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Justice et injustices spatiales

Bernard Bret
Philippe Gervais-Lambony
Claire Hancock
et al.

Justice Spatiale, Identités, Minorités

Gang/Anti-Gang Strategic Networks

Susan A. Phillips

Texte intégral

1HENRY WAS SEVENTEEN when he began attending high school at a Los Angeles juvenile detention camp. Despite his Anglicized name, Henry spoke no English. He had come from Tegucigalpa, Honduras two years earlier, having undertaken a harrowing six-month journey to Los Angeles in order to look for his mother. His story is common. His mother left him as a toddler in the care of extended family, but the arrangement fell through, forcing Henry into the street life at age five. He lived with other children and began to rob, steal, beg, or pickpocket in order to eat. An older mentor-child taught him the rules of the streets and the rules of the gang they eventually claimed together: Mara Salvatrucha. As a street child and gang member, Henry had been arrested over twenty times on Tegucigalpa streets. He eventually escaped from the rat-infested juvenile prison to which he had been sentenced for six years in order to make the journey to the U.S. Henry found his mother almost immediately upon arrival. He managed to make a secret of his former gang membership: it was no longer necessary here. When I met him, he was serving a three-month sentence in a juvenile camp for theft. He was almost totally illiterate, having never attended school before coming to the U.S. His biggest fear was that he would be deported back to Honduras—a fact his probation officer liked to remind him of whenever Henry stepped out of line.

2Thirty miles to the west, Nestor was a thirty-year old man sitting in the Los Angeles County jail, fighting a trumped up legal charge that would almost certainly lead to his deportation. He had been born in Guatemala, and, like Henry, had come to Los Angeles as a youth seeking his mother. Nestor had lived with his grandparents until a government death squad murdered them in front of him and his siblings. Nestor made the journey to the U.S. in the company of other kids at age nine. Along the way, he saw a girl of eleven get raped and a man get decapitated. When he arrived in the U.S., he was not as lucky as Henry; Nestor’s mother was nowhere to be found. He began to squat in buildings around the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles and became the U.S. version of a street child. Eventually he joined a gang: Mara Salvatrucha. Due to his illicit activities, he began serving sentences in juvenile facilities like the camp that housed Henry. One day, when Nestor was about fifteen, he ran into his mother on the street. But by then it was too late. Nestor already had another family, his gang. By the time I met him in his mid twenties, Nestor had long been part of the surveillance grid surrounding Mara Salvatrucha’s hundreds of local, national, and transnational cliques. He had been named in a gang injunction and was under constant law enforcement scrutiny even though he had entered a tattoo removal program, had fathered two children, and had long since revoked his membership in the gang. Like Henry, Nestor’s biggest fear was that he would be deported.

3Henry’s and Nestor’s stories are equal but opposite narratives of how childhood and criminality intertwine with family dissolution and spatial displacement. Though both individuals were members of Mara Salvatrucha, Henry’s gang affiliation was rooted on the streets of Tegucigalpa and Nestor’s on the streets of Los Angeles. While Henry had been a street child in Honduras, Nestor had been a street child in the U.S. While Henry described his terror that U.S. authorities might find out about his old affiliation and reclassify him as a gang member, Nestor knew that he was already “public enemy number one,” as he said it—in the crosshairs of post-9-11 domestic security agendas. Henry’s fear of deportation stemmed from the knowledge that he would be killed by people he knew were he to return to Tegucigalpa. Nestor instead considered that he, like his grandparents, would more likely be the victim of anti-gang, vigilante death squads with links to Guatemalan law enforcement. Henry’s and Nestor’s equal but opposite tales are bracketed by equivalency: two mothers who left young children to work in the United States; two memberships in vastly different versions of a vilified gang; two young men incarcerated in U.S. facilities facing very real possibilities of deportation and death.

4The gang spaces between the U.S. and Latin America have been the subject of much academic scrutiny (see for example Zilberg 2004; 2007a; 2007b). A particularly virulent path cut through the transnational landscape, Latin American/U.S. gang connections are but one example of the myriad global flows in which childhood, locality, criminality, and suppression intersect. This paper explores the violence surrounding marginalized youth like Henry and Nestor in order to discuss oppositions between criminal justice and spatial justice. My aim is to examine criminal and anti-criminal networks as a series of strategic ties across space with consequences for themes of global justice. By combining a critical geography of the local with a critical geography of the global, I examine what is visible and/or invisible about the connections between these realms in terms of justice consequences. This approach suggests that, as strategic networks, gang/anti-gang trends share many equivalencies in balance, structure, and motivation as well as in themes of profit, transfer, dislocation, and containment. By analyzing these equivalencies, this paper discusses transnational trends toward the cleansing of marginalized urban youth and traces the connections between legal and extralegal suppression of groups of violent youth, looking in particular at strategies based on U.S. archetypes.

5Trends toward youth cleansing have been linked most strongly to emerging democracies in developing countries, where the virulence of anti-youth practices has been eclipsed by the disruptions of youth violence itself. A recent UN report, for example, indicates that a wave of youth violence has accompanied the rural to urban migrations that strongly characterize the neoliberal era (IRIN 2007). Along with this wave of youth violence, suppression activities targeted toward violent youth have resulted in global increases in the surveillance, incarceration, relocation, exclusion, maltreatment, disappearance, and even massacre of youth who are rhetorically considered dangerous, contaminated, animal-like, savage, terrorist, dissident, or unwanted. How do we view these practices as both highly localized and interconnected global processes? What would it mean to map spatial dislocation against the everyday violence perpetrated by and against youth? How do global images, technologies, and suppression tools intertwine with local histories and traditional cultures? And, finally, how do we best respond to anti-youth cleansing practices as scholars interested in questions of spatial justice?

6Possibilities for spatial justice are severely compromised by anticrime legislation globally. For example, the U.S. in 2007 developed TAG, the first Transnational Anti-Gang Unit, a collaborative designed to facilitate the tracking of gang members like Nestor and Henry deported to Latin America from the United States. In 2007, the U.S. also became a signatory of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and was invited to share best practices for dealing with gangs as a transnational, global crime and security issue. Best practices included coordinating the efforts of U.S. agencies with those of countries suffering from crime problems (such as the TAG example) and tactics including the deportation of noncitizens, an action termed as simply “repatriation” in the meetings. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, referenced the fact that almost one-sixth of the world’s population lives in “diabolical ghettos” that are “out of government control.” According to Costa, “Fragile regions, debilitated by mass poverty, unemployment, corruption and violence, are breeding grounds for criminals and terrorists alike” (Morse 2007).

7The success that the United States has had in terms of being a leader in international policing and security issues is matched on the opposite end by the abysmal record of the U.S. in the area of child rights. For years, the U.S. has been a non-signatory (along with only one other country— Somalia) of the single most widely ratified piece of legislation in international human rights history: the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention states that all persons under the age of eighteen should be considered children and that rights put forth in the convention apply to all children without exception. It further states that children have the right to free association, to meet, to join or form groups, that people cannot be executed for crimes they commit as children, and that life imprisonment for minors without the possibility of parole is strictly prohibited (United Nations 1989).

  • 1 The full list of countries that execute minors includes China (banned 1994), Democratic Republic o (...)

8The U.S.’s refusal to sign to sign this and other protective conventions is due in part to its anticrime strategies, which routinely violate many prohibitions in international legislation on children’s rights. The U.S. continues to lead the world in rates of juvenile incarceration, in the numbers of youth it sentences to life in prison (Hubner 2006), in the numbers of youth it tries as adults (Grisso and Schwartz 2000), and in the numbers of youth it has legally put to death (Streib 2003). The U.S. only recently (in 2005) banned the death penalty for those who committed crimes under the age of eighteen, having been for years the only country to continue this practice among such few non-Western companions as Nigeria and Iran1 (Streib 2003; Amnesty International 2002). The United States also continues to deport minors, particularly to Latin America (USAID 2006). All of these practices directly contradict conventions that attempt to protect children as a special category of person.

9Though they should be closely aligned, security measures and children’s rights are often mutually opposed, an irony that extends to the broader arenas of criminal justice and spatial justice. The spaces the world’s children inhabit routinely place them at risk of alienation, marginalization, separation, and relocation—from families, communities and even home countries (Katz 1998). These spaces are simultaneously recipients of the punitive gaze of not just individual states but also of global superpowers with security and/or investment agendas.

10The manner in which violence and urbanism have played together in international policymaking arenas has unintentionally fostered the development of legal and extralegal violence toward youth globally. In Henry’s hometown of Tegucigalpa, for example, more than 1 500 children and youths were murdered between 1998 and 2002 in both gang violence and in acts of social cleansing. Like many countries, Honduras has seen staggering rates of young people migrating to urban centers with few opportunities. The youth targeted in cleansing campaigns, thought to be carried out by police-related death squads, were already victims of poverty and marginality, and one report quoted that “Honduran society has viewed the deaths of these children and youths with indifference and apathy, some newspapers even suggesting it as a possible solution to the problem of public insecurity” (Amnesty International 2003). Honduras, with a murder rate of nearly forty-six per 100,000 people, is at the center of the transnational gang phenomenon between El Salvador, the United States, and Guatemala. Over half the population of Honduras is under the age of eighteen. From a country clearly in crisis, violent Honduran youth have been increasingly blamed for the region’s shattered state.

11Similar social cleansing campaigns exist in Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, and Columbia as well as in many rapidly urbanizing locations, such as South Africa and Papua New Guinea. In all of these cases, youth are responsible for and victims of disproportionate amounts of social violence. Economic changes, massive rural-to-urban migrations, the growth of the international drug trade, and easy access to arms have enabled youth to turn to illegal or quasi-legal violent economies for survival. Vigilantes, private security groups, and police have in turn undertaken campaigns to cleanse or exterminate so-called filth, human waste, and vermin through execution-style murders, gasoline burnings, and so forth. In some but not all areas, gang members are explicit targets of these campaigns.

12In these cases, youth have been targeted for eradication campaigns where the containment of renegade social spaces becomes critical. Under the broader rubric of “cleansing” are discourses of dirt, violence and disease writ large in city space from first to third worlds (Sibley 1995). The names of quasi-militarized task forces officially charged with the enforcement, capture, excision, or treatment of this disease literally operationalize this disorder: Operation Community Shield (United States), Operation Broom (Honduras), Operation Crackdown (South Africa), Operation Sweep Out Trash (Zimbabwe). Their unofficial, and lethal, counterparts include vigilantes, private security firms, renegade police officers, and death squads with names like Los Magnificos (Honduras), Toxicol-90 (Colombia), the Vikings (Los Angeles), People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (South Africa), and Sombra Negra (El Salvador)—names that emphasize equivalency between cleansing groups and the youth they target.

13Localizing multiple forms of marginality and violence helps us to position the exigencies of youth and their surrounding communities in crisis against the hostile reactions that marginalize them in potentially fatal ways. Nancy Scheper-Hughes terms such actions “invisible genocides,” part of the nexus of structural violence that replaces the history of oppression with a set of daily violences against youth that remain unmarked (Scheper-Hughes 2004).

  • 2 Critical work on childhood not only discusses changing concepts of youth and childhood, but also t (...)

14One way to mark these violences is to trace their contours as strategic networks across space and time. As recounted above, violence and the manner to combat it are at the forefront of youth-based agendas globally. A 2005 UN report on the state of the world’s children classified violence along with HIV/AIDS and poverty as the most important factors contributing risk to the lives of youth worldwide (Unicef 2004). Missing from this last account of youth violence, however, is the notion that the violence of youths acting against each other must be considered a key part of this risk. Accounting for such violence challenges conventions of childhood, because it forces people to reposition youth/child as perpetrator instead of as victim2.

Urbanism, Gangs, and Youth Lleansing

15The spatial and moral similarities between gang-style youth groups globally beg consideration of them, according to American gang scholar John Hagedorn (2007), as a fourth world quasi-diaspora (after Castells 2000). Definition of gangs as such forces us to restructure a global geography of childhood (Aitken 2001; Hugh and Limb 1999; Katz 1998) around themes of violence, respect, and danger. In this treatment, I do not want to create an overly essentialist treatment of gangs or the policies that surround them; indeed, most of my previous work stresses the importance of specific ethnographic accounting. I do, however, want to trace a manner of constructing identity in urban space in the neoliberal era in quasi-diasporic style.

16Gangs as a specific type of social group are part continuity, part disruption. Marginalized and impoverished urban youth have been forced to re-write their lives based on the realities of their anticipated life course. Many have countered a lack of access to traditional economic systems with economies that are illegitimately rooted in place rather than in production. This belies traditional core-periphery models of production and instead favors an economic model based on the exploitation of local (or neighborhood) resources, sometimes on a block-to-block basis. There is no true means of production here. Rather, a violent control of territory is rooted in the morality of respect. The economic exploitation of neighborhood areas may include extortive controls over things like parking lots (Zimbabwe), bus routes (San Salvador), and local vendors (Los Angeles), as well pan-gang staples such as robbery or drug dealing.

17In the neoliberal era, marginalized youth worldwide have had to relearn how to navigate identity through the streets. In the context of creating these street-based systems, violence becomes critical as a means of survival. Instead of being socialized to see violence as outside of society, gang members engage in violence as an imperative action that binds together social life. The societies in which youth live are no longer able to protect them. Because youth cannot rely on states or armies—or even simply adults—to keep them safe, a key way to enforce their identities and to manufacture protection from the ground up is by taking violence into their own hands. Many of these youth are already excesses to the system: they have already lost their place in traditional social orders. They thus manufacture new orders based on the consumption of global media as well as local histories, and disrupted social, political, and kinship structures.

18In generating street-based identities through often-violent means, young people worldwide have also managed to reshape what traditional histories and social, political, or kinship structures mean. Globalization is arguably the process that set the genesis of these social groups in motion. But because youth are the actors that have transformed those systems through new kinds of violent suffering in themselves and others, they have done so in a way that helps to structure local, national, and global backlashes against them. Youth in many forms are the scapegoats and witches in this process: AIDS orphans, street children, immigrant children, and gang members alike. While their behavior is a response to a system of new global flows, these flows are untouchable, radically dislocated from place. The children are not; they are the direct arbiters of violence, with names, faces, and places. Because they claim urban space as their own, they can thus be located and eradicated within it.

  • 3 Most accounts of Latin America and gangs refer to these policies, which remain popular despite the (...)

19U.S. financial and security interests are deeply concerned with and key causes of the crime-poverty cycles common to marginalized urban areas globally (see Davis 2006). Indeed, major countries (Guatemala, South Africa, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil) with explicitly termed, extralegal “social cleansing” campaigns all have significant ties to the United States. In Latin America, for example, the U.S. has actively trained local law enforcement in so-called “mano dura” or “super mano dura3” policies—the local version of Rudy Giuliani’s zero-tolerance policing strategy with a distinctly Latin American flavor, which I treat below.


20Regaining control of renegade urban spaces through so-called zero-tolerance policies has become a cottage industry of United States policing. Zero-tolerance was developed in 1990s New York. Meant to clean up sections of New York City, zero tolerance strategies focused on harshly penalizing minor infractions, such as vandalism or turnstile jumping, in order both to cleanse targeted urban areas and to prevent graduation to major crimes. The introduction of zero-tolerance policing coincided with a crime drop in New York City, and, although the Mayor was quick to claim victory, this victory was almost certainly dependent on factors external to policing (Hagedorn and Rauch 2004).

21Zero-tolerance policing is an example of what geographer and activist Ruth Gilmore calls “domestic militarization;” a tactic that also tends to coincide with an increase in police brutality (Gilmore 2007). Despite some widely publicized abuses, zero tolerance policing strategies have been adopted in nearly every European country—particularly in the UK. Zero-tolerance has also been implemented in many developing countries with U.S. assistance, as well as having spread from the UK to many countries in the British Commonwealth. A number of scholars have tracked the popularity of zero-tolerance policing at a global level (Shaw 2007). Because it results in higher arrest rates, zero-tolerance has been linked to increases in police abuse and to increased instances of death in police custody. For juveniles, zero tolerance demands arrest for minor infractions, such as loitering, graffiti, or drinking in public. Zero tolerance policies thus discourage discrimination between violent criminals and people who are seen as “dirtying” the cityscape.

22When gangs emerge in a new country or location, those countries frequently invite the U.S., the world’s gang expert, to provide support and training. U.S. anti-gang strategies are reliant upon high rates of incarceration, trying youth as adults, creating specialized legislation against gangs, generating databases of active or suspected gang members, and sharing information across bureaucratic arenas—some of which are now international.

23In Los Angeles, zero-tolerance tools to fight gang warfare have also included so-called “gang injunctions,” like the one in which Nestor was named. Gang injunctions are complex civil and legal mechanisms that have spread from Los Angeles across the United States (Maxon 2004). In L.A., gang injunctions have comprised a 13-year project of generating a new map of the city, which now covers over 60 square miles of violence-prone city space. In injunction areas, gang members are barred from being seen together in public, from walking down the street, from carrying beepers or cell phones, from associating from one another. While these prohibitions may simply drive gang members further underground, they also make it easier for police to arrest people whom they believe to be violent criminals within injunction zones.

24While they facilitate the strategic policing of urban spaces, zero-tolerance and other highly repressive policies are particularly damaging to youth. They violate child rights conventions, which demand that incarceration be used against children only as a last resort. With zero-tolerance policies, arrest and incarceration for minor infractions are instead the first resort. These tactics thus bring disproportionate numbers of youth into contact with the law, placing them at risk for abuse and further delinquency. According to Luke Dowdney, adopting a cluster of highly repressive tactics against youth:

…sends a clear message to state security forces that children and youths in criminal and armed groups are not deserving of the special protection afforded to children by international conventions and even national legislation. This message, combined with state failure to react to allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and killing of children and youth by state actors, serves to stimulate the practice of summary executions of primarily poor children and youth by state employees, especially the police (2005: 153).

25Dowdney’s caution is particularly salient because of the fact that zero-tolerance policing and other highly repressive tactics have now been adopted so widely. Links between official state policies such as zero-tolerance and unofficial state actions such as police abuse or child executions are flip sides of the same coin.

26Elana Zilberg’s work on Salvadoran gangs further demonstrates how the spread of zero-tolerance policing in tandem with targeted gang deportations may create paradoxical consequences:

27Indeed, in an effort to reassert the sovereignty of the nation-state, the law actually spawns and reproduces transnational formations such as La Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, as well as Central American adaptations of U.S. zero tolerance gang-abatement projects… In so doing, the law effectively undermines the very sovereignty it sets out to defend (2007: 62).

28Through their violence, gangs merge the youth/adult category. The spread of both gangs and anti-gang policies globally disrupts normal divisions based not only on child/adult categories, but also those of victim/perpetrator, core/periphery, first world/third world, global north/global south. Together, these disruptions add a youth dimension to the thesis put forth by Veena Das and Arthur Kleinman: that a new geography of the world is emerging which distinguishes life in areas that are violence-prone and those that are not (Das, Kleinman, Ramphele, and Reynolds 2000). Below, the last section of the paper explores the role of gangs in building relationships between global powers in violence-prone areas through the trope of the war on terror.

The Gang-Crime Terrorism Continuum

29In the war on terror, global images, surveillance technologies, and suppression tools intertwine with local histories and traditional cultures to reposition excluded citizens as potential security threats. While gangs have for years been considered to be hyper-local, they are now being interpreted as a burgeoning international problem, crossing borders between prison and the streets, and between cities, states, and countries.

  • 4 Gary I. Wilson is a retired a Marine Corps Colonel with over 30 years of military service; John P. (...)

30In a February 2007 special report to Defense and the National Interest of the United States, security experts Gary I. Wilson and John P. Sullivan4 defined what they called “the Gang-Crime-Terrorism Continuum,” a network of potential connections between gang, criminal, and terrorist “non-state bad actors.” Their report relies on prediction and similarity to argue that gangs, crime, and terrorism now occupy “the same operational space” (2007: 3). Gangs and terrorist groups are both tied to criminal arenas, and they exhibit similar non-corporate social structures, decentralization, and flexible ties to profit and politics. As defined by Wilson and Sullivan, this operational space is “nonlinear” or “asymmetrical,” “having no definable boundaries or front lines” (4). Coupling criminal concerns with those of national security, the authors cite a range of non-state bad actors that includes groups such as Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. In the gang-crime-terrorism continuum, gangs and terrorists have unwittingly paralleled each other, with mutually beneficial needs, similar tools to navigate criminal environments, similar powers to cross borders with humans or other traffic, similar mechanisms to tap untraditional economic sources of funding, and similar patterns of “localized violence and criminality” (Wilson and Sullivan 2007).

31Gangs and terrorist groups today are intimately linked to criminal environments, anchored in marginal neighborhoods and prisons, like those in the examples above, that have been recognized as “breeding grounds for terrorism and crime” (see Morse 2007). And though the widely reported connections between Mara Salvatrucha and al-Qaeda leadership have been discounted, the U.S. is seeking to thwart the potential for such connections on a global scale. The fear here is that gangs and terrorists will find each other—indeed, the fear is that they already have. This fear has placed certain countries under U.S. anti-terror scrutiny in a manner that directly positions gangs—and thus a range of affiliated and unaffiliated youth—as security compromises.

32South Africa, for example, is considered a “weak spot” for the U.S. both in the war on terror and the war on drugs (Samara 2003). There, the U.S. helped to train the Scorpions, an elite anti-crime unit as part of a newly declared “war on gangs” (Samara 2003; Standing 2005). The Scorpions are in part based on American specialized anti-gang units, such as the anti-gang Los Angeles Police Department unit called Community Resources against Street Hoodlums (CRASH). Tellingly, CRASH has now been disbanded due to rampant abuses, corruption, and punitive tactics. In drafting its 1998 Prevention against Organized Crime Act (POCA), South African legislators traveled to the United States for guidance. They ultimately drafted a document based on two pieces of American legislation: the U.S. RICO act (Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organizations), and California’s 1998 STEP (Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention) act. In section 4 of POCA, parts of the STEP act, such as the criminalization of gang membership and the manner in which gang members are identified for trial or sentencing purposes, are taken nearly word for word from the California legislation (Samara 2003; Standing 2005).

33Disappearing boundaries between what is considered civilian and military, who is an appropriate target, what is a child or an adult, and what constitutes war, crime, or peace are all direct legacies of globalization, privatization, and open trade borders. Indeed, a major security concern today is how to deal with the fallout of global economic policies, although security experts might not frame it as such. In this frame, the issue of the border or boundary has become a key trope, which gangs complicate due to their strong links to both place and places, such as streets, neighborhoods, prisons, or (multiple) home countries.


34In conversations about crime, gangs, and terrorism, there is no hint of anything remotely resembling a child. The hyper-consumptive practices and media-based aspects of global street culture may sometimes seem childlike: gang members are globally preoccupied with notions of “respect,” with American gangster rap, with Italian gangster films. The largest South African gang is called “The Americans;” one of the largest gangs in Port Moresby is called “The Mafia;” “Black Power” is one of three main Maori gangs in New Zealand (see Hagedorn 2007). In regional settings, gangs can and do cross borders: Nigerian gangs have arms in South Africa; American Bloods and Crips have branches in Belize; Jamaican posses in New York have ties to Kingston, just as many ethnic gangs retain some reciprocal links to their home countries.

35Focusing on how gangs are imported or linked to security concerns can draw attention away from the local structural causes of gangs, such as histories of apartheid, colonialism, racial inequality, or segregation. The rise of gang life and youth violence as global phenomena has coincided with privatization and neoliberal policies that range from SAPs to the building of U.S. based private prisons around the world (Simon 2001; Yarwood 2007). While other forms of justice work, such as community-based policing or restorative justice, are in global circulation, punitive models such as those described above are the most politically expedient. These are not onetime big bangs that first world power players have set in motion but rather cases of sustained, highly specific training, direction, and communication between countries that have mutual, though unequal interests.

36As a merger of local histories and global problems, the case of gangs unites specific policies based on U.S.-led trends and institutions within myriad local contexts. Following the global geographic footprint of legislation reaffirms the role of the U.S. as a global power, secures its privatizing/investment/democratizing agenda, and prioritizes American national security issues over the local issues of other countries. From panic around the drug trade, violent crime, terrorism, and fluid borders come images of disconnected youth, future crime waves, potential terrorism, breeding grounds for violence, and the erosion of social fabrics. The unintended outcome of homegrown as well as imported answers to these problems is to drive people away from mainstream systems by disenfranchising them further.

37The popularity of U.S. policies on a global stage hides the failure of U.S. justice policy at home. This makes its transfer into radically different contexts particularly problematic. In the case of anti-gang policy, wholesale importation of legislation and policing tactics on the ground also masks the specificity of gangs and youth as local social problems. Sociologist Loïc Wacquant (2007) demonstrates how generalizing images help to render in monochrome what should be specific accounts of urban marginality: “…we must work to develop more complex and more differentiated pictures of the ‘wretched of the city’ if we wish to accurately capture their social predicament and elucidate their collective fate in different national contexts” (1).

38Social studies of youth and policing demonstrate that the lives of young people are being increasingly mediated through crime and disorder (Muncie 2005; Simon 1997). According to John Muncie:

Juvenile and youth justice may be becoming more globalized through the impact of neo-liberalism, policy transfer and international conventions, but at the same time it is becoming more localized through national, regional and local enclaves of difference, coalition and resistance (2005: 56).

39What does the re-definition of youth around themes of violence mean for re-integrating segregated social spaces? This question is critical for countries eager to put into place more just policies toward youth but which lack the resources to do so in a sustainable or responsible manner.

40The United Nations is vast governing body, which has failed to act upon the growing contradiction between anti-crime strategies and human rights violations, particularly with regard to children. As a non-signatory, the U.S. is legally absolved of these contradictions. But the U.S. continues to spread its own policing strategies to other countries, and to prioritize its own security issues over the local issues challenging other countries. As the world’s gang expert, the U.S. continues to be invited or to invite itself to other countries to train local law enforcement in zero-tolerance or other anti-gang tactics. In so doing, it compromises the ability of other countries to abide by the codes of the convention. Regional histories of apartheid, civil war, or colonialism combined with local control technologies such as the cattle prod, electrodes, or the bullwhip make perversions out of already perverse pieces of legislation. For its part in these perversions, the United States can, and should, be held accountable.

41The analysis above is only relevant when anchored to the lives of individuals such as those that began this paper. One final example has bearing on how life stories, like those of Nestor and Henry, are connected to the global political landscape. A young man named Manuel worked at the clinic where Nestor had received tattoo removal treatment. A member of Mara Salvatrucha’s main rival, 18th Street, Manuel was deported to El Salvador in 2007, following the return path that both Nestor and Henry feared so greatly. Two weeks after his arrival in San Salvador,

42Manuel was shot and killed outside of a weekend party. No one knew who did it or why. They only knew that for Manuel, as for most gang members deported to Latin America from the U.S., it was simply a matter of time.

43Stories like Manuel’s, Nestor’s, or Henry’s are really personal narratives about global policies. Their themes of abandonment, displacement, violence, and suppression urge us as scholars of spatial justice to make visible connections between places and practices that compromise the possibility for fostering equality. By making these connections visible, and by continuing to theorize the resulting contradictions in terms of justice, scholars can draw attention to the vast network of interests at stake within the global politics of social containment.



Books and Articles

Aitken, Stuart C. 2001. “Global crises of childhood: rights, justice and the unchildlike child.” Area 33 (2), 119-127.

Castells, Manuel. 2000. End of Millennium. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Das, Veena, Arthur Kleinman, Mamphela Ramphele, and Pamela Reynolds (eds). 2000. Violence and Subjectivity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Davis, Mike. 2006. Planet of Slums. London: Verso.

Dowdney, Luke. 2005. Neither War not Peace: International Comparisons of Children and Youth in Organized Armed Violence. Rio de Janiero: Viva Rio and Children and Youth in Organised Armed Violence.

Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loayza. 1998. Determinants of Crime Rates in Latin America and the World. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.

Gilmore, Ruth. 2007. Golden gulag: prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Grisso, Thomas and Robert G. Schwartz (eds.), 2000. Youth on Trial: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hagedorn, J. and Rauch, B. 2004. “Variations in urban homicide: Chicago, New York City and global urban policy.” Unpublished paper. UIC Great Cities Institute.

Hagedorn, John (ed.). 2007. Gangs in the Global City: Alternatives to Traditional Criminology. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Herbert, Steven Kelly 1997. Policing space: territoriality and the Los Angeles Police Department. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hubner, John. 2006. “Discarded Lives: Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole.” Amnesty International Magazine. Spring. New York: Amnesty International USA.

Hugh, Matthews, and Melanie LIMB. 1999. “Defining an agenda for the geography of children: review and prospect.” Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 23, No. 1: 61-90.

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1 The full list of countries that execute minors includes China (banned 1994), Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

2 Critical work on childhood not only discusses changing concepts of youth and childhood, but also the ways that children are represented by NGOs.

3 Most accounts of Latin America and gangs refer to these policies, which remain popular despite the abuses.

4 Gary I. Wilson is a retired a Marine Corps Colonel with over 30 years of military service; John P. Sullivan is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with an expertise in counter-terrorism. This pairing of military with law enforcement analysis is indicative of some of the bridgework that further militarizes the domestic sphere.


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