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The End of Gangs (psmag.com)
172 points by ern on Dec 31, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments

There was a BestOf'd comment on Reddit giving another perspective on this article.



The lead exposure angle and the removal of lead in gasolines needs more weight than the throwaway mention it was given.

Simple biology is a ludicrously heavy lever on human behavior.

>Simple biology is a ludicrously heavy lever on human behavior.

Seemingly small biological factors can have huge social consequences.

For example not having clean water and getting parasites can mean a lower IQ for children and hindered development. http://www.economist.com/node/16479286

I heard a really good TED talk about this recently. and it was about mold / pollution in LA. It gave the example of a young woman who came into a hospital multiple times for a headache, and could not get to the root of the problem. Eventually she saw a specialist and attributed 100% of the cause to the fact that she lived in East LA, had rat droppings, mold in her house which was the cause.

The article makes that assertion, and implies that their is more evidence beyond correlation, but never shows this. Clean water, is likely to be so highly correlated with IQ due to any number of other factors I think it will be extremely difficult to disambiguate.

Could be, but I don't think the report shows that. In fact it states:

"Many scientists, both critics and supporters, have expressed concern that the experimental methods we have used have not adequately established that causation exists between IQ and infectious disease, and that its direction is the one we predict. The use of longitudinal studies could answer all of these questions. Such studies would track children from as early an age as possible, documenting the intensity, duration, timing, and types of infections they acquire, and track their cognitive development through the use of culturally-appropriate IQ tests."

In fact I'd think that so many other potential causative factors, such as lack of education, freetime, skilled employment etc. are likely to be correlated with incidence of infectious disease, that it's hard to draw any strong conclusions without a more detailed study.

I sort of buy the lead theory, up to a point. It's unhelpful (from a statistical point of view) that the elimination of lead from gasoline occurred around the same time as the crack epidemic started to wane.

I think the elimination of lead from gasoline happened at different points in time in different countries. unless they all had a similarly timeshifted crack epidemic (and of the same magnitude), that might help sorting things out.

(also: maybe crack use is a result of a violent environment, thus the causality chain could be lead -> violence -> crack - assuming there is any causality between any of these)

The violence from the crack epidemic wasn't because people were using crack (crackheads don't commit a ton of murders, really) it was because there was sort of a "land grab" for new crack dealers resulting in a lot of turf wars until the situation stabilized and/or communities got fed up by the gang violence.

The reason why the crack epidemic reasoning makes more sense as a causitive agent is because violent crime didn't simply go down in the '90s as leaded gasoline was phased out. Rather, crime increased dramatically in the '80s and early '90s before peaking and falling. That doesn't match either the profile of lead exposure nor the population of the folks who typically commit violent crimes (sub 30 year old males). In fact, there was a peak of violent crime among 14-24 year olds as a percentage of that population group that matches the onset of the crack epidemic perfectly but does not match lead exposure or socio-economic status well at all.

Here's a good graph that highlights just that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_Stat...

The figures there back up the premise that there was a wave of new and exceptional violence caused by young gang bangers fighting in the streets over the crack business.

The shift in the crime rates does appear to track childhood lead levels across countries with different dates of leaded gas elimination.

See Figures 7 and 8 in this paper. http://pic.plover.com/Nevin/Nevin2007.pdf

One thing he failed to mention was greater access to abortions for lower class women.

For anyone interested in urban gang dynamics I highly recommend David Kennedy's book Don't Shoot. I recently read it and it contains some amazing insights into misunderstandings that communities of law enforcement and urban neighborhoods have about each other and gangs which leads to rational but wrong behaviors that perpetuate those misunderstandings, along with some brilliant ideas to change those dynamics with examples of those applied ideas working in multiple neighborhoods across the country.


This has created the only-in-L.A. phenomenon of commuter gangs: guys who drive a long way to be with their homies at the corner where the gang began. (In the 204th Street neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway, I met gang members who drove in from Carson, the San Gabriel Valley, and even Palm Springs.)

The joys of living in California. I wonder if this will happen in East Palo Alto too.

What about decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana that went into effect in 2011? Or medical marijuana that is also fairly recent.

Indeed, this takes potentially a lot of money out of the hands of criminals and into less violent hands.

If possessing it is decriminalized and legitimate sources aren't made a more attractive option than otherwise, then people are still going to end up supporting cartels etc. when buying it.

Legalization changes that because it makes it a lot easier to cultivate in the US, safely and legally. Illegality encourages actions like smuggling from Central and South America, and guerrilla grows in National Forests. With decreased legal pressure, more savory elements of society produce high quality cannabis in the US. So, even if that produce is sold on the black market its a better situation than violent gangs from Mexico smuggling bricks of marijuana with theI meth, cocaine and heroin.

Probably pot should just be completely legalized and made into a taxable commodity like alcohol. Kill it as a revenue source for gangs.

One thing, though; when it's illegal, police find it a convenient way to bust a known baddie and get them off the streets. Take that away and they lose a valuable tool.

I wonder to what degree technology has played a role. The article references gang taunting etc. via the internet instead of on the street - would be interesting to know to what degree social networks, video games, etc. have had an impact on gang activities, and also the degree to which drug sales have moved off the street - i.e.: you don't need people hanging on the corner to sell drugs anymore.

> I wonder to what degree technology has played a role.

Since 2008, other than smartphones, what has really changed in tech?

Social media? "Meet me at 6" rather than one guy standing on a street corner all day?

Burner phones being cheap and capable of texting?

All of which existed in 2008.

large parts of the poorer urban communities didn't jump on the smartphone bandwagon until 2010. "Ballers" had Blackberries but most people were still using flip or feature phones. I remember arguing with a lot of people that the iPhone/Android was the future.

Around 2010 all of that changed. Everyone in my neighborhood in Harlem started to have smartphones. And with the rise of smartphones in poor urban neighborhoods came the rise of these same people using social media in record numbers.

> Ballers" had Blackberries but most people were still using flip or feature phones.

You just made my point.

Flip and feature phones were used in poor urban communities. Those were more than capable of texting, and using text to set up a drug meet.

The pervasiveness of social media since 2008 has been a qualitative, rather than just quantitative, change. Different things are possible when such a high percentage of people have access to the same network. Also, 6 years is not a very long time frame over which to scoff at a lack of progress, even if it were true...

I'm not scoffing at a lack of progress.

This thread started with some one asking whether Tech had played a role in the decline of street gangs.

I am making the case that outside of the smartphone, and faster wireless networks, nothing fundamentally changed between 2008 and now.

So, did the rise in smartphones lead to the decline of street gangs?

Causation vs Correlation.

Didn't change for you and the hacker news crowd, or didn't change for potential urban gang members?

I apologize for reading the word "scoff" into your comment about technology, but I think my point that the pervasiveness of social media represents another qualitative (or perhaps "fundamental", to use your terminology) change during that period stands.

But weren't ubiquitous.

The web existed in 1995, but it wasn't until the late '90s that it started becoming heavily used by the majority of the public at large.

In 2008, cheap cell phones were ubiquitous.

existed != pervasive

In 2008 cell phones capable of texting were pervasive, and ubiquitous.

As was MySpace.

Online drug sales from sites like silk road, for one.

I have to disagree with you on this point. I doubt Silk Road or people buying drugs online with bitcoins have affected the market for street drugs at all. Two completely different socio-economic markets.

Most who buy drugs in the inner city do not have access to bitcoin and/or Silk Road, and even if they did they would scoff at the inflated prices compared to the price on the streets.

From what I've read gangs where I live (Chicago), they don't get as involved in drug sales as one might think. It's less about drug territories and more about representing the block one grew up on. This American Life did a pretty good story about it in two episodes about a high school a couple of years ago.

This is just the normal transition every successful street gang makes to a more sophisticated organized crime like you see in big East Coast cities. "Gangs" like MS-13 are huge, with more than 100k members in the US and a half dozen other countries. The Crips and Bloods can't stand up to that kind of organization - they either get coopted or destroyed.

When a handful of guys in Guadalajara have a piece of every drug transaction in Southern California it's all going to look pretty peaceful unless you cross them.

In my opinion, it's simpler. Gang culture is cyclic. It's simply not "cool" to be a gangster nowadays, therefore insecure kids don't aspire to be gangsters. But like all things, in time, it will be "in" again.

perhaps it's the rise of social networks, facebook, flappy bird, etc which has neutralized all gangs.. kids nowadays can't put their phones down, get off the couch. they've gotten lazier?

The same was largely said about children watching television, a common generational gripe at the height of U.S. gang violence.

Having distractions alone is not sufficient. As a previous poster noted, connectivity and digital technology can actually lower the barrier in certain aspects.

That has also probably helped police track them and stay on top of the problem.

Interesting idea. "kids with nothing to do get up to no good" has become "kids with nothing to do go on facebook / reddit"

that's certainly not the case. If anything kids not being able to put their phones down has made it easier to make threats and start violence as this wired article points out: http://www.wired.com/2013/09/gangs-of-social-media/all/

No mention of biker gangs like the Hells Angels, I wonder if their popularity ebbs and flows on the same cycle (no pun intended).

Now gangs are bigger and their members wear badges. Sort of like the ending of A Clockwork Orange...

They also have colonies, fraternal lodges, round tables, and front groups.

Or the ending of 1984.

> “Before, they were into turf...now they’re more interested in making money.”

So they switched from a zero-sum game to a positive-sum game?

I'd wager that kids are probably making smarter choices nowadays since information is more freely available with regards to what options are out there besides joining a gang.


Perhaps less gun ownership was needed when gang-violence occurred less? If they do correlate, I'm not entirely sure we could figure out the chain of causation without jumping to conclusions.

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