City Needs More Than a Gang Task Force to Resolve Street-Crew Violence, Professor Says


Yesterday’s announcement that the NYPD will double its gang task force to combat violence among young teens in rival street crews will likely help reduce some violence, but it does little to address its root causes.

“Operation Crew Cut” will dedicate some of its resources to combating the growing trend of “Facebook gangsters” who use social media to make threats, intimidate, and sometimes brag about violent acts they’ve committed in real life.

Precincts in troubled areas will deploy 12 officers to address local turf-wars — in part through the analysis of the social media activity of the gangs.

“It doesn’t really get to the basic issue of why these kids are doing it in the first place. What is that they’re getting out of this? Why do they feel the need to engage in [these] kinds of behaviors, violent conflicts, and territorial conflicts, turf wars?” David Brotherton, gang researcher and co-chair of the Department of Sociology at John Jay College, tells the Voice. “They don’t get down to any kind of root cause. It just gets down to the superficial element of any conflicts.”

As we reported last month, the superficial element of those conflicts can be quite devastating. Three teens involved in the Brooklyn street gang rivalry between the “Hoodstarz” and the “Very Crispy Gangsters” were killed in the past few years.

Innocent bystanders have been shot as a result of the conflict, including a 10-year-old boy who was hit with a stray bullet in his home while watching TV. Although Brotherton understands the magnitude of such violence, he thinks that the city must offer more comprehensive services, outside of policing, in order to adequately address the issue.

“In a highly surveyed and highly policed society, all that is true. That’s what you want, if it’s from a highly policed point-of-view,” Brotherton says. “You create this kind pathological environment in which you have a self-fulfilling prophecy of young people failing. I’m just amazed that the eventual violent outcomes aren’t worse than they are, given the levels of marginality that so many youth are having to experience.”

In his announcement of the task force, Kelly briefly acknowledges hopes that some of the youth offenders will be able to turn their lives around.

“We think there’s a real opportunity here to save more lives and perhaps rehabilitate some of these young crew members by having our youth officers visit them at home, and provide the kind of tough love that offers the choice between supportive programs or re-arrest,” Kelly said.

Brotherton believes that it will take more than just “tough love” to address the issue. It will take a serious and holistic examination of the situation.

“You [see] the same clusters of social deprivation and health problems . . . in the same areas year after year after year. Why? Why should we tolerate that? It’s an abomination in a city such as New York City,” Brotherton says.

“You wouldn’t have that in middle-class areas. It wouldn’t happen. It just wouldn’t happen. The parents would be rising up, they’d be contacting their assemblymen, ‘You can’t have bad schools, you can’t have schools going through constant crises, you can’t have libraries shutting down, you can’t have playgrounds being left in disrepair.’ But you go to the poorest neighborhoods, year after year after year and [that’s] what you find.”