Two weeks ago a jury in Phoenix found a man named Nathaniel Sample guilty of the felony of “acting for the benefit of a criminal street gang.” Sample has earned a patch in a motorcycle club that you might know.
So as a result, a week later the Maricopa County Attorney, Andrew Thomas, issued a swaggering press release announcing “that for the first time in Arizona, a jury has labeled the Hells Angels a criminal street gang when they convicted a gang member in an assault case at a Scottsdale bar.”
“The Hells Angels,” the release continued, “know their way around the legal system and fight any gang allegation levied against them. They routinely collect fees from their members throughout the country to pay for defense lawyers who contest any charge labeling them as a ‘criminal street gang.’ Nonetheless, the efforts of the prosecution team, in conjunction with the dedication of the Scottsdale Gang Unit and support from other Arizona law enforcement agencies and resources, secured justice for the victim and an accurate label for an outlaw motorcycle gang.”
The trial, verdict and the release are all the fruit of a nasty mugging in a place called the Billet Bar in Old Town Scottsdale on March 28, 2008. A victim who has never been named bumped into Sample and another Angel named Jose Cano after which the two Angels proceeded to beat the crap out of him.
The civilian was beaten to the ground and kicked. At least one witness said he was hit with a beer bottle. The one sided battle ended when a woman in the bar threw herself on top of the victim to protect his body with hers. According to a police statement issued at the time, the victim had non-life-threatening injuries and was awake and alert when the cops got there.
Sample and Cano fled. Sample was arrested six days later. Cano was arrested about two weeks after that. Both men were charged with aggravated assault. Cano pled guilty to the charge. Sample fought it and wound up being convicted of the felony assault and also the felony of belonging to a motorcycle club.
Because of the “street gang” conviction, Arizona law dictates that Sample must do an extra three years in prison. Because he beat up another guy in a bar while being a member of the Hells Angels he now has two felony strikes. And a third felony conviction in Arizona will earn him a 35-years to life sentence in prison.
Calling every insubordinate group a “criminal street gang” has become one of the most effective tactics for enforcing social control in the new America. Most state definitions follow the definition in the United States Criminal Code.
“‘Criminal street gang’ means an ongoing group, club, organization, or association of five or more persons that has as one of its primary purposes the commission of one or more criminal offenses; the members of which engage, or have engaged within the past five years, in a continuing series of offenses; and the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce.”
Criminal offenses meaning like, you know, smoking jive or threatening to punch a TSA guard in the mouth.
The average moron could spot the logical flaws in this definition. So the problem is not that judges and prosecutors cannot understand what is unjust in “gang prosecutions.” The problem is that judges and prosecutors will not understand.
The logic in all of these legal definitions is circular. A “criminal street gang” is a “criminal street gang” that is or has in the past been a “criminal street gang.” No line is ever drawn between the gang that is the Rolling 60s, the gang that is Blackwater, the gang that is the Republican Party and the gang that is the Boy Scouts of America.
An unknown amount that exceeds $300 million is provided by the federal government to prosecute “criminal street gangs” each year.
Tom’s Criminal Street Gang
History buffs know that “criminal street gangs” have plagued authorities in this nation for more than 200 years. One early “criminal street gang” called the “Sons of Liberty” even espoused political revolution.
But, perhaps the most succinct historical description of a “criminal street gang” can be found in the “outlaw novel” Huckleberry Finn written by a disreputable misanthrope who wrote under the “river name” Mark Twain.
“Now we’ll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer’s Gang,” the hoodlum Twain wrote. ‘Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood.’ Everybody was willing.
“So Tom gave out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he musn’t sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn’t belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued, and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot, for ever.
“Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said, some of it, but the rest was out of pirate books, and robber books, and every gang that was high-toned had it.”
Fortunately, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has never read what is, by acclamation, the greatest American novel. If he had, there would probably be warrants out for Tom Sawyer right now. Readers who are too smart to be the Maricopa County Attorney already know that Finn, who actually lived in the streets, stole a valuable piece of property, to wit, another man’s negro, and went on the run.