A Made-Up Gang Problem?

by on Feb.21, 2010, under Los Angeles, Politics

In the course of marshaling statistics to explode the myth of rampant Latino immigrant criminality, Ron Unz of the The American Conservative makes the following observation about LA:

Los Angeles today ranks as America’s least white European large city. Half of the population is Hispanic, and many of these are impoverished illegal immigrants and their families. Yet all crime rates have been falling steadily over the last two decades, with homicide dropping a further 18 percent just last year. As Chart 14 illustrates, most major crime categories are now back down to where they were in the early 1960s, when the population really did look very much like the actors appearing in “Dragnet” and “Leave It to Beaver.” And indeed, violent crime is now roughly the same as for Portland, Oregon, America’s whitest major city.

This Los Angeles example also raises important questions about the official claims that Latino youths have exceptionally high rates of gang membership, 1800 percent higher than for whites. Los Angeles supposedly has among the worst Hispanic gang problems, yet the city’s actual crime rates are roughly the same as what they were back in the lily-white days of the early 1960s. So if these local gangs aren’t committing much crime, what exactly is the definition of a “gang”?

A cynical observer might draw a connection between the hundreds of millions of dollars the federal government distributes each year for gang-prevention programs and the zeal with which local officials uncover the severity of their gang problems. In the case of Los Angeles, public officials have held January press conferences each of the last several years hailing the unprecedented drops in serious crime rates. They often follow these up a few months later with contrary press conferences on the horrific state of local gang violence and the desperate need for increased federal funds to cope with this scourge. If the federal government pays cities to find gang problems, many city officials will surely oblige them.

This has the ring of truth to me, but I don’t live in Los Angeles. What say you, Angelenos?

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