There is a phrase that’s well-known south of the border: “Pan, o palo.“ Or, in English: “Bread or stick.”
And this, in turn, comes down to: Behave well and you’ll get this nice reward. Behave badly and you’ll get your head beaten in.
In my last column I discussed the need for brandishing the stick when dealing with powerful street gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood.
It’s the Brotherhood that’s suspected of being responsible for murdering two Texas prosecutors since February.
In this column I want to discuss creatively using the carrot to at least partially control gang violence.
It’s essential to remember the following:
- Some 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members are criminally active in the U.S. today.
- Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90% in several others.
- Many are sophisticated and well organized; all use violence to control neighborhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, drug- and gun-trafficking, fraud, extortion, and prostitution rings.
These gangs aren’t going to disappear, no matter how many of their members die or wind up in prison.
For decades, the rhetoric of the Cold War has carried over into the debate over policing.
“Hawks” on the Right have demanded a “hard” approach to law enforcement, emphasizing punishment. “Doves” on the Left have pursued a “soft” line, stressing social programs and rehabilitation.
But it isn’t enough to be “hard” or “soft” in pursuing the goal of a safe, law-abiding society. It’s necessary to be “smart” above all.
If you can’t eradicate evil, then you should try to direct at least some of its elements into a safer path. Thus:
- Each state should invite its resident gang members to take part in a series of competition for the title of “State Gang Champion.”
- These would be modeled on competitions now existing within the National Football League–a series of playoffs to determine which two gangs will duke it out in the “Super Rumble.”
- These competitions would be completely voluntary, thus eliminating any charges of State coersion.
- They would be modeled on the country’s current mania for “Ultimate Warrior” contests for kickboxers and bare-kunckled fighters.
- Contestants–as many as a score or more from at least two opposing gangs–would meet in a football-sized arena.
A modern-day Coliseum
- No firearms would be allowed.
- Contestants could otherwise arm themselves with whatever weapons they desired–such as baseball bats, swords, axes, spears or chains.
- Everyone who agreed to participate would automatically be granted immunity for whatever carnage they inflicted.
- The object of these contests would be to officially determine which State gang was the “baddest” for the year.
- Tickets could be purchased by fans looking for an afternoon’s festival of gore.
- Television networks could–and no doubt would–vie for rights to film the events, just as they now do for “pay-for-view” wrestling or boxing matches.
But would hard-core gangs even consider participating in such a series of contests?
Yes–most gangs would want to do so. Here’s why:
- They would be able to eliminate members of rival gangs without risk of prosecution and imprisonment.
- They would be able to gauge–through the heat of combat–the toughness of their own associates.
- They would gain at least temporary stardom–just as successful gladiators did under the Roman Empire.
- The winning gang would gain official status as “The Baddest” gang in the State.
On the last point: Napoleon Bonaparte created the Order of the Legion of Honor, distributed 15,000 crosses to his soldiers and called his troops the “Grand Army.” When someone criticized him for giving “toys” to his war-hardened veterans, Napoleon replied: “Men are ruled by toys.”
And for the State there would be gains as well:
- These contests would literally eliminate a great many gang members who cannot be removed any other way.
- Police and prosecutors could concentrate their limited resources on gangs that refused to participate or were deemed to pose a threat.
- Millions of dollars in State revenues would be generated through ticket sales and the buying of pay-per-view rights.
Admittedly, many law-abiding citizens would be repulsed by the carnage that would result from implemting this proposal. But these are generally the people who disdain boxing or wrestling contests anyway.
But given our increasingly jaded and violence-prone society, most of them would eventually tolerate it as an effective way to simultaneously raise badly-needed tax revenues and reduce the size of criminal gangs.
Republican politicians would find this an especially attractive proposal, since it adheres to the two concepts dear to the hearts of all Right-wingers: Killing people and making money.
In short: With sufficient creativity and ruthlessness, it should be possible to reclaim control of our streets from the evils of gang violence.