Surveys of young Americans have shown that 40% identifying as gang members are white, but police tend to undercount them at 10% to 14% and overcount black and Hispanic members, says Babe Howell, a criminal law professor at City University of New York who focuses on crime and race.
“Police see groups of young white people as individuals, each responsible for his or her own conduct, and hold young people of color in street gangs criminally liable for the conduct of their peers,” she says.
How law enforcement labels specific gangs may also obscure white membership, a 2012 study published in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law posited.
Jordan Blair Woods researched how the feds had applied the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) to various gangs. Congress passed Rico in 1970 to target the mafia as organized “criminal enterprises”. In the early 1990s, the attorney general, Janet Reno, started using Rico to charge criminal street gangs.
Woods explains that law enforcement typically splits gang activity into three groups: white supremacist prison gangs, outlaw biker clubs and criminal street gangs. He concluded that systemic racism often keeps white gangs categorized as prison and biker groups instead of street gangs – the category drawing the toughest charges and sentences.
This means white gangs are not typically policed as stringently, he writes, and their members can miss interventions sometimes offered to more publicized gangs of color. That help can include job and life skills training, or interaction with trained “violence interrupters”, who are often former gang members.
Woods blames the media for underreporting white gangs. [Continue reading…]