Friday, April 25, 2008

The Sirens of Spring

With the lovely weather comes a flurry of gun violence in Newark & Irvington. Not unusual - same thing in Philly & Chicago. & covers all the categories: robbery, gang assassination, drive-by, collateral damage, mistaken identity, sociopaths on a lark, innocent college student in front of his own home, & one remarkable mano-a-mano gunfight between two gangbangers who killed each other. As these events are reported in The Star-Ledger Breaking News, the predictable comments show up beneath the stories. Those who believe every murder must have a motive. (Really, what's more tempting than possessing an illegal gun you haven't fired?) The police aren't doing their jobs. Citizens won't let the police do their jobs. It's the parents' fault. It's Mayor Booker's fault. It's not his fault. Irvington used to be such a great town in the 70's. (No, it wasn't. It's just worse now.) My favorite are the shrill cheerleaders who leave comments like, "C'mon PEOPLE , we have to get TOGETHER & take back OUR neighborhoods from the gangs." Those could be laptop missives from Newark's 24/7 security high rises with underground garages. Easier said than done. If you complain about the gangbangers on your block, & they find out you're complaining, you might as well nail your doors shut, board up the windows & never come outside again. The gang isn't in your neighborhood, you're in the gang's, & the only sane choices are to become part of the scenery or move out.

I like the mass arrests of 20 & 30 gangsters in one neighborhood, coordinated busts involving several law enforcement agencies with bench warrants. I don't know if the various charges stick, most probably not. But I figure it's disruptive of gang middle management. You can't get at the guys at the top easily, & some of them live out in expensive suburbia - you can tell where they live from the unimaginative one color living room walls & drapes, & cars in the driveway worth more than the houses. Busting the street dealers & soldiers does little except keep the county jail & public defenders in business. The vast majority of those bottom feeders are very young, semi-literate, stupid, poor, expendable, & not going far in the organization. They can't be trusted to manage money for the simple reason that they can't add & subtract. They couldn't make change working in Burger King even if the cash register announced, "Put the ten in the drawer with the other tens, give the customer one dollar, two dimes & three pennies." They can only handle easy whole dollar transactions while keeping track of the stash, playing with the walkie talkie, practicing a slow-mo walk in the street, self-consciously scratching their stomachs because their teeshirts are too long & they can't stick their hands in their pockets, & not tripping over the kid on the little bicycle. So a bagman comes by on the hour to pick up the loot before it gets miscounted, lost or stolen. Take out enough guys who can do basic arithmetic & also have somehow obtained a driver's license, & a gang is forced to promote hopeless teenage morons into jobs that require more brains than a willingness to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

This strategy of targeting middle management worked very well on the Mafia - granted, a different, more diversified sort of enterprise. The higher the stupid, violent guys advanced in the Mafia due to frequent, unexpected job vacancies - business must continue - the easier it became to pick them off, turn them into rats. They were also more inclined to sloppily kill each other over career opportunities, compared to the smarter wiseguys who knew the value of stealth & invisibility.

It is really in the best long-term interests of gangs to support better urban schools & encourage their recruits to hang in there through 9th grade even if they've turned 18.

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