Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Anchorage Police Department Estimates 700 Gang Members In Anchorage

Special Note: Re-edited and re-posted 3:03 P.M. October 18th to add a paragraph about economic factors and to correct a typo.

The Anchorage Police Department now estimates there are anywhere between 700 to 800 gang members living in Anchorage. This is a dramatic increase from previous estimates of 150 -200, and represents a belated but welcome effort by the Municipality of Anchorage to finally admit the magnitude of the problem and nip it in the bud before it reaches the level of a typical Lower 48 metro area. This number came out during an address by Mayor Mark Begich at the Downtown Rotary Club on October 17th, 2006, where Begich outlined his new anti-gang platform. This is a composite post referencing original stories from both KTUU Channel 2 and the Anchorage Daily News.

In his address, Mayor Begich (pictured at left, courtesy of KTUU) outlined several steps necessary to confront and combat the increasing gang-related activity plaguing our community, as gang-related shootings have become a nearly-weekly occurrence:

1). Reduce the backlog of felony cases in the Alaska state court system. Back in August, Begich took the first steps in this direction by hiring two prosecutors and three staffers, then seconding them to the Federal courts as an interim measure to reduce the state caseload. This was funded in part by a $100,000 grant from the Department of Justice for this purpose, and was initially announced back in June. While the state courts are clearly overburdened, the Federal courts are not. Begich further stated that felony trials have dropped in Anchorage, even though felony cases in the state court system have increased to more than 1,600 awaiting disposition. “In 1986, there were 140 felony trials per year, but only 30 in 2004,” said Begich. He also stated that as of January 2006, there were 300 felony trials pending in Anchorage. However, the mayor will continue to lobby the state legislature to fund more prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections officers, as he is concerned not only with the shortfall in the first two categories, but the more explosive shortfall amongst correctional staff in Alaska's increasingly overcrowded correctional facilities. This overcrowding has fueled numerous grievances filed by the Alaska Correctional Officers Association (ACOA).

2). Require ankle monitoring for all known gang members on probation. The mayor said he will work with state lawmakers to push for legislation establishing this requirement. It should also include ankle monitoring for known gang members who make bail after being arrested, even if they've not been convicted. The latter proposal became an issue last month after two brothers, Stafford Anderson, 23, and Treavonne Owens, 20, who were out on bail after being charged in a primary election day shooting that wounded a Murkowski campaign worker, were arrested again in another shooting. The more stigma and greater burden we can attach to street gang membership, the less attractive an alternative it becomes.

3). Longer sentences for gang-related offenses. This is another expected beneficial result from transferring such cases to the Federal court system. Federal penalties for some crimes are more severe than state penalties. “The lengthy sentences will essentially take them out of the community. That will remove them for long periods of time and disrupt the functioning of the gangs themselves,” said John McConnaughy, an Anchorage prosecutor.

4). Funding to purchase and deploy new digital communications gear allowing Anchorage police access to criminal databases in the Alaska court system. Begich said this technology will allow police to check the bail status of gang members that officers meet while on patrol.

The mayor also wants to go after Anchorage's repeat criminals -- the ones out on bail awaiting trial who commit more crimes, the ones that have DUI and reckless driving tickets and are still on the roads causing accidents, and the ones who allow their homes to become crack houses or sites where stolen goods are fenced.

An anti-gang summit will be held by the city and the U.S. attorney's office on November 15th at the Marriott Hotel to generate more ideas towards combatting the growing gang violence problem. The mayor wants the state legislature to look at the overall criminal justice system as a whole, and resist the impulse to embrace piecemeal "band-aid" type solutions.

What Has Been Done So Far: After an extended hiring freeze inposed on APD by previous mayoral administrations, Mark Begich belatedly recognized the problems and negative public perceptions, particularly after they were articulated consistently and eloquently by former opponent Jack Frost, and has taken action. The APD hiring freeze has long since been lifted, APD's strength has grown from 350 to 370 sworn officers, and more help is on the way. However, to ensure APD employs only officers of the highest character and remains scandal-free, the rigorous screening process, which permits only a slow accretion of new talent, must continue. The mayor's interim attempt to speed up state prosecutions by seconding legal talent to the Feds will also help.

The state legislature must take a holistic view of this problem and come up with a comprehensive solution to correct the critical shortfalls in prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections officers. The proposed new prison in the Mat-Su Borough will help relieve overcrowding.

What Remains To Be Done: All of the above solutions can effectively combat the disease. However, it will recur unless we address symptoms. We need to understand the factors promoting gang formation and activity. Why is this often brutal lifestyle considered attractive by some? We need to examine root causes, not to be used as excuses like the therapeutic culture advocates, but to shrink the pool of potential gang members.

The overwhelming motivation is belonging. Man is an inherently social animal, and during the adolescent years, the teenager experiences the impulse to start fledging from the parental nest. The teenager is eager to form social associations with peers to supplement parental and other family associations. If there are few lawful alternatives, teenagers will find gang association attractive. Intimidation is also a factor. Membership in one gang not only provides protection against gratuitous violence from that particular gang, but also protection against rivals.

In addition, street gangs can satisfy the inexplicable but omnipresent urge for teenagers to lest limits, particularly physical limits. While no one really "likes" pain, why do teenagers endure initiation beatings to be "jumped" into a gang? Why do teenagers risk physical safety in physically confronting rivals and law enforcement? For the same reason conventional people test themselves in extreme sports - the urge to risk. People bet on various sports events because of the urge to risk. People invest in the market because of the urge to risk. Nearly everyone has the urge to risk hardwired within them, possibly because people took the ultimate risk by agreeing to come down to this planet to take the next and most critical step towards eternal exaltation, to become heirs to the Father and joint heirs with the Son, Jesus Christ (Note: Exaltation is not to be confused with salvation. Salvation merely seals the gates of hell shut against you so you cannot be imprisoned there for eternity - exaltation, on the other hand, actually permits you to dwell in the Father's presence and endure His glory).

However, there is one other root cause - tribalism. Historically, racial or ethnic minorities within a majority-dominated society have felt tribalism more acutely than the majority, and are more prone towards gang activity as a collective defensive response against real or perceived injustice. These divisions actually occurred earlier in American history when Italians and Irish formed gangs, first for protection, then for exploitation. However, intermarriage between whites of different ethnicities has subsumed ethnic differences to the point to where ethnic identity is little more than ceremonial. The logical evolution would be the emergence of a common racial identity amongst America's white community, but attempts to foster such a unity by the white nationalist movement have been strongly repressed not only by self-hating rich whites, but also by non-white activists who manipulate the urban black and Latino poor, as well as organized Jewish lobbies like the Anti-Defamation League. White nationalist activists who commit criminal acts in the name of white nationalism have further hindered attempts at fostering common white identity. And responsible blacks like Juan Williams and Bill Cosby who attempt to wean the urban black poor away from demagogues like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Anchorage's very own Rev. Dr. William Green (pictured above left, courtesy of KTUU) find themselves demonized in return by the very same people they are attempting to reach. Studies like The Color of Crime and Hispanics - A Statistical Portrait clearly reveal racial disparities in crime rates, while USA Border Alert published FBI statistics showing the disproportionate criminality within the illegal alien community, which is mostly non-white.

Economics also exacerbates the racial divide. We know that blacks and Latinos (and some other non-white groups) have lower per capita incomes than whites and Asians. They tend to gravitate towards the lower-wage, longer-hour service sector jobs. Because so many of them are chasing a fixed number of these types of jobs, the surplus of labor keeps wages artificially depressed. Allowing more of these types of people to immigrate merely increases the surplus of labor and ensures static wages. Since parents from these groups must frequently work long hours at one or more of these types of jobs, they are unable to supervise their kids effectively. The gangs step into the breach and function "in loco parentis", so to speak. This is another motivation for gang affiliation.

Using a racial emphasis is O.K. as long as we emphasize empowering one's own race, rather than demonizing or disenfranchising other races. Empowerment doesn't mean endlessly harping about shopworn, long-since-resolved grievances like chattel slavery, mandatory segregation, or the holocaust. It means working constructively within the common American framework to resolve the few remaining vestiges of the legacy of those events. It means not using historical events as excuses for current lack of achievement. The 70% illegitmacy rate within America's black community is just as destructive to their interests as slavery or Jim Crow once was. We need parents to come together and start exercising their parental responsibilities within the bonds of traditional marriage. We need to immunize future generations against irresponsible sexual activity through non-sectarian character education in our public schools. We also need for the Federal government to reduce immigration to correspondingly reduce the surplus of labor in the low-wage service sector, permitting greater upward mobility and increasing wages so that parents can afford to spend more time interacting with their kids. Using market solutions to solve market problems always works better than endlessly tinkering with socialist gimmicks like "minimum wage" and "livable wage" proposals. Only by returning to the traditional American cultural values which catapulted this nation to unprecedented power and prosperity and humanizing the economy for the working class can we eradicate the root causes of the gang problem.

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