To counter widely-held perceptions that the 2016 general election lacks substance, candidates for office across the country have the opportunity to seize an important initiative and put their detractors on the defensive, all while impactfully addressing a national public safety crisis. How can they accomplish this? By announcing that congressional passage of a national gang prosecution law is a top priority. With this as an essential element of their agenda, hopefuls could capture resonating themes, dominate an important dialogue, and demonstrate their capacity to implement specific, substantive policy imperatives.
Contenders who project themselves as crusading outsiders, battling on behalf of everyday Americans against a detached political and media elite, have recently seen success. Positioning candidates as transcendent of conventional political discourse connects with a palpable and legitimate pathos. Crime is a major source of national uneasiness.
And there is no greater criminal danger to this country than gangs.
Even cursory consideration of gang crime’s magnitude is overwhelming. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated there were 1.4 million gang members operating in the United States, responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in others. This represented an increase of 400,000 gang members in only two years. Government studies show that any number of individual gangs may possess membership totals that rival 2014 calculations of ISIS rolls in Iraq and Syria combined.
Compounding this, the Department of Justice concedes that its estimates are plagued by under-reporting and non-reporting. Validating that acknowledgement with alarming concern, an academic study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicates that government gang membership approximations may only represent one-third of actual gang members.
Incredibly, despite the relentless metastasizing of this irrefutable, omnipresent, and existential threat, there remains no federal gang prosecution law for adult offenders. This is so, even with abounding reports of staggering gang statistics, gang advances in metro, suburban, and rural areas alike, transnational gang criminality, angst over gang ties to terrorism, and gang footholds in law enforcement and our military.
The opportunity here is epic. Aggressively campaigning in favor of a national gang prosecution law would demonstrate that any campaign proselytizing about gang crime is well-founded in overpowering statistics. It would prove that those candidates who propose a federal anti-gang law are willing to immediately address legitimate fears and ensure the security of Americans across the country, particularly those in urban areas where gang criminality is most intense. In terms of economic development, aspirants could convincingly argue that investment in communities cannot occur unless gangs are eliminated from them. The same can be said for schools, where gangs victimize education goals on a host of levels.
Pushing a national gang prosecution law would ably refute charges of superficiality against any candidate embracing the measure. Readiness to address a critical concern would be illustrated through an identifiable and innovative policy proposal. Advancing a federal anti-gang law conveys dedication to improving life for all Americans by making their well-being paramount. Even when it comes to immigration, this initiative would provide high-ground and bettered focus. Irrespective of where individual voters might come down on immigration issues generally, no credible and responsible person wants gang members to go unprosecuted, regardless of whether they are legally in this country.
The benefits of making a national gang prosecution law a campaign centerpiece crystallize when it comes to reproving opponents. Notwithstanding the size, scope, and scale of gang crime and growth, there is nary a whisper from Washington job-seekers about passing a federal law to combat them. Such dereliction provides those who wisely propose federal anti-gang legislation with the proverbial “target rich environment.” Among other potent portrayals, resistance to a national gang prosecution law could be characterized as evidence of: (1) indifference to gang crime victims and their families; (2) refusal to protect rank-and-file Americans from gangs; (3) disinterest in solving a public safety crisis; (4) disdain for the poor and underprivileged and the neighborhoods they inhabit; and (5) deliberate ignorance of widely published, devastating statistics and the perils they present.
Of course, proponents of a national anti-gang law could create converts. Even adversaries might, albeit begrudgingly, be forced get behind this plan, or at least admit its significant foundation. If so, all the better, and the country has the potential to become more secure in the process.
At the epicenter of the call for a national gang prosecution law could be a simple, yet compelling subtext: Those who are against a federal anti-gang act are for gangs and vice versa. That connotation translates into an easily understood, powerful message, and one that would provide an avenue to introduce a visionary and needed proposal as a campaign cornerstone.
Campaigns should hope their entrants move in this direction with forcefulness and alacrity. By centering on a national gang prosecution law, candidates have the potential to make their names synonymous with improved public safety. The universality of this appeal and commensurate likelihood of “cross-over” voting that would traverse party lines is self-evident. Aside from the political benefits, the promise of such a law going on the books would serve this country well.
Partisanship cannot deny the persistent truism underlying passage of a national gang prosecution law. America can certainly be greater, if it is safer from gangs. Candidates of all affiliations should heed this important call.
Vic Reynolds is the District Attorney for Cobb County. Michael Scott Carlson serves as one of his Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorneys. In 2016, both were honored by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association for their dedication to combating gang crime.