Gangs Law Enforcement War on Drugs

Dear Mexico: A Hammer Alone Won’t Cure Gang Violence


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.


  • Blowback is a good term, a result of the short sighted and mercenary methods (the whole for profit prison industry),used to combat the “gang problem”, so that in essence we win some temporary victories by using the old “lock em all up with harsher penalties and longer sentences and longer parole, drug tests, ect;. Then with a record recidivism rate of around 70% and a prison population approaching 200,000 inmates and prison gangs controlling not only prisons but more and more the streets too on an international scale, the grist for this mill, the common currency, the life blood of all this misery, is the war on drugs.
    The war on drugs has been not only a total failure in stopping the use and sale of drugs but has cost the taxpayer Billions of dollars and created more misery and bloodshed than any other war we have ever fought.
    The violence and trauma along the border and the increasing power of organized crime on the streets is a direct result of the phony “war on drugs”
    Decriminalize drugs, spend more money on drug rehab and gang intervention, create jobs and a future for young working class youngsters and this “Blowback” will end in a whimper.

  • Comparing Mexico’s current “gang” problem to Los Angeles’ gang problem is utterly ridiculous. To compare Daryl Gates’ Big Blue Hammer approach used to fight street gangs to Calderon using the military to battle the drug cartel’s paid armies is also ridiculous.

    Mexico has a long history of corruption from the local police up to the highest federal law enforcement officials. Just read the current news in Mexico where federal high ranking officials were arrested for proving DEA intercepts to drug cartels.

    The “gangs” in Mexico are drug cartels who hire ex-military to battle army, state and local officials who have yet to be corrupted. Add to this the problem of drug cartels being able to continually bride a percentage of all levels of government officials and police.

    And the mayor of Nogales, Sonora has a police force which is heavily corrupted by drug cartels the state Attorney General of the state has made public comments about this and the Mayor’s possible involvement with drug cartels. Read about recent ambush of state police traveling in a convoy to Nogales by 12-15 armed men with AK-47s, frag grenades and wearing bullet proof vests. There are many stories going around about how local Nogales police setup the State police for this ambush.

  • LR, I wish I could link to the whole article as I don’t think you’d have quarrell with it. I understand, the Gates hammer thing is a bit of a stretch, without mentioning closer anologues in central and south America, but admittedly I was running out of time and steam late, late last night when I wrote this, and the larger principle still applies.

  • If I had a hammer
    I’d hammer in the morning
    I’d hammer in the evening
    All over this land
    I’d hammer out danger
    I’d hammer out a warning
    I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
    All over this land

    Peace and love.

  • A typical story about Mexico’s “gang” problem.

    By E. Eduardo Castillo

    8:05 a.m. October 27, 2008

    MEXICO CITY – Mexican prosecutors say that employees of the federal Attorney’s General’s Office worked for a drug cartel, passing sensitive information to traffickers in the worst known case of drug infiltration of law enforcement in a decade. Employees of the unit charged with fighting organized crime were paid by members of the Beltran-Leyva cartel to pass along information on federal investigations of their organization and other traffickers

    Two top employees of the organized crime unit and at least three federal police agents assigned to it may have been passing information on surveillance targets and potential raids for at least four years, the unit’s head, Assistant Attorney General Marisela Morales, told a news conference.
    One of the officials was an assistant intelligence director and the other served as a liaison in requesting searches and assigning officers to carry them out. All but one of the officials has been arrested.

    The agents and officials received payments of between $150,000 and $450,000 per month for the information, Morales said.

    The case represents the most serious known infiltration of anti-crime agencies since the 1997 arrest of Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, the head of Mexico’s anti-drug agency, who was later convicted of aiding drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who has since died.

    The Beltran Leyva brothers are one of the groups that make up northern Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, the country’s largest drug trafficking confederation.

  • “If I had a hammer”

    Woody, wrong song.
    Should be singing “If I had a brain”.

    If I had a brain
    I’d use in the morning
    I’d use in the evening
    Use it all over this land. . .


  • Woody, there’s a point where continual chipper positivity starts to look a lot like mental illness. Hmmm.

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