As Georgia’s gang crisis deepens, an eerie parallel emerges with a previous blight in Southern history. Shamefully, Southern politicians advocated for Tenth Amendment protection of slave-property rights and to defend Jim Crow. In a recent InsiderAdvantage column, commentator Jim Jess– while not advocating for slavery or Jim Crow– misguidedly advocates for a bizarre conception of state’s rights over boosting the voice of gang-crime victims.
Jess’s piece delivered a backward-leaning message as the gang crisis grows in size and scope. Demanding that Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler ignore proposing a national gang prosecution law in a time of crisis is outrageous alone. When coupled with unsupported constitutional theories, he reveals just how little his work regards victims of violent crime.
In actuality, Congress does have the power to regulate interstate commerce (third paragraph of Art. 1, Sec. 8). This power, in part, has equally supported the use of RICO statutes by federal prosecutors. Jess’s op-ed never recognizes this, although the case law has existed for decades.
Furthermore, the power to regulate interstate commerce was utilized to bring down Jim Crow. It stands to reason, accordingly, this power can also be implemented to stop and dismantle gangs across the nation.
Gangs don’t care about the Tenth Amendment. Neither did slave owners or proponents of Jim Crow. The latter two used it to encumber federal authorities from abolishing what the Constitution guarantees to all, principally, the protection of the innocent from crime. A federal anti-gang law would accomplish just that.
As insightful commentary has explained, Jim Crow laws sought to remove certain classes of people from legal protections. A national gang prosecution law would increase public safety for all, the opposite of Jim Crow.
Failing to propose a federal gang statute put President Barack Obama– whose administration saw the largest spike in gang membership ever— on the wrong side of history regarding gang crime.
Gang crime clearly affects interstate commerce, as it frequently crosses state and national borders or ventures across multiple jurisdictions. This demonstrates the need for a federal law, especially when data tells us more than 80% of violent crime is gang-related.
For example, the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples, dozens of whom were federally indicted for crimes committed in Lyons, Georgia recently, have been around since the 1960s. They are active in over 110 cities and 31 states, sported numbers up to 50,000, according to federal estimates from 11 years ago.
There is no way states can handle a criminal force like the “GD’s” alone. State and local partners want federal help. To this point, law enforcement authorities present at U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine’s press conference, which included GBI Director Vic Reynolds and Middle Judicial District Attorney Hewyard Altman, all appeared appreciative of the federal teamwork.
Jess’s column ignores these efforts of law enforcement to stop and dismantle gangs jointly. If gang prosecutions are to be left to state officials only, gangs win. Gang numbers are just too massive and their intensity too powerful for local authorities alone to combat.
Moreover, many local authorities stand down on gangs, necessitating federal intervention. Metro-Atlanta jurisdictions and others across the country are failing to arrest and prosecute gangs, or refusing to use best practices against them. While much of this dereliction is due to misguided attempts at criminal justice reform, gangs reap the benefits, and victims suffer dearly.
This is particularly true where, as in metro-Atlanta area, authorities are failing to use robust anti-gang legislation like Georgia’s Gang Act. Predictably, as this dereliction occurs, murder rates set records.
In addition to passing over gang-crime statistics, Jess’s commentary expresses no concern for gang-crime victims. Georgia is fortunate to have a governor, attorney general, United States Attorneys and state prosecutors, and a visionary GBI Director who do. Governor Kemp’s promise to deliver anti-gang-crime legislation proves it. Tellingly, Jess’s column stands between Sen. Loeffler and that same kind of public validation.
Aggressive intervention at all levels is the only way to stop and dismantle gangs, as it was for the outrages of slavery and Jim Crow. As attorney Alexander Zubatov, explains: the more we reward criminality, the more we get.
Perhaps, upon reflection, Jess will study the laws and overwhelming statistics on gang crime. He can rely thoroughly on InsiderAdvantage, which has done the heavy lift for years. Upon doing so, we all hope that Jess will surely recognize the reality of the gang crisis and rethink his position.
Bill Black is a Georgia attorney who graduated with honors from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and is concluding his Master of Laws at Georgetown University Law Center. The opinions are his own.