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Sunday
07Dec

Chaoplexic Approaches and Urban Street Gangs

Hi Antoine. Thanks for the response to my first questions about bureaucracy, rationalization, and Weber, which were helpful. But I have a follow-up musing which goes off in another tangent.

Some years ago, I studied street gangs. Street gangs emerge among disaffected youth in impoverished neighborhoods, often those of immigrant communities, or racially subordinated minorities. Males hanging out on street corner create their own groups of disaffected youth, who become oppositional groups associated with assaults, fighting, drug use, stealing, and occasionally murder. Fights occur, often with lethal weapons, and crimes are committed. And as a measure of status, such groups often take on the names of other street gangs with whom they want to identify. Thus in the 1990s, in a number of cities there emerged gangs calling themselves Crips or Bloods who created a lot of trouble for their neighborhoods and the police. Such gangs often created an ideology of "in for life" and identified a charismatic leader whose influence could occasionally glow brightly, but also often faded. Researchers like Malcolm Klein who studied the street gangs found that this was nothing more than an ideology, and that in fact gang members who were not killed or arrested often eventually "aged out." Klein argued that such street gangs were not "franchises" seeking to expand like McDonald’s (as some law enforcement argued), but were in fact organizations that "proliferate" in particular socio-ecological conditions. He noted that the leadership was often ephemeral, and was not in fact in a strong position to command and control members of the street gangs as in an army, or even a McDonald’s. Street gangs could be extraordinarily dangerous, but this was a product of the chaos they created as much as a master plan.

The police who were called on to oppose the proliferation of street gangs are of course a classic command and control bureaucracy. In my view, this created a problem. One result was that they began to frame the gang problem as being one of "ring-leaders," "franchisees" and "shot-callers." Individual members became "soldiers." John DiIulio predicted in 1995 that gangs "will unleash an army of young male predatory street criminals who will make even the leaders of the Bloods and Crips...look tame by comparison..." This rhetoric in turn coincided with the militarization of police forces in Los Angeles, and elsewhere, as they sought to challenge a foe rationalized as being an opposing army (i.e. a term they could recognize easily), rather than the disaffected, violent, and chaotic youth that they often were. The former policies resulted in the militarization of the Los Angeles Police Department and an emphasis on solving big crimes, and arresting big criminals, often at the expense of "the little stuff." A number of scandals emphasizing the excessive use of force emerged. A new police chief was eventually hired who in turn implemented "Broken Windows" policies emphasizing the importance of neighborhood cohesion, and responding to “small crimes” which damaged that cohesion. This resulted in police officers engaging more with the community—or in affect becoming social workers (ok, that is an exaggeration, but it makes my point). Crime rates declined in the early 2000s, and the army of super-predatory Crips franchises somehow never emerged.

It has always seemed to me that the enemy that the United States is opposing in the "War on Terror" whether it is framed as Al Qaeda, radical Islam, or terrorism in general is more like the diffuse chaotic gangs that Klein described, and not the "army of super-predators" for whom policing policies were developed in the late 1990s, and current military doctrine seems focused. Certainly, some groups with a command and control capability like Al Qaeda have occasionally emerged. But, it seems to me that adapting the military to a more "chaoplexic" approach focused on radical Islam as a "networked social movement" rather than a conventional army is an admission similar to that which the LAPD made when they shifted to the Broken Windows policy. Radical Islam seems to be as much the consequence of "proliferation" of an ideology of religion and violence, as "franchising" of Al Qaeda, or other jihadists groups. Developing a chaoplexic response seems to be an implicit acknowledgment of this change.

But this leads to another question, because developing a chaoplexic capability sounds much more like shifting the overall purpose of the military into something that does not involve the primary mission of the military, but more towards the type of police and social work which emphasizes the importance of social cohesion. My question would then be, if this is the case, at what point does the "fight" against Al Qaeda and other similar products of the proliferation of radical Islam be a policing or social work problem, rather than a military one?


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