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17 Mich. J. Race & L. 303 (2011-2012)
Systemic Racial Bias and Rico's Application to Criminal Street and Prison Gangs

handle is hein.journals/mjrl17 and id is 307 raw text is: SYSTEMIC RACIAL BIAS AND RICO'S APPLICATION
Jordan Blair Woods*
This Article presents an empirical study of race and the application of the frderal
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to criminal street
and prison gangs. A strong majority (approximately 86%) of the prosecutions in
the study involved gangs that were affiliated with one or more racial minority
groups. All but one of the prosecuted White-affiliated gangs fell into three categories:
international organized crime groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and White
supremacist prison gangs. Some scholars and practitioners would explain these
findings by contending that most criminal street gangs are comprised of racial
minorities. This Article challenges and problematizes this factual assumption by
critically examining the processes by which the government may come to label certain
aiminal groups as gangs for RICO purposes. Based on the study findings, the
Article argues that this labeling may be driven by systemic racial biases that
marginalize entire racial minority groups and privilege mainstream nonimmigrant
White communities. These systemic biases are characterized by converging
constructions of race and crime, which fuse perceptions of gang-related crime with
images of racial minorities. Conflating racial minorities with criminal activity enables
the government to rely upon denigrating racial stereotypes in order to engage in
invidious practices of racial profiling and to conduct sweeping arrests of racial
minorities under RICO. This conflation also shields groups of nonimmigrant
White criminal offenders from being conceptualized as gangs and shields
nonimm~grant White neighborhoods from the stigma of having gang problems. In
practice, this may harm communities that have White gang problems by preventing
the government from executing gang-specific interventions within those communities.
INTRODUCTION..........................                                    ........ 304
TO CRIMINAL STREET AND PRISON GANGS ......                  .............. 312
A.    Existing Criminal Enterprise, Element One.....................313
B.     Pattern of Racketeering Activity, Element Two ......     .....315
C.    Interstate or Foreign Commerce, Element Three .................316
RICO's ENACTMENT                ...................................... 317
*     Ph.D. Candidate in Criminology and Cambridge Gates Scholar, University of
Cambridge; M.Phil., University of Cambridge, 2010; J.D., UCLA School of Law, 2009;
A.B., Harvard University, 2006. An earlier version of this Article was presented at the Third
Annual Critical Race Studies Symposium, Race in Colorblind Spaces, at UCLA School
of Law on March 6, 2009. I am grateful for the comments of Professors Russell Robinson
and Devon Carbado and the students in the 2009 Critical Race Studies Writing Work-
shop. Thanks also to the board and staff of the Michigan Journal of Race & Law for their
careful review.


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