In the last few days people in Metropolitan DC, especially in northern Virginia, have been worried about the news of gang violence preying the area. Altough the problem is not new it was always thought by people living in the suburbs (like me) that if we avoided the troublesome area (SE and NE DC) we were actually fairly safe from that violence.
It turns out by the last events, that the problem of gang violence is not new, has always been there, and police have been avoiding to mention it so the most wanted reason for this groups to engage in violence, fame, is not awarded to them.
Suspiciously the event that prompted all this news reports came out in the middle of crisis that most americans depict as one of grossest example of violence by terrorist activities in the middle east, the beheading of Nick Berg (I am not going to put any links here, I assume that everybody that reads knows about him. I find the whole Berg incident too grosse even mention it). The choppin off hands with a machete by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Northern Virginia of a rival gang member has been in a sense a well calculated incident by gang leaders to attract national attention, and thus increase their wicked sense of pride for the fear caused.
The gang problem I think has 3 elements to consider. The first one and most obvious is the war on drugs and how the prohibition on drugs has created a huge delinquent market for this groups. Until a solution is reached on that issue the money to support those activities is going to be there.
The second aspect, perhaps the most widely cited by newspapers is the lack of values. While I think that this is an important issue I see this among other reason as a consequence of a lack of alternatives to the state education options. It is true that gang problems are not limited to public schools, but certainly those problems are more common among those. The benevolence of the school system toward the involvement of their students into gang related activities is another angle of the values problem as well as the parents involvement into their kids education. The value side of the problem can only be addressed by some sort of campaign, by the parents alone. That will include being able to choose and pay the best school available through a system of vouchers or any other free market alternative.
The final element into this issue of gang activity gives more room for policy makers analysis. It seems to me from what I have read, that laws are not strong enough with minors, and this is something that organized criminals have noticed. In other words laws whose main intentions were to protect minors have had the unintended consecuence of creating incentives for criminals to use kids and for instance cause more harm than good to the protected minors. Few years ago children in Colombia, Brazil and other Latin countries were used by criminals to act on their behalf and sometimes to kill people, all this with the understanding that children will be more trusted by average people and even worst, the kid will receive no major punishment. I think that here is where news commentators and policy analysts are not putting too much attention. Public policy institutes should focus on how the law should be structured to act as a deterrant of criminal activity in minors. The law should protect minors, but without giving them license to commit crimes. I believe that many troubled children get away with crimes because the system is too lenient on them. For instance the Annandele machete attack author should get the regular treatment by the judicial system and face charges for that crime even if he turns out to be a minor.
As a father I agree that there is not the same level or responsability when a minor commits a crime than when and adult does, but only when we are willing to analyse honestly and sincerely our law system, and carefully weight in the consecuences of its provisions, we are going to be able to effectively start getting rid of this social problem of gang violence / children criminal activities.