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The U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are classifying fans of the rock, rap, and so-called horror-core group Insane Clown Posse as criminal gang members. We wish this were a joke.
Poor taste is the only offense with which prosecutors could charge enthusiasts of the Michigan-based group. And if that were a crime, most of the people in the country would be locked up.
Labeling all fans of a music group gang members is another example of overzealous prosecutors notching their belts with trumped-up charges of gang association and conspiracy. Last month, Insane Clown Posse sued the Justice Department and FBI, saying the government had violated its constitutional rights and made an “unwarranted and unlawful decision” to classify fans of the band — often called Juggalos — as gang members.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan joined the lawsuit, after Juggalos were allegedly detained by police, denied jobs, and rejected by the Army because of alleged gang affiliations.
Juggalos often paint their faces to look like clowns. The FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center calls them a “loosely organized hybrid gang” whose members are infiltrating communities. The hysteria rivals the 1930s movie Reefer Madness, or the 1950s Red Scare.
There’s no evidence that Insane Clown Posse fans constitute a criminal enterprise, any more than did Deadheads, who followed the Grateful Dead band for decades. A few fans of Insane Clown Posse have committed crimes, but that hardly justifies a blanket label.
Prosecutors at all levels — federal, state, and local — have used gang statutes to overreach. In Ohio, local prosecutors can charge someone with participating in a criminal gang, a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison. Such laws are potentially abusive.
Prosecutors fail to understand that the problem is violence — not gangs, most of which in Toledo don’t end up on police blotters. Nebulous gang association charges enable prosecutors to go on fishing expeditions. People don’t worry about it — until they get tangled in a net themselves.