The color of gangs

Laura Yuen’s excellent story today on a St. Paul plan to keep closer tabs on the city’s gang members should lead to more discussion on the issue. So let’s start it.

Under the program, 60 of the ‘baddest” gang members have been identified:

“In essence, what we’re going to do is bring everyone to the table and say, ‘We’ve identified you, and we’re going to give you two paths to go down,” Sgt. Trish Englund said. “We would prefer you to take this path where we have some resources in place for you to use, and people who genuinely want to help you and change your lifestyle. Or you’re going to go down this path, where we’re going to target you, and it’s going to be one where you’ll end up in jail, and possibly in jail for a very long time.”

And all 60 are black. Is that a problem?

“We see it as a selective prosecution of individuals,” St. Paul NAACP, Nathaniel Khaliq said. “You already have them on the list, and you’re just waiting for them to trip, and then you move on them.”

Khaliq said the police frequently target African-American men while overlooking other communities. For instance, a group of boys accused of a recent baseball-bat attack at Lake Phalen were Asian, not black. And Khaliq said the new program could distract the police from going after older, more established gangs rather than young people from the neighborhood.

Are the 60 African Americans the “baddest” gang members? As Khaliq pointed out in Yuen’s story, the high-profile attack in the Phalen area recently was allegedly carried out by an Asian gang.

But a 2007 City Pages look at gangs in St. Paul detailed how a single incident led to more than year of gang activity among “predominantly black” gangs. But it also noted the involvement of gang members of Asian and Hispanic backgrounds.

And though somewhat aged now, an FBI bulletin in February 2003 provided a chilling picture of the violence — primarily rape — perpetrated by Hmong gangs in the area.

Is this selective enforcement against a particular race? Or an accurate representation of the gangs of St. Paul?

What’s your view?