Peter over at the Strategist had a post up about an article by John P. Sullivan. I’ve written about Sullivan before and I really don’t know what it is about this guy but he really gets under my skin. Perhaps it’s because I’m jealous he keeps getting quoted and published even though he has nothing original to say (I suspect a social network analysis of Mr. Sullivan would be much more informative about how he manages to be quoted as an expert rather than an examination of his writings). Never mind what he does say is total gibberish, it’s not even interesting gibberish.
I didn’t want to read it. Lord knows, I didn’t really need to read it since once you’ve read one of Sullivan’s articles you’ve read them all (almost literally since he tends to cite himself as a source to prove his arguments) but I just can’t let it go. So, here’s my take on…Global Cities – Global Gangs (yeah…don’t get too excited about that title).
…a rise in newer, networked ‘third generation gangs’ in increasingly ‘global’ cities means that the street gang is becoming an aspect of foreign policy warranting attention and combined domestic and international cooperation.
Whoa…newer, networked gangs? Sounds scary. Well, wait a minute. I guess they really aren’t that new since Sullivan has been attempting to peddle his theory for over ten years now. What exactly is a ‘third generation gang’? Well, accoring to Sullivan:
Third generation gangs have evolved political aims, operate or seek to operate at the global end of the spectrum, and employ their sophistication to acquire power, money, and engage in mercenary or political activities. To date, these gangs have been primarily mercenary in orientation; yet, in some cases they seek political and social objectives. Examples of third generation gangs can be seen in Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Brazil, South Africa, and throughout Central America.
Of course this definition is so vague it’s worthless unless you just want to cherry pick examples and make it looks like it fits your theory. What does ‘global end of the spectrum’ mean? Is a member of the bloods who works with a Dominican to transport cocaine from Mexico qualify? I don’t know and you won’t either because Sullivan can’t be bothered with little things like details.
The most obvious third generation examples are MS-13 and M-18, which conduct business internationally across many parts of the Americas. MS-13 is estimated to have 8,000-10,000 members and M-18 30,000 members, although telling hardcore maras from affiliates and associates is problematic.
This whole paragraph is bullshit. First off, MS-13 exists in the U.S. and Central America, however those gangs manifest themselves in very different ways and there isn’t much other than wild speculation to indicate that the gang is organized in any sense of the term. Most gangs in the U.S. are really best thought of as a franchise business. Members think there are benefits to attaching themselves to a ‘big name’ gang but generally resist control or being crammed into any strict hierarchy because they’re profit seeking criminals.
As an aside, I think one of the real beauties of the American system is that even those who refuse to work outside of it’s boundaries don’t want to destroy it, they just want a quicker path to the top. I suspect that’s why we see the disenfranchised and ‘have-nots’ join criminal gangs and not so much politically motivated groups.
No one, and I mean NO ONE, can give you membership estimates of gangs that are anything other than wild guesses. Even if you could get an accurate number, however, it’s value would be highly questionable since gang membership is a very slippery thing. Most gang members in the U.S. only stay in for 2 years or so before dropping out (growing up and family life tend to calm most young men down – read Clockwork Orange). Too often, throwing out a number like ‘8,000 members’! gives the impression that you’ve got an army at your command ready to hop to at a moments notice. The truth is that the vast majority of gang members (at least in the U.S.) don’t work that way. You’ve a relatively small percentage of sociopathic crazies and the rest are fairly rational actors who are at various levels of loyalty to their gang. I sure wouldn’t count of them to stand by me in a fight.
Yet other gangs elsewhere in the world combine political aims and criminal action. These include the Latin Kings active in the US, Caribbean, and Spain; Tamil gangs in Toronto linked with Sri Lanka’s LTTE, gangs (like the Premier Capitol Command-PCC and Red Command) and vigilante militias in Brazil’s favelas, as well as Cape-area gangs in South Africa like ‘Hard Livings’ and their bitter foes, the vigilante group Pagad (People against gangsterism and drugs).
There is no way on Earth that the Latin Kings can be compared to the LTTE. None. Full stop. Whoever checked this article should have thrown it out at this point. A gang trying to bribe a local councilman in order to get the authorities off their back so they can peddle their drugs is not the same thing as a decades long counterinsurgency campaign. While the Latin Kings have very lofty rhetoric (and, incidentally, a completely incomprehensible ideology which appears to have been written by someone who had enough time on his hands to read various religious and philosophical texts but unfortunately lacked the ability to comprehend most of what he read) but it was, is and always will be a group of profit seeking criminals. In my experience, gangs spend a great deal of time and effort to emphasize what a tight knit organization they are and how all the members need to be prepared to sacrifice for the group. That’s usually an indication that the group leaks like a sieve and they’re all planning on how to stab each other in the back.
Just because one gang is represented in multiple places does NOT mean they are connected. Just because a gang has connectivity over distance does NOT mean that’s a systemic characteristic of the gang. Usually it means there’s a personal relationship involved and the connectivity does not survive beyond it.
“some networked street gangs are increasingly the locus of political authority and popular resistance against corrupt local governments that no longer provide social benefits. They attract local allegiance while expanding their own profits and power”
This is not new and does not require some sort of ‘3rd generation gang’ framework. It’s common sense. Human societies hate a vacuum as much as nature does. When government retreats from an area, something will move in to take its place, usually that something is able to muster the brute force to impose it’s will. Gangs can (and do) do that.
Networked gangs and criminal insurgents are in many ways an updated version of an old phenomenon.
So why in the world did you just say that they were a new threat? He really should have left that whole paragraph out because it just makes him sound irrelevant. If we already have a way to talk about these gangs, why do we need a new lexicon? What is the utility of this generational model? I mean other than creating a false sense of progression?
It operates on a multinational level, running a number of organized-crime style businesses and front organizations as opposed to simple opportunistic crime. It is heavily plugged into what is now a global illicit economy. In some areas where government is weak, it can offer alternative, parallel forms of sovereignty.
Sounds a lot like the mafia (who street gangs in the U.S. idolize and try to emulate at every opportunity). So, the mafia are 3rd generation gangs? But they’ve been around for decades as have other, similar criminal groups. It sounds to me like this is taking old gangs, festooning them with fancy words like ‘networked’ and presenting a scary picture of them all decked out in iPhones and viola! I’ve got myself a gig at a think-tank!
In Brazil, the leader of the PCC was also found in his jail cell with copies of books by activists and philosophers such as Malcolm X and Karl Marx
So what? Plain fluff designed to make you think you’re being told something but you’re not. Hey, I read Marx in college, does that mean I’m going to try to lead the proletarian revolution? A weak argument at best.
Other than that there’s a lot of blah, blah about Mexico and Brazil. Hey, guess what, they’re called failing states for a reason.
But I’ll end on a positive note and that is I agree whole-heartedly with his conclusion:
Most importantly, a new way of thinking about gangs is needed in order to stem the threat. Gangs should not be viewed primarily as social deviants who need to be crushed nor underestimated as purely commercial and petty youths squabbling over turf. Gangs need to be recognized as emergent social actors that combine the popular appeal of social bandits with the globalized reach that only organized crime once possessed. Solutions should not be rooted in brute force crackdowns nor conducted on a purely domestic basis. Rather, security should form a foundation for a viable community; blending competent application of the rule of law with solutions that build resilient community structures that enable legitimate opportunity for social, economic, and political activity.
So, I’m not sure how I should feel about this. I endorse his conclusion but hate his methodology. I think my problem is that it looks to me like he’s so bonded to his crazy gang generations theory he’s got to fly all sorts of circles to get at a reasonable ending. Just drop it, man. Remember the rule.