In a rather unusual – if not unique – experience, I found myself reading a very liberal editorial piece by a decidedly liberal author this week and finding myself nodding my head in agreement at times, while perhaps not for the reason the writer intended. LZ Granderson – who has won an award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association – has an opinion piece at CNN this week where he asks a provocative question. Why can’t we treat Chicago gangs as terrorists? And while I’m going to wind up rejecting one of the fundamental premises of his argument, as you shall see, I think he addresses a point which might lead to an opportunity for some bipartisan work which could produce meaningful results rather than pointless posturing by our elected officials. First, to the very real problem he’s highlighting.
You know things in Chicago are bad when 70 murders in the first quarter can be seen as a good thing. But context is everything: Last year at this time there had been more than 120 murders, so I guess we should thank God for small favors…
What’s responsible for the bloodshed? Gang violence, as usual. Police estimate that of the 532 murders in 2012 — nearly 1.5 a day — about 80 percent were gang related. And yet, despite that rather staggering statistic, the national outcry is muted at best — nothing, to say the least, like the kind we saw last week in Boston. What is it about the word “gang” that brings out the apathy in us? Would we view Chicago differently if we called the perpetrators something else?
I’m not saying the people of Boston do not deserve our sympathy; they do. Nor am I suggesting the apprehension of Boston terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not essential. But how do we explain our habit of greeting terrorists with 24-hour news coverage and relentless wrath while overlooking the gangs that terrorize our streets daily — as if terrorism were only an enemy state and not a concept.
Not to be too much of a finger wagger here, but I’m going to begin with the reason that many of us would fundamentally disagree with Mr. Granderson’s idea of identifying the admittedly wildly dangerous and – yes – terrifying gang members who plague America’s streets as terrorists. The reason for this is that we know what terrorism means in terms of intelligence work, military action and law enforcement, and it’s far more than simply the intention to “inspire terror” in people. If that were the only criteria, my great niece could tell you that the proprietors of Six Flags are terrorists every time she gets off one of their rides. Terrorists – be they foreign spawned or anarchist groups at home – are additionally defined by their motive, which is to fundamentally attack and attempt to destroy the government of the United States, capitalism, democracy and everything that our nation stands for.
Gang members are violent and routinely kill more people in the U.S. than terrorists ever do. But by definition they tend to be engaged in crime motivated by greed, gain, power and control over their own turf and commerce in illicit trade. They key point Granderson misses is that these gang members – quite the opposite of actual terrorists – actually rely on the structure and social fabric of our open, democratic society to provide a fertile ground for their nefarious ambitions. They have no impetus to destroy the government which makes their living possible.
But the author offers up a suggestion, or at least a question, which got me to thinking of a number of possibilities, even if he didn’t intend it this way.
Last week, millions watched as an entire city was shut down to look for one guy. Every major news station was covering the pursuit of one guy. We all know the face and relatives of this one guy. And it’s all because he is an alleged terrorist. But more American were murdered in the south and west sides of Chicago than there were U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan last year, and yet for some reason we don’t view those neighborhoods as terrorized…
I would love to see the FBI’s anti-terrorism resources used in that matter to stop would-be gang members from flooding the streets of the country’s third-largest city. Maybe Cornelius German, the boy found dead down the street from Obama’s house, would still be alive.
Here’s where the confluence of generally opposing partisan objectives and views comes into play. Let’s face it… whenever we hear yet another set of politicians standing up to preach gun grabbing policies, one of the first images which forms in many of our minds is a clueless official saying, “How many more gun control laws will we have to pass before these violent criminals realize that having those guns is against the law!?!?”
That sort of speech brings a grim, ironic sneer to many of our faces because of the sheer lack of objective reality behind their approach. And that’s the point, isn’t it? The people we need to be targeting if we want to get serious about curbing gun violence are not the people who already obey the law while choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights. It’s the people who don’t give a damn about the laws and live outside of them. The two real answers are well known to most of us on the Right. The problem has never been too many guns. It’s too many criminal maniacs. The problem isn’t a lack of laws restricting the Second Amendment rights of those who follow the law. It’s the lack of resources, attention and will to enforce the laws we already have upon those who willfully violate them.
So where do we find common ground here? Leave aside for the moment the idea of identifying gang members as actual terrorists and consider the possibilities of treating them like terrorists as the author suggests. Rather than having politicians sit around with their thumbs up their backsides talking about yet another round of gun laws, what about going into a city with massive gun violence – Chicago would be a great place to start – and pouring the kind of resources we saw in play after the marathon bombing into this problem? The next time there’s a gangland shooting, bolster the local police with others from surrounding areas plus the state police plus the FBI and federal agents of every stripe. Have cameras on all the public streets and gathering areas. Shut the damn place down and start going door to door with pictures. Enlist the help of every local you can find who actually cares about their neighborhood and wants their streets and schools to be safe by asking them to anonymously provide information and assuring them that there’s a new sheriff in town and he won’t be leaving.
Keep going until you find the people involved. Lock them in a room with some federal investigators to start questioning. (And, by the way, we won’t be Mirandizing you under the public safety clause because you might know of some cohorts getting ready to shoot up another location.) Use the same sorts of questions we want to ask of actual terrorists.
Who was with you?
What did you know and when did you know it?
Where did you get your weapons?
How and when did you get radicalized into the idea of preying on society rather than finishing high school, going to community college or a trade school, getting a job and a home, meeting a nice girl, getting married, raising a family and helping build a great community to live in?
TELL US AND MAYBE WE WON”T EXECUTE YOU!
Hammer them until we get answers, then prosecute the trigger men under federal law no matter what the state law thinks about capital punishment and give them the needle with full national media coverage. Lock up all of the non-shooting gang members who were in on it in a deep hole for so long that they’ll never see the light of day again. And when the next gang shooting takes place, do it all over again.
As Granderson suggests, go into Chicago and hammer the gangs the way we hammered the Tsarnaevs. And keep on hammering until the next generation of 8th graders begins to see a life of gang violence as a dead end (literally) and the possibilities of a productive life in a proud, successful community as the viable alternative. And when we get done there, move into another city and do the same thing.
Crazy? Sure. Every new idea is crazy. But consider how much time, energy and funding we spend on pointlessly grinding the gears of government to restrict the rights of gun owners who follow the laws they pass. If we’re going to invest that much energy, how about investing it into something that might actually change the way things are going, reduce the violence and provide a real incentive for people to take charge of their own lives and communities?