What’s a gang?

You’ve seen ’em.

They all dress very similarly, unusually, if compared to society in general. They all espouse similar viewpoints. They congregate, usually in pairs, although occasionally they congregate in a massive throng. They carry books that show the group’s symbols. They tend to belong to a single ethnic group. Sometimes they use a peculiar language, like the words, “thou” and “shalt.” They loiter, ride and hang with known members of this group. The group they belong to has been accused of violence, not just once, but many times over dozens of decades. Hell, they are even proud of their association with this group. They spend a large percentage of their time trying to recruit other young people into the group.

All the hallmarks are there for a police “gang” designation, if your definition of a “gang” is based on the superficial characteristics of a group of people rather than the fundamental basis for the formation and membership of a gang: a conspiracy formed for commission of crime.

But who would call the pairs of young, marauding Mormon missionaries a “gang"?

Nobody, not even the Reno Police Department, which (as detailed last week in our cover story “Got gang?") recently designated a local group of young people, “straight-edgers,” as a gang.

So, how can you recognize a straight-edger when you see one? Well, they’d be the young adults, generally under 25, who don’t smoke, don’t do drugs or alcohol, and don’t have promiscuous sex. Some may dress in black. Most who would call themselves “straight-edgers” listen to punk-rock music. Some may have piercings or unusual hairstyles. Some, many, don’t fit any of the criteria except for the clean-living standard and choice of music.

By the Reno Police Department’s own calculations, there are between 500-900 straight-edger kids in the Truckee Meadows, and yet there only five individuals worthy of documentation in their gang “system.” One-half to 1 percent of this supposed “gang” are criminals? The problem is by designating “straight-edgers” a gang, the RPD has made all these, in the vast majority, law-abiding kids criminals—gang members.

Compare this to groups of kids who aren’t considered gang members. What about the kids who do illegal drugs? By definition, 100 percent of these kids are criminals, but they’re harder to spot, so the police department doesn’t give them a gang classification.

The whole idea of calling straight-edge kids a gang is absurd. Yes, there are bad apples in every barrel, but putting a target on the good kids will almost certainly lead to more violence from straight-edgers as parents and other gangs start to single them out for mistreatment—because now they’re a “gang.”

The “gang” brush paints too wide. The RPD should be singling out the violent element in the straight-edge movement rather than classifying good kids as criminals.

If the RPD is going to make gang designations based on outward appearances, it might as well take another look at the Mormon missionaries in their pressed white, short-sleeved shirts, carrying their Bibles.