Bruce Riordan is the director of anti-gang operations for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office, and a former federal prosecutor. In other words, the guy is not anybody’s bleeding heart when it comes to gangs.
Yet, he is a nuanced thinker on the subject, and together with Delgadillo, Riordan has written a thoughtful article for Wednesday’s Daily Journal, the publication that LA’s lawyers, judges and other legal types all read religiously.
Riordan sent the article over to me figuring, quite rightly, I might find it interesting. I did, indeed, and thought you’d be interested as well.
(NOTE: The Daily Journal may be accessed by (really expensive) subscription only, so I have posted slightly longer excerpts than I usually do.)
In the article, the men talk about the fact that Mexico is experiencing a huge and very violent rise in gang activity. As a consequence, they write, the Mexican government is being sorely tempted to react to their new gang crisis with methods that are heavy-handed in the extreme. They point out that the purely hard-core/shock-and-awe approach to gangs is precisely the strategy that has repeatedly been shown not to work.
(Think Daryl Gates’ Big Blue Hammer.)
When it comes to gangs , the use of a bludgeon alone—i.e. enforcement without prevention and intervention—inevitably produces of host of unintended consequences—many of which could easily blow back toward us, and not in a good way, say Riordan and Delgadillo.
Now here are those excerpts:
The images are all too familiar: random kidnappings, police officers assassinated by criminal gangs, journalists killed in cold blood as retribution for their latest investigations, and, even judicial officers murdered for their roles in the criminal justice system. All this amid cries of foul play from victims alleging both criminal and official misconduct.
These are not scenes from the Iraq War or from Colombia’s showdown with the Pablo Escobar syndicate in the late 1980s. They are drawn directly from today’s headlines in Mexico, and from the border cities of Juarez, Nogales and Tijuana, the latter a mere three-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles. Indeed, this past weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that children in Tijuana are suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alarming levels of violence there.
While the U.S. media has covered the violence, the Mexican government’s response, both legal and extralegal, has largely been overlooked. But Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has openly declared “war” on drug gangs, and the mayor of Nogales, in Sonora, has called for the use of “heavy-handed” tactics akin to the surge in Iraq.
Make no mistake: Mexico is now undergoing a fundamental legal, as well as political, crisis; and the fabric of its legal system is being tested. As a result, current events in Mexico should be cause for close attention in our local legal community and perhaps even closer scrutiny.
Indeed, the Drug Enforcement Administration now reports that Mexico, not Colombia, is the leading source country for narcotics imported into the United States. In the Los Angeles area, the LAPD and FBI report that criminal street gangs, like 18th Street and MS-13, control the sale of narcotics imported from Mexico. Simply put, we share a common challenge with Mexico and we cannot unilaterally solve the problem.
To that end, we should encourage President Calderon’s efforts to address and cure a history of institutional corruption in Mexico. This is crucial. A police “crackdown,” no matter how well-conceived, will fail if the effort is perceived by the public to be either illegitimate or unlawful.
El Salvador tried a similar approach with its “Mano Duro” strongman policies only a few years ago. Mano Duro, or the “Hard Hand,” was a miserable failure and only served as an excuse for official misconduct. We were surprised to find that a large portion of the Mexican legal community shared our concerns about their national government’s singularly blunt approach to the problem.
The legal community in the United States should share those concerns….
Gang violence and drug trafficking are deplorable, and cannot be tolerated either in Los Angeles or Mexico, but simply “cracking down” on crime is not always the best, or only solution. In Los Angeles, we have combined tough policing and aggressive prosecution with increased police training and stricter gun control, and we have placed an emphasis on prevention, by keeping youth in school, off the streets and out of gangs. As a result, we have seen crime and murder rates drop to historic lows. Similar enlightened policies are working in Brazil, where murder rates in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, are dropping fast.
While one can certainly hope that Mexico’s new “war” against the vicious drug traffickers succeeds, we must caution against a blowback effect that only produces a new generation of young people hardened into believing that government is a bully and justice is blind. Such a result would not simply be a setback for Mexico; it will be a detriment for the entire region.
A generation of youth alienated from or abused by the justice system would also be a serious setback for all of us who believe in the fundamental importance of the rule of law. Our criminal justice system relies on many assumptions, but none is more important than that of equal justice for all. When that first principle is challenged in any community, then we all suffer, together.