December 8, 2005

Welcome to the War Zone!

One of the odder websites I've found is, "Dedicated to The Compton Police Department - in existence from 1888 until 2000." To you, Compton may be just a slum between Los Angeles and Long Beach, but to nostalgic former Compton cops, back in the day it was the Big Leagues of the Crack Wars:

The streets of Compton are considered the toughest anywhere in the United States, but the cops who worked these streets were tougher.

This site was created by the Compton Police Officers who were a part of the last 20 years of the department. A time of great turbulence - with riots, murder of police officers, the beginning of Gangster Rap and the rise and fall of Death Row Records.

Investigations of the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls both lead back to the city of Compton.

The Compton Police Officers' Association lead a fight to back the citizens of Compton against a corrupt local government. This lead to the dismantling of the Compton Police Department before the city officials themselves were voted out of office, indicted, and later jailed.

Ah, good times, good times ...

Here's part of a brief history of Compton's major exports: gangs and gangsta rap:

Black gangs were forming and calling themselves Crips and identifying by wearing the color blue. The Crip gangs also established themselves in Compton. By the early 70's to combat the Crip gangs, a new gang was formed on Piru Street in Compton, calling themselves "Bloods". The Bloods associated themselves with the color red which was the school colors of Centennial High in Compton. Compton was virtually unknown to the outside world, but Gangster rap music in the upcoming years was about to change all that.

In the early eighties, Rappers like "EASY E", "DR. DRE", "ICE CUBE", and "DJ QUICK" were nothing more than young kids growing up in the harsh streets of Compton. Snoop Dog was in North Long Beach, which is on the border of Compton, involving himself with a Crip gang... The CEO of Death Row Records Suge Marion Knight, was growing up in the streets of Compton, in an area known as "Mob Piru."

Southern California is a generous place, and it shared its gangstas and gangsta rappers with the rest of America. The Compton cop site notes:

Compton rappers began to sing songs about the street life and growing up as a gang member in Compton. They began making underground tapes, which spread like wildfire with the youth of Compton, and they loved it. These rappers would call it "Gangster Rap".[The first huge-selling gangsta rap album was NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" in 1988.]

Rock cocaine was at its height and the street gangs were out of control. Rock houses seemed to be on every street. Selling cocaine was their way of making big money, which meant better weapons. The money made by these major Compton cocaine dealers was in the millions... The mid-80s were still out of control and Compton was a battlefield with gang warfare, averaging over seventy homicides a year...

But the competition was too much, so the spread of rock cocaine made its way across the United States. The competition was not heavy there, so these cocaine dealers could raise the prices, and as a result, even more money was made with less danger to the dealers. As a result of the spread of rock cocaine across America, these Compton gang members were making their influences known. Soon these other cities and states were having drive-by shootings, drug rip-offs. The Crips and Bloods gang culture was being introduced and law enforcement agencies from these other states did not know how to deal [with] the related crime.

Similarly, USC Ph.D. student Alex Alonso wrote in a 1998 study of LA's black gangs:

During the 1980s, a number of cities reported street gang activity, with many reporting the presence of active Los Angeles-based Blood and Crip gangs. In 1988 police departments from all over the country, from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Seattle, Washington, were reporting that California gang members were extending their operations (Skolnick et al. 1993). Some of this was due to migration of gang members from Los Angeles, and some gang formation was the result of indigenous youths emulating Los Angeles gang culture, which was partly facilitated through the media and films.

The State of Florida Department of Corrections notes:

The Los Angeles (LA)-based Bloods and Crips are probably the most widely recognized gangs in America due to the media exposure received in the 1980's. These groups have migrated throughout the country and are seen in most states and their prison populations. There are literally hundreds of sets or individual gangs under the main Blood and Crip names.

Whether this spread cross country of the names Bloods and Crips is driven more by the physical migration of actual LA gangsters or by locals emulating the media-driven glamour of the LA gangs has been debated, with somewhat inconclusive results. Gang migration has sometimes been exaggerated in the media, but there's little question that the big city gangs, especially of LA, have shown the way for gangs in the rest of the country.

All this, I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to learn, reminds me of the abortion-cut-crime controversy. The econometrically-oriented have always wanted to look at crime data by state because it provides a larger data set to manipulate in a technically sophisticated fashion. That could prove useful, but I've always insisted that the rubber has to meet the road at the national level.

Dr. Levitt's correlations of abortions and subsequent crime by state would be an excellent way to examine the issue if this was a question in agronomy, such as: Does a farmer wind up with a better crop if he thins out and throws away a higher percentage of the less promising seedlings? (Which is pretty much Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory in farm science terms.)

Levitt's technique of looking at abortion rates by state in the 1970s and 1980s and crime rates by state from 1985 through 1997 would work well if people in each state were rooted in the ground like vegetables. Human beings, however, are not plants. For one thing, they can get up and move around. People don't always stay in the states they were born in. And they can pick up influences from other states that change their behavior.

Over these decades, for example, states changed radically in ethnic makeup due to immigration, migration, different birthrates, even murder and AIDS.

This wouldn't be a disastrous problem for the validity of state-level analyses if the movement and influences were random noise unrelated to abortion and crime: it would just reduce the effect size.

Unfortunately for Levitt's analysis, nothing was random. During the years when the first generation to survive legal abortion was entering their crime-committing years, crime, the very thing he's conceiving as an effect of changes in abortion laws, was itself massively roiling the demographic and cultural landscape, driving people and ideas from high abortion states to low abortion states. It's a statistical analyst's nightmare: the thing you assume is the effect you want to explain turns out to be the cause of the not-so-random "noise" in the data.

And that hoped-for effect, crime, turns out to be correlated historically with what you were hoping to prove was its cause. It turns out that the more liberal parts of the country both had more abortions earlier in the 1970s and more of the subsequent great wave of youth violence earlier. Cause and effect or coincidence? Who knows?

The two major socially liberal states that had legalized abortion by 1970, California and New York, saw crack wars begin about 17 or so years later. They were soon exporting to more conservative states with lower abortion rates:

1. Crack gangs looking for new markets with less competition.

2. Individual dealers trying to escape arrest or death at the hands of their gang rivals (like the New York-area dealer Strike at the end of Richard Price's 1992 novel Clockers, later filmed by Spike Lee, who is fleeing south on a Greyhound bus).

3. Gangsta rap, in its West Coast and East Coast flavors, which spread the code of the crack dealer to the hinterlands.

4. Families fleeing the crack wars in Southern California and the Tri-State Area, trying to save their sons from the mean streets, but some of the sons brought their criminality with them.

A 1992 USC study of gang migration found:

Survey interviewers asked participating officers to choose from a list of reasons why most gang members moved into their cities. The most frequently cited reason was that gang members moved with their families (39 percent). When this was combined with the reason of staying with relatives and friends, 57 percent of the survey respondents believed that migrants relocated primarily for social reasons. Drug market expansion was the second most frequently cited motivation (20 percent of cities) for migrating. When this was combined with other criminal opportunities, it created a larger category of illegal attractions, or "pull" motivators, in 32 percent of cities reporting an influx of migrant gangs. "Push" motivators that forced gang members to leave cities, such as law enforcement crackdowns (8 percent), court-ordered relocation, or a desire to escape gangs, were cited in 11 percent of migrant-recipient cities.

In LA, this couldn't go on forever, and it didn't. The anarchy culminated in the vast South Central LA riot in the spring of 1992, and then, mercifully, the killing leveled off. The crack wars burnt out:

- By the early to mid 1990s in SoCal, too many of the baddest gangstas were in prison, wheelchairs, and coffins for the madness to continue unabated.

- Black families started to move out of the LA region to get away from crack, with the South, especially Atlanta, being a popular destination.

- More stable drug dealing cartels reached agreements to divide up territory peacefully, while some of the hungry young dealers left out of the cartels headed for other states to seek their fortunes.

- LA elected a Republican mayor in 1993 to bring law and order.

- The upcoming generation, born long after the legalization of abortion, began to grasp that you could listen to gangsta rap without living it. Ice Cube started to transform himself into the cuddly star of popular family movies like "Are We There Yet?"

The crack wars burnt out in the New York area too. They just couldn't go on. In NYC today, there are 36% more black women than black men alive.

But in the early 1990s, the crack wars were just getting started in the more conservative parts of the country. In the hinterlands, where abortion hadn't taken off as early in the 1970s, gang leaders moved in from LA and NYC specifically to deal crack and they found youthful foot soldiers both among kids whose parents had moved them from LA and NYC to get away from crack, and among the local kids who had been listening with growing excitement to West Coast and East Coast gangsta rap.

So, in the more conservative parts of the country, it took until the mid-to-late 1990s for the crack wars to burn out.

You can see how this history makes Levitt's state by state analyses close to hopeless. People aren't mindless vegetables stuck in one place, and the populations of states were changing year by year, both demographically and culturally. Just a few Blood or Crips moving to your city could infect your ghetto, already primed by listening to gangsta rap, with a wave of violence.

One problem I've noticed with econometrics is that its difficult to think hard about both the technical side and the human side of the question. Economists are used to dealing with topics, like foreign currency exchange rates, where they understand the human behavior reasonably well -- it's not that hard for an economist to think like a foreign currency trader -- so they can concentrate on the math. Levitt, to his credit, is trying to push economics into new areas. Unfortunately, his understanding of the human side of these areas is, well, about what you'd expect from an economist.

He's learned a lot about crime and poor people since 1999, but, unfortunately, he's chosen to defend at all costs his naive 1999 theory about abortion, even though its lack of human sophistication is blatant.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

do you have the sources for your article? i'd like to do some further reading