8 Ball In The Wind

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Gang" Definitions

With all the talk about 'gangs' in the news this past week, I decided to look into what constitutes a "gang".
Before anyone jumps up and says I may not be giving the 'legal' definition, I am starting with the linguistic definition.  Or actually, 'definitions', because there are several in dictionaries.  As I looked through these definitions, it made me realize that depending on the definition, we could almost all be given the tag"gang member".  Here are some examples of what I mean:

According to Merriam-Webster, there are several definitions.

1. A group of criminals.  (This is rather vaguely what everyone thinks of when they hear the word. But how do you identify by looking at them if a person is a criminal?)

2. A group of young people who do illegal things together and who often fight against other gangs.  (This may be a fairly good definition of a youth 'street gang'.  But there was a broad spectrum of ages who were arrested both inside and outside of the Twin Peaks restaurant on May 17th.  So that definition doesn't quite work.  Also, don't you hate when a definition of a word uses another form of the same word to help define the meaning of the original word?)

3. A group of people who are friends and who do things together.  (Damn, that sort of describes a lot of the people who are reading this.  Don't we all, or most of us, have a group of people we are friends with and who we do things together with?  I must be a member of several 'gangs' then.  Because I know I have several groups of friends I do things together with.)

4. A group of persons working together.  (If you go by this definition, the Waco PD was another 'gang' in attendance at the Twin Peaks on May 17th.  As was all the members of the COC in attendance, and all the employees of Twin Peaks restaurant.)

Yahoo Dictionary has a couple of other definitions:

1.  A group of people who associate regularly on a social basis.  (Sounds like the Elks, the Moose, the VFW, the NRA, and so on could be considered 'gangs'.  They had better be careful or they might find themselves charged by law enforcement.)

2. To attack as an organized group.  (I don't know about you, but this would appear to describe the Waco PD during the incident at Twin Peaks restaurant.)

According to the National Gang Center a "criminal street gang' is:

“An ongoing group, club, organization, or association of five or more persons—
(A) that has as one of its primary purposes the commission of one or more of the criminal offenses described in subsection (c);
(B) the members of which engage, or have engaged within the past five years, in a continuing series of offenses described in subsection (c); and
(C) the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce.” 18 USC § 521(a)

So it appears the prime definition of a 'gang' is (according to Federal law) that their criminal offenses and activities affect interstate or foreign commerce? If that is the case, then how does a motorcycle club of vintage custom bike builders in Waco, TX affect "interstate or foreign commerce"?  Yet their members are among those arrested and held on $1 million bond on 'participating in organized crime" charges.

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) defines a gang as:

 “A group of three or more persons with a common interest, bond, or activity characterized by criminal or delinquent conduct.”

Depending on how tightly the NCIC and law enforcement wishes to consider 'criminal' conduct, this definition could include a wide range of groups.  Forty-three states and Washington DC have legal definitions of 'gangs'.  Thirty-four states define a gang as consisting of three or more persons.  Twenty-seven states include a common name, identifying sign, or symbol as identifiers of gangs in their definitions.  Thirty-six states refer to a gang as an “organization, association, or group.”  Every definition includes criminal/illegal activity or behavior.

This again brings out the question: "What illegal activity were the various Clubs present at the Coalition Of Clubs meeting to be held at the Twin Peaks restaurant participating in that they were ALL arrested and held on $1 million bond?"

The way law enforcement throws around the word 'gang' these days, it has begun to appear that if you are an organization that law enforcement (whether Federal, State, or local) deems to be a problem could find itself on a list of "criminal gangs", and their members stripped of their rights.

The US Supreme Court has recognized that Freedom of Association is equal to, and every bit as important as Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of The Press.  We must be ever vigilant, that the concerns over 'public safety' are not allowed to trample on the individuals right to associate with whoever the wish.  Or else the government may use some of those definitions in the dictionary to come after those who oppose its policies.
Think about it, and consider the ramifications of the definitions of a 'gang'.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

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