Georgia is in a state of crisis. This crisis has been caused by criminal street gangs. Gangs threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against peaceful citizens. Gang-related murders are increasing. Gang activities present a clear and present danger to public order and safety.
The foregoing is not from a campaign for sheriff or district attorney. They are findings of the Georgia General Assembly, proclaimed as part of Georgia statutory law.
Federal statistics support those alarming determinations. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its National Gang Threat Assessment, estimating there were 1.4 million gang members operating in this country, an increase of 400,000 members from merely two years earlier. The report found that gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others.
Worse yet, that federal report concedes that its calculations may be plagued by underreporting and non-reporting, implying that the actual number of gang members is higher. In fact, a 2015 academic study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health estimates that youth gang membership exceeds one million—more than three times the federal government’s calculations.
Consider, however, what 400,000 new gang members, alone, means. If each represented only one additional crime victim, the jump in havoc and pain generated by these increases is staggering.
As for Georgia, federal studies have ranked the Southeastern United States highly in terms of law enforcement reports of gang crime and in gang member growth. Consistent with this, an earlier federal report noted that long-established gangs from locations like Chicago and Los Angeles were colonizing in Georgia. Examined in the light of the subsequent statistics, it is difficult to argue against that prediction being manifested in a bloody reality.
And, yet, few people seem to comprehend this. For the most part, media gives gang crime a pass, rarely reporting on it, much less questioning politicians about what they will do to combat it. Perhaps as a consequence, there is no specifically tailored federal gang prosecution law for adult offenders. Recent dialogue concerning federal and Georgia criminal justice reform alike has not featured measures to contend with gangs as a priority.
As a practical matter, then, criminal street gangs appear to have been granted a sort of de facto political immunity. While media attention may be sporadically directed at gangs,
their magnitude, criminality, and threat is allowed to escalate, unhindered by responsible press scrutiny. Consequently, serious societal pressure to stop gangs is nonexistent.
Ignoring gangs, however, does not impede their growth. If anything, it accelerates—likely encourages—their rate of metastasizing. The statistics prove it, and countless victims pay the price.
With elections on the way, candidates at the federal, state, and local levels should be asked — repeatedly and aggressively — how they intend to protect Georgia from gangs. Sample questions, depending on the politician, office, and venue, could include the following:
* Do you favor a national gang prosecution law?
* Would you support the Georgia Attorney General having a statewide gang prosecution unit?
* Should the federal government fund Georgia anti-gang initiatives?
* What are your thoughts on funding gang prosecutor positions for local district attorneys’ offices?
* Are you behind a statewide “gang database” for law enforcement purposes?
* Is the death penalty called for in gang-motivated homicides?
* Why is gang crime underreported?
* What steps have you taken to contend with criminal street gangs?
* Please provide us with your plans to deal with Georgia’s gang crisis.
Such inquiries would put the issue of gang crime squarely at the feet of those hoping to serve the people of this State. Posing them will decisively identify those who are prepared to protect law-abiding citizens from gangs and those who are not. Only time will tell if the gang-enabling deafening silence will continue.
Georgia did not arrive at its state of gang crisis because enough questions were asked. Media and political pressure is indeed needed. As the election season approaches, we can only hope that pressure will be brought.
A safer Georgia demands it.
Vic Reynolds is the District Attorney for Cobb County, Georgia. Michael Scott Carlson serves as one of his Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorneys. Both are published legal authors.