We’d like to lay to rest a romantic notions expressed by some critics of lawmakers trying to decide how best to fight back. The critics wonder if the street gangs might serve some greater good, offering “protection or camaraderie” to youths who join them. If a street gang is the best “protection or camaraderie” society can offer a young person, that is a problem. That is a problem we must address. But not by giving gang members a pass. We have to solve it by guiding those at risk of falling into the gangs’ trap away from danger. Society has to offer our young people, all our young people, a better opportunity than a life of crime.
But we believe society offers more than enough alternatives to joining a murderous band of criminals who sell drugs and otherwise terrorize neighborhoods. We blame them for the problems our young people need protection from. They are not part of the solution.
Street gangs commit crimes to make money. Every member of the gang in some way benefits from the criminal enterprise. They share the burden of guilt. We have to make it clear that we welcome any member who is having second thoughts to participate in the gang’s demise. That should be the only way out.
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There are critics who believe SB 2868, the proposed law that sparked the debate, is overly broad, could profile and trap the innocent. Those are valid concerns. We believe a law can be written that addresses those concerns. That is why we want the debate continues in the state House and beyond until we have it right.
We can’t rely on haircuts or tattoos or clothes or any of the many gang indicators alone. Any law passed should make that clear.
But once we devise a way to identify gang members and their gangs, we favor harsh punishment. These are criminal enterprises and we know how to break them. Detect their crimes. Flip their members. Convict them. Seize their assets. Shut them down.
And hand out harsh sentences to the guilty. Sentences that will send a message to those in school facing pressure or enticement to join a gang that gang membership is a path not worth the price.
We must be realistic about the cost, however. Any bill should spell out that cost and the means to pay it. That will help guide lawmakers to a narrowly written bill that will be most likely to ensnare the gang members and ensure the rights of the innocents.
But to do nothing, and let gangs continue to grow, and the societal problems they cause to fester, would be a mistake.
The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.