Thursday, March 5, 2009

Multicultural Mafia

These days gangs are big news. Since January, 11 people have died by gun related violence. The shootings have thrown a spotlight (again) on the prevalence of gang living in our midst.

In the old days men like Lucky Luciano, Tony Soprano (yeah, I know he isn't real, but his character he plays is), Hal Bruce Porteous of the Hells Angels or local Indo-Canadian gang-star Bindy Johal led ethnic crews that shared a cultural and linguistic heritage. They may have dealt with outsiders, but membership and promotion came to only those "in the family". In the smash hit Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese sketches it out for through his character Henry Hill, who can never become a "made guy" on account of his Irish roots. The reasoning behind all of this was the shared community experience, based on ethnicity, ensured respect for the gangs core principles and protected against outside infiltration from cops or "others". Similar traditions were embedded into other gangs, be they Chinese, Russian, East Indian, Vietnamese, or Irish.

Nowadays, the big gang making many of the waves around the city is the UN gang. Modeled on the Italian Mafia with initiation inspiration taken from the Chinese Triads, this new gang has grown from a handful of Abbotsford high school friends into a potent criminal organization employing around 50-100 core members and hundreds of other associates in the space of a decade. They deal predominately in exporting and selling pot and cocaine, but also have been known to dabble in extortion, kidnapping, weapons trafficking and cross border drug trafficking.

What makes the UN gang so interesting, is their apparent departure from traditional single ethnic membership into a multicultural gang that recruits players of East Indian, Caucasian, Persian and Asian backgrounds. A recent picture of the gang published in 24 hours shows the diversity of their membership.

The UN gang's success in creating an organization that's able to connect its members through mutual interest (ie criminal interest) rather than blood. It's a good bet that their diversity has helped them penetrate a variety of communities that would otherwise be off-limits if they were a uni-ethnic gang. This type of multiculturalism is the darkside of building community. But its also interesting that it would come out of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, a place where we've had ethnic and cultural mingling for several generations. Will older style gangs embrace this new organizational model? Two generations from now, on the hit TV vid "Sopranos 2050" will Tony Soprano III defer to his made guy and conciliar Jon Ca Lee?


John Horn said...

Clever and well-written, Kurt. Still, I'm a little disturbed at how you so casually blurred the line between the romanticized world of Martin Scorsese and David Chase with the all-too-real gang epicenter of Vancouver.

Are you celebrating the UN Gang for its umbrella of multiculturalism? Is this meant to justify their behaviour and provide a matter-of-fact template for other organized crime groups to follow? Look. We're not living in a movie (if we were, a team of Batman, Indiana Jones and John McClane would thwart these thugs in about 138 minutes). So, what's your point?

I'm not saying I don't agree with the angle of your argument (criminal interest and cash trumps culture and blood), but I'm not not saying I don't, either. Your words drip, I think, more of morbid curiosity and disconnected, unreal fiction than they do of an indictment and/or criticism of this darkest of communities. If the UN Gang represents a horrible carnivalesque representation of Trudeau's vision of multiculturalism, what does this mean and what we can do about it?

Like, should we play dodgeball?

Or perhaps I just missed the point...

Kurt Heinrich said...

Nobody is justifying anything here. It's a simple observation pointing out the multicultural nature of the gang as something that isn't ordinary. As for your question:

"If the UN Gang represents a horrible carnivalesque representation of Trudeau's vision of multiculturalism, what can we do about it?"

I'd say the same thing as we do with any other gang, arrest the small fry and prosecute on up. A more interesting question is whether the lack of family and ethnic cohesion that normally binds ethnic gang members will be exploitable by police when prosecuting the UNsters.

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