Posted by: zhak39 | August 4, 2009

Politics and Gangs, Cults and Criminals

–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people will not vanish from this earth.

I wonder if Abe Lincoln envisioned the modern electorate and with it, the pool of potential candidates that would strive to lead and serve.  A couple of weeks ago I posted an article from the town to our east about Wade Preston Salmon, Jr.,  a middle-aged petty criminal that lived with his parents and was running for office.  Wade wants to see better bus service, free educational cable packages for children, more effective public run drug rehab centers and improved homeless shelters.  Two years ago Billy Jones, a good ol’ boy who started writing poetry in his late 30s, drives a truck part-time, and built a foot powered street plane for fun, ran for mayor of another nearby city.

Billy Jones and the Street Plane

Billy’s family has been in this area for generations.  He has a strong commitment to his neighborhood and community and wanted to address the ongoing issues of the people.  The city government is very involved in attracting business and industry, creating a fun environment to encourage people with discretionary money to live downtown and spend locally, and generally stoke the economic engine.  People like Wade and Billy see unaddressed problems that relate directly to the citizens daily living and have decided that the only way action will occur is if they roll up their sleeves and do something about it directly.

This election season another candidate has emerged from the street to challenge the status quo business model.  Jorge (George) Cornell is running for an at-large position on the city council.  As the founder and leader or Inca of the local chapter of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation (ALKQN or ALKN), this has garnered a great deal of attention.  North Carolina is one of the states that has refined the federal definition of ‘gang’ and the town has adopted a direct response through a gang unit with the police force to suppress gang activity.

About the candidate, yes, he is a convicted felon.  In a recent interview he couldn’t recall the specific year that he was convicted or the charge or the details of the crime.  He was put on probation and lost the right to vote in New York.  North Carolina voting does not have a reciprocal arrangement with New York nor are convicts barred from voting after serving their term of punishment.  After his probation and once he moved to North Carolina Jorge was surprised to find out that he could not only vote but could run for office.   Does he think that his criminal past will have a negative impact on his campaign?  Not according to this interview.

“More people can relate to me because I know what it is to be screwed by the system,” he said. “I know what it’s like to live in a city where your own police department can target you and racially profile you.  I’m your everyday person.  I’m a felon.  I believe we’re going to make history in more than one way:  I’m going to give the youth hope that, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’  I’m going to give hope to that felon, that, no, you don’t have to be a number , and still keep going back into the system.”

Yes, the people.  I have to wonder, is this casual acceptance of lawbreaking related to the proportion of our incarcerated citizens?

I found it interesting that the title of the article referred to this candidate as a gang leader so did some research.  All legal and political definitions of gangs reference criminal activity.  North Carolina defines a gang as an organization, association or group of three or more persons that has as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more criminal acts and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity and which has a common name, identifying sign, colors or symbols.  It is inclusion of criminal activity that makes say the Boy Scouts of America or the Shriners clubs but not gangs.  As well, there are religious orders that would qualify as gangs, for example some Christian churches that allow consummation of marriage with older men and underage girls.

In 2008 the Beloved Community Center and the Pulpit Forum of Clergy in Greensboro developed a document called A Paradigm Shift where the participants assert that the local ALKQN “have renounced stealing, drug use and initiating violence.”  These religious and gang leaders met for the purpose of creating a plan to engage gangs as a potential resource for safe communities, justice making and community building.  (I find it interesting that in doing so they candidly admitted that the ALKQN had in fact engaged in criminal activity.)  Under the direction of Inca King Jorge they dedicated themselves to put aside differences, amend their behavior for the higher purpose of improving the quality of life of socially and economically marginalized populations.

The internet is a funny place.  In an attempt to decide if the ALKN qualified as a gang, that is, has as a primary purpose felonious behavior I found two camps.  The law enforcement and academic sites that described gangs mentioned the ALKN and asserted that they were a gang.  The ALKN member sites primarily wrote about Kingdism, the religious outgrowth of the ALKN.  All the historical sites talked about their politics.  All of it is pretty heady stuff.  The group started in Chicago as a support to people from Puerto Rico which in the 40s was still in the process of moving from an American colony to a territory.  Previous to the Nationality Act which was passed in 1941 and the Nationality Law which was ratified in 1942, people born in Puerto Rico were statuatory United States citizens.  It wasn’t until 1950 that Puerto Rico became a commonwealth.  As there was more movement between Puerto Rico and the continental states there were adjustments and resentments.  Like the Young Lords, the originators of the ALKN were trying to ease that transitition.

It is undeniable that over the last 50 years many members and leadership of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation have been prosecuted and jailed for the types of activity that are associated with gangs–assault, larceny, procurement and dissemination of controlled substances, murder.

There is evidence particularly in the behavior of Inca Jorge that the local ALKQN has truly renounced initiating illegal violent behavior.  In fact, after Jorge called for a cessation of violence among all local gangs for the greater good of the community there were a number of incidents that could have resulted in escalating violence in retaliation.  Over the last year the ALKQN has made every attempt to work through the system, particularly the Human Rights Commission in order to resolve differences peacefully.  I applaud that.

From my reading this group does not resemble a gang so much as it may be defined as a cult.  There are of course many definitions of a cult.  The qualities that I am considering include the following:

  • religion is a primary purpose of their gathering
  • they set themselves away from associated religion through novel beliefs
  • they set themselves away from mainstream society or politics
  • there is a high degree of tension with surrounding society

The member websites that I read relied heavily on their connection with Christianity.  It seems somewhat cherry picked theology.  Their rituals seemed to feed directly to the power structure, somewhat like the very early Catholic Church.  Considering the general acceptance of thievery and violence they are a little shaky on the ten commandments.  As self-proclaimed lumpen they are clearly set away from mainstream politics and society.  They identify as oppressed citing non-black and non-brown people the oppressors.  Although there may not be the same degree of tension with individuals in the larger society there is a huge tension with this group and law enforcement which is the appointed protector of that greater society.

However this group and leader is defined, there is a long history of connection with street associations and politicians and this would not have escaped Abe Lincoln in being inclusive in a government of and by the people.  In his time there were the Bowery Boys in New York and the Plug Uglies in Baltimore.  These were influential and violent organizations that had cozy relationships with the men with legitimized power.

So why is this man who is counter to the system so determined to become a part of that system?  Last weekend I spoke to an uncle who had done social work and community building in New York City in the the late 60s.  In his view, successful politicians are motivated primarily if not solely by power.  Ideology is a vehicle and agenda is a non-issue.  In the community building he was involved in the aim was to create an agenda and exchange it with any politician in exchange for votes.  The community would put their support behind anyone who promised the most of what they wanted.  In other words, the community built the platform on which the politician stood.

There has been progress but there has also been disappointment and disillusion. For those people who have worked toward social justice there has been positive movement.  For the disenfranchised there has been improvement.  But not in proportion to the advancement of a select few.  I think the United States has an unstated caste and class system and it is just getting too big to deny.  I think that there are some very forward thinking people that are saying, hey, why not.  I have ideas and I have energy.  I represent at least the people I know and I have to do better than what’s going on right now.

I applaud Wade, Billy and Jorge.  I think that if they found themselves in public office they would be eaten without ketchup but it is a step in self-actualization and a positive example to others.

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