Examining the U.S. Senate’s recent Obamacare vote combined with the opposition to President Donald Trump’s latest immigration proposals, the president’s supporters rightly perceive that a dramatic legislative victory is critical to the administration’s success, as well as to hopes for a second Trump term. That’s why congressional passage of a national gang prosecution law, spearheaded by the White House, provides an avenue for just that sort of triumph.
And it would be one that would resonate on a host of important levels— especially at the state level.
The magnitude of American gang crime is beyond staggering. A 2011 federal report placed gang membership in this country at 1.4 million, an increase of 400,000 from only two years prior. Alarmingly, academic studies opine that government estimates of youth gang membership may only reflect a mere fraction of the actual totals.
A federal law specifically targeting these organizations embodies the sort of straightforward methodology that the president embraces. It also represents the most effective means to, as phrased by the Georgia General Assembly, “eradicate” criminal street gangs.
This fact reveals itself when considering recent administration anti-gang pronouncements. While laudable in spirit, those decrees evince limitations that would not encumber a federal anti-gang law.
For instance, constraining prosecutorial attention to the MS 13 gang will not encroach upon other gangs, such as the Bloods, SUR 13, Crips, and the Gangster Disciples. Similarly, using immigration laws against gangs will have little impact on gang members who are citizens. Truncating scrutiny to an emblematic venue like Chicago will likewise not stem the national epidemic of gang crime.
Accordingly, if stopping gangs in America is the end, then enforcing a federal law explicitly designed for that purpose is the most logical means. If eradicating gang crime in the United States is an imperative, then passing statutes that would universally enable all federal prosecutors to bring gang members to justice is singularly needed. Such a law would do so regardless of a gang member’s immigration status, specific affiliation, or zip code.
Moving in this direction would also create accountability. These authors have maintained that the best method to assess agency commitment to anti-gang initiatives is to examine the number of individuals: (1) arrested on anti-gang statute warrants; (2) indicted on anti-gang charges; and (3) sentenced for anti-gang offenses. A federal gang prosecution law would enable evaluation of federal investigations and prosecutions by both President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, district by district, in this exact fashion.
Through such “hard numbers,” the Trump Administration could demonstrate its dedication to protecting America from gangs. Press conferences could delineate the volume of gangs and gang members successfully prosecuted. Those calculations could be touted as momentous steps towards a “cure” for gangster mayhem–as opposed to merely treating its symptoms–brought about by historic legislation. Furthermore, these statistics could be contrasted against those from prior presidencies, which never passed any such law.
Presidential leadership on gangs in this form has the added potential to create a vital synergy that would benefit public safety. For instance, because gangs do not restrict themselves to jurisdictional boundaries, federal prosecutors and state attorney generals are far better positioned than local authorities to effectively prosecute them, en masse. Currently, there is no unanimity among state attorney generals on this front– with some not prosecuting gangs at all. The example set by focused, quantifiable, statute-driven federal gang prosecutions could change this for the better.
Moreover, using the presidency as a “bully pulpit” against gangs could stimulate local officials to enhance their anti-gang programs. It might also inspire a movement in favor of establishing a national “gang czar” post, entrusted with studying federal, state, and local anti-gang efforts and making recommendations on improvements.
Politically, the Trump Administration could paint any “push-back” against a federal anti-gang law with the same brush. In fact, the longer any adversary’s tenure in government may have been, the more egregious his or her opposition could be made to appear. Years of heedlessness against an existential threat rarely strengthens a partisan stance.
While racketeering laws are valuable assets when attacking criminal conspiracies, the present gang epidemic speaks volumes about the pressing need for a federal gang law directly aimed at the havoc created by these virulent groups. The same can be said for gang-related sentence enhancing provisions, which serve as adjuncts to existing criminal offenses. While those “add-ons” may have some utility, the continued escalation of gang crime verifies that specifically tailored charging provisions are needed to vanquish this rising menace.
Even his harshest critics tend to begrudgingly admit that President Trump may well be at his best when he directly addresses his enthusiasts. Taking a message to them about the need for a national gang prosecution law provides a political opening that could be exploited for the benefit of the entire country. President Trump could easily marry making America greater, with making it safer. A federal anti-gang law would clearly accomplish the latter, and much more.
Vic Reynolds is the District Attorney for Cobb County, Georgia. Michael Scott Carlson serves as one of his Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorneys. Each has participated in legislative efforts to improve Georgia’s anti-gang laws. In 2017, both were again honored by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association for their dedication to combatting gang crime in the Peach State.