization must crumble. This just ain’t so.
The Rand Corp. has said the US is not so much fighting terror groups in the Middle East, as it is fighting an idea. That idea being “The U.S. is evil, they want to control our culture and economy, and we are the only people fighting them. Join us”. Regardless of what you think of the idea, it is powerful enough that well-off, middle class people are quite willing to die for it. Which makes it a powerful idea indeed. Rand also think the US does not have an alternate idea and that we need one.
So what is the idea that gangs have that is so powerful? “Gangs are like tribes” explains much of it. It becomes your home, your family, your way of life. For several years in the 60’s, hippie was my tribe, it was my family. So, I understand the attraction of tribes.
Hand-wringing about senseless violence and/or gitting tough on crime aren’t getting at root causes. When the 18th Street gang is LA has maybe 15,000 members nationwide, the best way to end gangs is to have a better idea. An idea gang-bangers will buy into.