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After Ecuador legalized gangs, sociologist David Brotherton studied the results, and found a huge drop in the murder rate, as he explains in this interview.
Gang violence is one of the main drivers of the exodus from Central America. In response to the exodus, President Donald Trump wants to cut US aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — a move that critics say will only exacerbate the situation.
Trump has also talked about using tough police tactics and mass deportation to eliminate the Latin street gang MS-13 — a group that actually originated in Los Angeles.
Sociologist David Brotherton has been studying gangs since the early 1990s. His research on gang violence in New York informed a major policy shift in Ecuador, starting in 2007, wherein gangs were legalized and the police were reformed.
Ten years later he studied the impact in Ecuador and found a reduction in the murder rate from 22 murders per 100,000 population to 5 per 100,000.
Brotherton describes the changes as members of the Latin Kings, Latin Queens, and other gangs transformed into social organizations, producing successful hip hop concerts, among other activities.
Discussing the counterproductive impact of many authoritarian approaches to gangs, Brotherton introduces us to the term “deviance amplification,” which refers to the unintended consequences of hard-line approaches. He also offers insightful comments on the prospects for violence reduction in Chicago under new Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said the murder rate in Ecuador declined by 400 percent. It should have said ‘by a factor of four.’ We regret the misstatement.