A lawyer practicing in Nanaimo once told me, “There’s only two gangs in town. One has a clubhouse and the other has a headquarters”.
The lawyer’s views were informed by what he considered to be the group’s ability to avoid convictions for breaking the law. When I later thought about what he said, the similarities between the organizations stirred my sociological imagination. As outrageous as the comparison may seem, there’s an element of truth to his comparison. Consider, for example, the following elements of these two social groups:
- Both can be identified through their highly visible ‘uniforms’ which display paramilitary symbols and nomenclature indicating the organizational rank and status of their members.
- The RCMP crest and Hells Angels insignia are copyright protected.
- The RCMP and HA have fortress-style work/meeting places which exclude members of the public except on official business or by invitation.
- Both groups elicit public deference – if not a certain element of fear.
- Each group has a sophisticated process to screen membership. Members can be sanctioned by the group for rule infractions, up to and including banning members.
- Both groups have a process for evicting members for breaking the rules – even if they have not broken the law.
- The groups have public events (e.g., the RCMP Musical Ride and Nanaimo’s ‘Angels Acres’) to generate public support and funds for their respective organizations.
- The Mounties and the HA have public relations designates who speak on behalf of their organizations.
- Both groups have internal, specialized elite squads which protect key leaders (e.g., the ‘Nomads’ and Prime Minister Harper’s RCMP security detail).
- Some young men aspire to members of either group, attracted to the social status and potential for upward mobility within the organizations.
- Both groups raise money for charity (e.g., “Cops for Cancer” and participation with a Christmas “toy ride”).
- Both organizations claim their members are generally law-abiding except for the occasional “bad apple”.
- Both groups use force, including lethal force, to achieve their respective organizational mandates.
- Members of each group are relatively insulated from conviction for homicides involved in the course of their activities.
- The groups both stage ‘memorial rides’ for their ‘fallen members’.
There is something which attracts people to groups like these which offer camaraderie, public respect, and material security. The “gang”, broadly conceived, can be any identifiable status group including teachers, physicians, professors, and trades people such as mechanics and electricians (and their respective unions or professional organizations).
The sense of belonging and identity which gangs offer people can be developed to help foster a safer community. More on that topic in my next post: How compulsory military service will drive crime downward and foster healthy communities.
My apologies if I have offended members of either group with this comparison.