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Gangs and Freedom of Association

2008-11-11

Category: politics

In this country, we have a big problem with gangs, some areas more than others. Our law enforcement agencies try to infiltrate them and arrest them for their various crimes. Intervention programs work to keep kids from joining gangs in the first place. Schools pass rules forbidding gang symbols. The question becomes, is being in a gang a crime itself?

Our Constitution favors freedom of association, so one should be able to gather how ever one wants, provided the others in the group want to associate as well. If members of a gang decide to get together in a group, we must allow them to do so. The problem is not the gathering, but the reason for the gathering.

Laws prohibit conspiracy to commit crimes. If the gang gathers for the purpose of organized criminal activity, it is obviously illegal. Being in a group is not illegal, but the doings of the group. This still doesn't answer the question posed above.

Almost any example one poses about the legality of being in a gang comes down to the same answer. It is not the act of being in the group that should be illegal, but only the behaviors that are otherwise crimes in themselves. Could there be an exception where the association itself could be prohibited?

Many larger criminal organizations run outside of the government. They engage in violence to maintain their power. They have specific geographic areas of influence. They take money from those in their territory under threat of violence. That sounds like a government. This is the possible technicality of membership.

If persons living in an area under one government try to create a new government of their own, it is seen as an insurrection or treason. The penalties for these crimes are high. If criminal organizations, such as gangs, are trying to be their own governments, they are guilty of insurrection. Does that make being a member of the organization a crime?

In this particular case, I would say it is. When I go through the trouble of voting and paying my taxes, I feel free to be a bastard about people who want to flaunt my laws. On a primitive level, I am a member of the dominant tribe and I have no qualms about stomping another tribe that is trying to move into my territory. We human animals are like that. If you want to join with an opposing tribe to run us out of our territory, you have chosen to be stomped.

A big problem with gang held areas is that the citizens there fear the gangs than me. If associating with a gang meant at least a rope around the neck, the focus of fear would swing the other way.

The problems with the plan are human problems. We can't trust all the members of any law enforcement or military group to fairly execute this policy. There would be those members of a community who either appeared to be in a gang and weren't, or who were in against their will. How we define gangs is another issue. Most folks would hate to see the boy scouts rounded up and sent to the work camps, though I wouldn't mind seeing Salvation Army Bell Ringers executed in the street.

Can it be illegal just to associate with certain people? Not in general, but it would be nice to see a few exceptions. If we can figure out a way to properly and fairly define the illegal group we may have a chance. Do we only get chartered members or can we shoot wannabes as well? (I vote for shooting the wannabes.) As we move closer to a socialist state, we will have the chance to see how this works out.


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