Spokane Gang Crisis?
Posted by Arroyoribera on September 15, 2007
As we all know, Spokane allegedly has a “serious gang problem”, one sufficiently serious we are told as to justify the Spokane Police Department’s recent acquisition of 100 AR-15 assault rifles and training the entire force in their use.
Is the problem really that serious? Or is it a convenient drum to beat to arose public support and draw in taxpayer dollars to the city and SPD coffers? Of course, all statistics on gang activity, gang population, and designations of individuals as gang members come directly from law enforcement, not the most credible of source in the last several years.
Following is the entire section on “gangs” from the last published annual report (2003) by the Spokane County Prosecutor, Steve Tucker. Note that Tucker‘s report is replete with words like “numerous”, “increase”, “many”, “increased substantially”, “numerous”, and “sharp increase”.
Entirely missing is hard data. Surprisingly, for a city with this reportedly “serious gang problem”, the prosecutor’s report on gangs is barely longer than a letter-to-the-editor in the Spokesman-Review.
Gangs — In the year 2003, the gang unit dealt with numerous homicide, rapes and robberies by gang members. The homicide cases tended to create their own caseload because of the type of witnesses involved (gang members). Many individuals involved were arrested on unrelated crimes and are serving substantial prison terms due to the hard work of law enforcement, the federal government and our unit. Again, last year we saw an increase in gang related drive-by shootings and violence that went unsolved. Many of the cases that were resolved involving guns went to the Major Crimes Gun Deputy. Even with that, the gang unit filed over 270 cases during the course of the year 2003. The Gang Unit closed over 220 files by trial or plea in 2003. Many of them were violent offenses with the majority being murder, attempted murders, robbery, rapes, violent assaults and drug delivery cases. ”Meth” busts involving gang members have increased substantially. Again this year numerous gang members were prosecuted federally on gun and drug charges. This helped facilitate pleas in state court and ease increasing caseloads. Many gang related crimes remain unsolved due to an increase in witness intimidation. Sadly, 2003 saw another increase in youth related gang activities. As 2003 closed and 2004 started, the Gang Unit saw a sharp increase in their caseload and had to start sending cases out to other units including major crimes, property and drugs.
How numerous were homicide, rapes and robberies by gang members in Spokane in 2003? 2004? 2005? 2006? Of course, the ‘report’ does not say. It seems to me that we pay Prosecutor Steve Tucker and his some 143 attorneys and staff (not including interns and ‘extra help’ positions) for more than this amateurish and unsubstantiated report once every so many years.
The Washington State Legislature has been busy empowering law enforcement to escalate its efforts against gangs in the state of Washington. Local, state and federal law enforcement in Spokane — as well as Boise and Seattle — received a “top secret, sensitive” briefing on gangs in a late June 2007 visit by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in one of his last acts before resigning in disgrace. As someone knowledgeable on the matter told me, the trip was essentially a “fund-raiser” for Spokane law enforcement and as the transcript of the press conference with Gonzales makes clear, the SPD is now in line for a multi-million dollar Department of Justice grant. Even now, in the midst of an election season, Spokane city council people vying for Mayor and Council President are anxious to be in the debate on gangs and engage in rhetoric about erasing “gang-related” graffiti.
A “work group” on gangs established by the Washington State legislature and run by a less-than-objective Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs just met in Spokane on September 10 and 11, one of five forums to be held around the state. (In fact, the Washington Uniform Crime Reporting (WUCR) program is the only UCR program in the United States which is sponsored, administered and supported by an organization of contributing agency administrators (i.e. police chiefs), rather than a bureau or department of state government.)
The word “gang” is and has always been code for poverty and race.
That is why it is of great concern to see this issue surfacing now, in the midst of rising division between wealth and poverty, national xenophobia associated with the U.S. crusade in the Muslim world, continued disproportionate incarceration and disenfranchisement of African Americans and Latinos, and the hyped-up hysteria over an “invasion” of undocumented people who are here, after all, with the tacit and long-standing consent and knowledge of the U.S. government and U.S. corporate/financial interests, as well as U.S. consumers.
The alleged ‘gang threat’ is certainly a convenient piece of a “ruling class” analysis about Spokane, as the ownership of Spokane changes hand and the urban poor are displaced by the liberal, white ‘urban renewal’ crowd. In fact, it is a propaganda line that police in Spokane have been using for at least 15 years.
Where is this all this gangland graffiti that we are supposed to be in an uproar over? How much of it is actually gang related? Supposedly when graffiti is reported it is photographed and cataloged by police and then painted over by volunteers. That was not my experience on the one occasion that I reported graffiti to the police (the experience was typical of the SPD — no response at all). And that is not what I have observed either. Local politicians are proposing measures such as banning spray cans in the hands of minors. Yet graffiti on city-owned and county-owned property and signs remains for months on end, probably as part of an intentional strategy to increase the impression of gang presence.
One of the focuses of this blog in the near future will be this unrelenting yet largely unsubstantiated emphasis by law enforcement and government on the “gang” problem in Spokane. At the same time, attention will continue to be directed at the scandal-ridden Spokane Police and the lack of public accountability and transparency.