All too often Democrats in this state wait until crisis time to start any real thinking, see e.g. Jim Black. The growing concerns of gangs in North Carolina is one area that the Democrats should start moving now. There is a wealth of statistical evidence on the problem of gang activity in North Carolina (focusing on Hispanic gangs) in the new study from the Governor's Crime Commission. The data that they found was disturbing:
Trend data indicates a 16.6 percent increase in the number of reported gangs
with 387 distinct groups being reported in 2004. Likewise, an increase occurred in gang
membership with the number of reported gang members growing from 5,068 in 1999 to
8,517 five years later. This equates to an increase of 68 percent over the five year period
or an average annual growth rate of 13.6 percent in gang membership.
The reach of the gang problem beyond our urban centers is also evident. Today even, there was an article on the approaching gangs in Goldsboro.
The problem of gangs in communities has been well documented but are only now at such a level in North Carolina that it is ganering much attention. The first study on the problem was conducted in 1999 and the second was completed in 2005. The second report prompted a Carolina Journal interview with Mark Bridgeman, president of the North Carolina Gang Investigator's Association, on the subject. While the interview does not go too in depth, Bridgeman provides a great quote that displays why we cannot view this as only a city issue:
A lot of people think it is a big city problem. Well, when you have an issue where you have gangs within a community — and Durham is a good example —they start a 30-man gang unit over in Durham and they start vigorously enforcing the law on gang members. What they [gangs] do is kind of like water: it [the gang] is going to follow the path of least resistance. They are going to go to areas where they can operate freely, and a lot of times, it is going to be these rural areas or these smaller communities that don’t have the resources or infrastructure to deal with these problems effectively.
Democrats need to come up with a solution to this problem now or face giving the Republicans a political opportunity, and I want Democrats to set the terms of this debate and not Republicans. Living in decent neighborhoods without fear of crime is a progressive value that needs to be espoused, and we already see that the conservatives have it on their radar.
There are two reasons to have progressives set the terms of this debate. First political, we need to be seen as taking on this issue rather than reacting to conservative movement. Second, progressive values will lead to a more productive result. I will focus on this second aspect since we have all too often seen the results of Democrats waiting too long to take a position on an issue.
Progressive values lead to better crime fighting. Locking people up for as long as you can, which is often the position of conservative tough-on-crime groups, does not change the underlying dynamics of gang activity. Improving community living environments, community policing, and increased educational and work opportunities should be the primary tools to take on the gang issue in the long-term. These are all progressive values and they need to be applied throughout our state.
The FBI list of violent gang task forces only includes two entries for North Carolina: Charlotte and Raleigh. We need to be on the cutting edge of making serious efforts to end gang violence on the state level and we need to do it now.