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Rantz: We’re pretending Tacoma gangs aren’t responsible for gang violence

Tacoma police. (KIRO 7)

Violent crime in Tacoma is up significantly, with 22 people killed in the city so far this year. It’s gang violence. But apparently, we’re going to pretend it’s not. Why? I really don’t know.

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Loretta Cool, spokesperson for the Tacoma Police Department, told the Tacoma News Tribune that “gang violence has not increased.” However, gang members are involved.

“What were seeing is people who are identified as gang members are some of the people who are committing crimes,” Cool insisted, “but the crimes are more interpersonal relationship related or just that individual that’s committing a crime and though that person may be identified as a gang member, that doesn’t mean that it’s a gang-related crime.”


This is a distinction without a difference. Talking about this honestly matters.

Who is more likely to settle an “interpersonal relationship” spat with violence? A gang member with access to a gun or your neighborhood accountant?

“It’s definitely an issue,” one Tacoma officer told the Jason Rantz Show, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Indeed, on September 10, Assistant Chief Shawn Gustason emailed officers a “violence reduction strategy” that clearly says “The City of Tacoma is currently experiencing an increase in violence and gang activity.” On August 7, an email was sent concerning “at least six drive by shootings … within the last week.” It mentions three gangs by name.

The officer tells me Cool’s point is probably technically correct — it may not be “gang violence” unless it fits into a specific set of circumstances. Even so, what purpose does this kind of bizarre talking point serve? To not vilify gang members? Have we hurt their feelings?

“In the drive-bys, they almost never hit what they are shooting at and their other crimes, like selling drugs, armed robberies, vehicle thefts … affect the general public,” the officer told me.

If a gang member commits an act of violence, I suppose we can pretend the gang membership played no role, but let’s be clear: we’re just lying to ourselves and it’ll make the issue worse. Research shows that gang members — whether or not they’re acting in any gang-capacity — are more prone to violence than non-gang members.

If you don’t identify the problem, you can’t address it. Tackling gang violence means we focus on things we know to work: strengthening families, providing youth with community activities supervised by adults, and softening some of the ridiculous zero tolerance policies in schools.

Or we could ignore the underlying causes of gang violence because we don’t want to call it exactly what it is.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.


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