Tuesday, March 01, 2005


History ain't just a tale about a guy

In Malkin's new column, she approaches the problem of gangs with her usual class and subtle grace.
With all due respect to the first lady, this is a job best left to law enforcement professionals willing to get tough, get dirty and crack heads. From the suburbs to our national forests, savage criminal alien gangs are infiltrating America and luring young recruits. Compassionate conservatism ain't gonna stop them.
I'm tempted to leave that excerpt to speak for itself, but I won't. The Liberal Avenger recently noted that he and Jonah Goldberg have "fundamentally different worldview[s]." I think that might be a starting point for describing how I feel about Malkin's ideas on this subject.

Malkin's pull-out-all-the-stops rhetoric aside, she's clearly wearing blinders to history, as usual. Lou Savelli, Vice President of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association, wrote in 2001:
Gangs have been in existence for as long as there have been inhabitants of this world...As the late 1800's roared in, the new generation of gangs and gangsters was created out of the new immigrants...
As for hispanic gangs, which Malkin surprisingly focuses on in her column, Al Valdez, an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's office, has this to say:
Nevertheless, there was still a high degree of resentment by many U.S. citizens against any Mexican because of the memory of the Alamo. The California Gold Rush of 1849 immediately followed this treaty. These events set the attitude, social and economic conditions in Los Angeles during the early 1900's. Those conditions, along with the rapid growth of Los Angeles and other historical events, helped to shape and direct the actions of L.A.'s street gangs.
So, while it's true that immigrants make up the bulk a proportion of most gangs - and have for more than a century - it's not necessarily because they're "savage criminal aliens." Surprise! It's the socioeconomics, stupid, both here and abroad.

One prevailing theme I've found as I've been following Malkin's work these past four months is that it's never, ever as simple as she tries to make it, often to the point of being the opposite. In this case, the gang which she focuses on, MS-13, is as violent as she claims. Until now I haven't really thought about MS-13 much. Malkin notes that they are an "El Salvadoran-based syndicate engaged in murder, drug trafficking, and human smuggling across Central America and the United States." Funnily enough, although you certainly wouldn't know it to read Malkin's column, MS-13 proper is an American export to Central America, although its roots are among immigrants, as we'll see below.

But, as we've just seen, there have to be roots of the violence, right? These gangs don't just spring out of thin air.

Again - surprise!
More commonly known as the MS-13, the gang is notoriously vicious, with paramilitary roots in 1980s El Salvador.
Jeez, if only we knew someone else with roots in 1980s El Salvador.

Al Valdez again:
Some of the refugees and immigrants had ties with La Mara, a violent street gang from El Salvador. Others had been members of paramilitary groups like the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNL) during the civil war...in the late 1980s, some refugees and refugee members of La Mara and FMNL formed what is now known as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) street gang in Los Angeles.
Oh, okay. So MS-13 is made up of people who have their roots in insurgency; who remember "Death Squads", and Malkin wants to fight them by "get[ting] tough, get[ting] dirty and crack[ing] heads."

Is enforcement needed? Yes, of course. Now that the seeds of this violence have been sown, there's nothing left but to deal with the results. But are young people in the United States joining MS-13 because they're fighting for the FMNL cause? No. They're joining for the same socioeconomic reasons kids have been joining gangs since the dawn of time. And that's the kind of thing Laura Bush, to give her the benefit of the doubt, is going to be working on, if ideologues like Malkin stay out of her way.

But good news, Michelle. In another few years, you'll have a new gang menace to write about.

Update: Edited to remove an accusation - not against Malkin - that I didn't necessarily intend to make.

Update 2: LA, in comments, points out that it's not established that immigrants make up "the bulk of" gangs.