Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs: The Nexus Between Violence and Shadow Economy

Author: Bradley, C
Published in National Security Journal, 15 May 2020

other people involved in it. But just like any state which must consider the impact and consequences of the use of force, gangs must also make decisions about enforcing their rules and controlling their markets with a balanced and realistic pragmatism. Like the faceless authority of state violence or maintaining law and order, gang violence, when placed in the context of shadow economics, is less personal and much more about business.50

The freedom or counterculture seen in gangs is different from other counter-culture movements in that they display deliberately challenging anti-social behaviours that are reinforced with para-military precision and discipline. Controlled aggression or the threat of it is usually avoided in public and is not good for business.51 Violence may however be unavoidable for a gang member because of the stock placed in one’s reputation or status and that of the gangs. Gang-related violence in Australia makes up 0.6% of all crime with bikers responsible for 0.3%.52 Information on gang-related crime in Aotearoa New Zealand is difficult to attain with an Official Information Act request for such data in 2019 being answered by the response that it is not collected by the Ministry of Justice. Gilbert alleges that the data he has seen does not fit the narrative of the Government that gangs are involved in crime to the level that is claimed.53 This said, such a mix of counter-cultural attitudes, anti-social behaviours and para-military discipline means that gangs are well-placed to stake a claim of control in the world of shadow economics. Given that many markets in illicit goods are predatory, violence that is also predatory has a role to play in shadow economics.54

Control and the code of silence

When considering the shadow economy, gangs and others work outside of legal protection found in the mainstream economic environment. The way to control the shadow economic milieu is to establish strict rules around who you talk to. Within secret societies and criminal organisations there are normally codes of silence that are clearly communicated to members, both within the group or on the fringes, around who you can and cannot talk to.55 Indeed, criminal organisations demand a degree of “silence” to operate illegally, particularly when it comes to other criminal organisations or law enforcement. Such an imperative to maintain a code of silence is manifest in ideals of loyalty, but such loyalty is often reinforced by the threat of violence. For Aotearoa New Zealand there exists an attitude of silence colloquially known as “narking”.56 The term narking is prison slang for talking to the prison authorities and use of the term has moved beyond the prisons.

Such rules around silence allows secretive or criminal groups to operate with limited fear from the possibility of the community reporting crime to the police.57 Such attitudes often reflect the communities’ attitudes towards law enforcement and are particularly strong in neighbourhoods that have a strong criminal element. To this end, communities with a stake in the shadow economy may be less likely to report crime because of the code of silence, and as a result may not reflect national crime statistics.