The term “gang takedown” refers to a relatively new strategy in fighting semi-organized crime street gangs, an approach that got going in the 2000s, perhaps most importantly in Southern California: rather than focus on arresting the gang’s irreplaceable criminal mastermind kingpin (in reality, being a gang leader isn’t really all that intellectually challenging), instead just arrest everybody in the gang all at once on Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization indictments. Then ship them off to federal pens in distant states where they don’t know anybody, so they can’t continue to run the streets from inside the joint the way they often do in their home state.
The goal is to change the culture. This seems to work better than arresting just the Big Guy. Here’s one study showing a 22% reduction in neighborhood crime over the subsequent 9 months.
But, of course, arresting a lot of criminals conflicts with the holy war against the New Jim Crow. From the NYT news section:
The authorities are responding to a wave of gun violence. But their anti-gang tactics have long faced criticism for unfairly targeting young Black people.
By Ashley Southall
Aug. 26, 2021
A father was wounded while shielding his three children from gunfire at a car dealership. A teacher was killed on a morning dog walk when a gunman missed his target. And a baby in his stroller was mortally wounded when two men opened fire on a nighttime cookout.
Arrests in all three shootings in recent months show the authorities blamed the same problem in each case: armed street gangs that have contributed to a wave of violence that escalated last summer during the pandemic.
But not during the racial reckoning. Why would anyone think that anything else was going on a year ago?
The bloodshed has continued this year, wounding over a thousand, killing hundreds and threatening the city’s fragile recovery.
The police say the majority of the more than 2,500 shootings recorded since the beginning of last year can be linked to gangs.
But the anti-gang tactics used by the authorities have long faced criticism from law enforcement experts, civil rights advocates and even some prosecutors. Targeting gangs relies on police intelligence gathering that critics say is often unreliable and classifies far too many young men of color as gang members, sowing mistrust in communities and even hardening gang ties.
The focus on violence — largely driven by people who have not lived in the affected neighborhoods — overlooks that the decision to join a gang is often made for survival and self-preservation, said Kristofer Bain, who leads anti-violence efforts at the Queensbridge Houses.
“Gang member means grandson, granddaughter, nephew, auntie, uncle — it means that I have subscribed to a unit of protection because I feel unsafe,” Mr. Bain said during a town-hall meeting last week, following a gang takedown tied to the teacher’s killing.
The takedown was emblematic of the hard-line tactics that the authorities are now emphasizing. But legal experts say that approach is better suited to taking down drug cartels and the Mafia than New York’s mostly young, Black and Latino street crews.
“It is making a lot of noise, it is getting big headlines that no one follows up on, but it is not at all getting at the root of the problem,” said Babe Howell, a law professor at the City University of New York who has examined dozens of gang indictments. Her study of a 2016 bust in the Bronx that included 120 arrests found that many people charged were only loosely connected to any gang activity. …
But, he asked, do the communities that are bearing the brunt of the violence agree that they are plagued by dangerous gangs? “Or is the Police Department acting unilaterally and saying, ‘This is a gang and we’re going after it?’” …
Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, said in an interview that gang takedowns done for the sake of appearing tough on crime are meaningless and destructive, and ignore that the main reason people join gangs is for protection.
So the cops getting rid of gangs means that kids have less reason to join a gang.
But the prosecutor — who has secured indictments charging 51 people in three takedowns since January — said the tactic can be effective when authorities focus on the individuals who perpetrate violence.
Are there nice gangs where they still let you join if you are not willing to perpetrate violence?
… But official data leaves a murky picture of gangs’ overall role in the spike in violence.
The police have labeled about half of the shootings during the recent uptick as gang related. The label includes any incident in which a person associated with a gang was a suspect, a victim or merely a bystander. And those determinations are based in part on the city’s controversial gang database, long criticized for including thousands of people whose ties to gangs are tenuous and which is currently the subject of a yearslong investigation.
Lots of shootings are carried out by gangsters but not always for Michael Corleone-level strategic reasons. Often, gangsters feel they need to carry guns to protect them from other gangsters, so when somebody disses them at a party, bang bang bang.
A much smaller number of shootings — only a quarter to a third — have been deemed gang motivated, a more clear-cut assessment where authorities determined the violence was explicitly part of the group’s conflicts. …
But the gap in the data, along with the database that police use to label individuals as gang members, fuel skepticism that gangs’ roles in violence is exaggerated.
The database contains information about 18,000 people whom the department believes are affiliated with gangs based on information about their hand signs, clothing colors, music lyrics and hangout locations gleaned by officers, informants and other agencies. Nearly everyone in it is Black or Latino, and most have not been convicted of a crime, fueling criticism that the database puts young men under criminal suspicion based primarily on their race. …
Officials say their focus has narrowed to the gang leadership and members who have been involved in shootings.
Oh, dear… The cops are losing the thread. If they go back to arresting just the shooters and kingpins, then that creates lots of career advancement opportunities for younger punks to become shooters and kingpins. It’s not like arresting Mike Milken on RICO charges where he is the indispensable genius linchpin. You have to arrest almost all of the gang or it will just carry on.
… Instead of rounding up dozens of young Black men and teenagers, defense lawyers and anti-violence activists say, New York should spend more effort and money to alleviate the conditions attending violence, like unemployment, homelessness and the flow of illegal guns from other states.
Mr. Bain, the executive director of 696 Build Queensbridge, said people at risk of joining gangs should be met with empathy before enforcement. “I don’t want to go hard on guns, I don’t want to go hard on gangs,” he said. “I want to go hard on what has caused us to think that these were the options.”