Street gangs of Amsterdam-West
The area known as Amsterdam-West is one of the parts of town where street crime is a big problem. The street gangs have an interminable history of both petty as well as more serious crime. The situation is not as bad as in some of the more notorious inner city areas of the US, but living in Amsterdam-West is not exactly a pleasant experience. The Dutch daily Parool has a summary of a report (pdf) on the issue, available only in Dutch at the moment. The author, Frank van Gemert, writes that he intends to publish articles in English as well on his research into one particular street gang, the Molenpleingroup, named after a square in that part of town.
It makes for extremely depressing reading. There's a hard core of 24 gang members and they're about 18 years old, and there's a secondary group of about 40 to 50 followers. The hard core members have been involved with the police on average 33 times per person, while one of them managed to chalk up no fewer than 202 brushes with the law. They spend their time hanging around on the streets, uneducated, unemployed and completely wrapped up in their group identity. The gang forms their only frame of reference, and any outside influences are met with hostility and suspicion. Not only do they commit many crimes on outsiders, they're also perfectly happy to turn on their own. One example is a policeman stopping two boys riding a moped without a helmet and license plate. Other gang members used to opportunity to steal the moped from under the nose of the policeman and the putative owner. The policeman only managed to detain the driver by threatening him with pepper spray.
The report goes also into the details of group identity and dynamics. The report describes the siege mentality of "us against them," groupthink, how they create their own reality and version of the "truth," their complete refusal to accept any responsbility for their acts: it's all somebody else's fault, and by blaming the authorities for not giving them something to do or aspire to they don't have to accept responsbility. The report also points out that they're incapable of even listening to opposing points of view, because they're used to winning arguments by shouting others down.
A recurring theme is the inability of the law enforcement authorities and the criminal justice system to deal with the gangs. The identities of the group members are well known, and many are arrested on a regular basis. The report states on page 60:
A boy who ends up at the police station for some infraction of the law almost always will know the names of the others who were involved. To name them however would be treason and the rule is that the boys keep their mouths shut at the policestation. They've learned that often they'll be back out on the streets in a few hours. No matter how clear the evidence may be against them, the boys deny their involvement and cooperate as little as possible with the interrogation.
There's also a description of how the gang targets the "supervisory teams," who are not police officers, but work with them to try to contain violence. They're local people from the neighborhood and part of the community. When one of them admonished a gang member for his behavior, he was head-butted. So he filed a report with the police. The next weekend he was going for a night out on the Leidseplein, which is at the heart of the entertainment district of Amsterdam. A reception committee of gang members awaited him; they beat him up and threw him into a canal. The police quickly arrived on the scene and arrested the gang members. The report says, "A short time later they were sent home, even though the charges against them were of attempted murder and the gang members were well known."
The report also tries to address how to deal effectively with such gangs, but it is very much from a perspective of trying to reform the gang members and make them useful members of society again. But this is not a societal problem, it is a clear failure of the criminal justice system. The authorities know who the gang members are, they arrest them frequently for various crimes, they have evidence against them and yet they're still out on the streets. Locking them up would seem an obvious idea, but it does not appear to be on the menu when searching for a solution. Throwing them into prison is not going to reform them, but at least it will prevent them from committing further crimes. Protecting society against these serial offenders would be the main benefit of incarcerating them. The laws that would allow this are mostly there, but they're not being applied. One change that would make locking them up more effective is to incarcerate offenders for longer periods of time as they commit more crimes. It's unreasonable to throw somebody in jail for years on account a small act of petty vandalism, but by the time he's arrested for the third, fourth or tenth time, I have no problem with removing him from circulation for exponentially increasing periods of time. It would keep society safe from these incorrigible deviants, allow law-abiding citizens to take back the streets and remove negative role models for new generations of youths to follow. Right now young kids in those neighborhoods grow up in an environment where they see how their elders get away with openly flouting the law. In their eyes, no ill consequences come of breaking the law and in some cases actually can bring in a lot of money. They do not perceive that a life of crime leads them to marginalize themselves in society.
There is one final twist to this story which I have not mentioned so far, because it is not strictly relevant to the above. The gang, like many others, consists of Moroccan immigrants or immigrants' children. This adds another explosive dimension to the problem of the street gangs, as their highly visible criminal profile reflects poorly on the entire immigrant community. Such gangs would exist even in the absence of immigration if law enforcement would be as broken as it is now. It's not so much an immigration problem, as it is a law enforcement problem. The relevance of the ethnic origin does come into play when you look at secondary effects. To maintain their group identity, they fall back on their imported culture. The enemy, the evil people responsible for their current disenfranchised state are the Jews. The gang members latch on to anything that puts them into as much conflict as possible with "respectable society," and thus the gangs become a hotbed of anti-semitic, anti-western Islamofascist sloganeering and proseletyzing. It's not a big jump for such violent and inveterate criminals to be recruited by a bit of clever manipulation into full violent Islamofascist mold of anti-western terrorism. And that's another reason why we need a good dose of Guiliani-style zero tolerance policing to stamp out these gangs, quite apart from the general issue of maintaining public safety.
Posted by qsi at January 16, 2003 11:20 PM
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Crime and Punishment
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What do you mean by this:
"The gang, like many others, consists of Moroccan immigrants or immigrants' children. This adds another explosive dimension to the problem of the street gangs, as their highly visible criminal profile reflects poorly on the entire immigrant community. Such gangs would exist even in the absence of immigration if law enforcement would be as broken as it is now."
So you're saying if the Moroccans weren't there to do their thing, Dutch teenagers would be doing it instead. What proof do you have for this? I would say it is lacking since the report indicates no competing gangs of Dutch kids in the area.
Your conclusion smacks heavily of P.C. reasoning. Sure, Dutch law enforcement is a joke. But it has been for a long time. It's like leaving a small hole in your front door. It's no problem until the rats move into your neighborhood.