Sketches Toward an Ontology of Non-Dwelling: Mara Salvatrucha 13, Radical Homelessness, and Postglobality


  • Anthony Ramos City University of New York



In 1988, the California state legislature passed the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP), which allowed courts to “enhance” the sentences of offenders who have been proven to "promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members." It bundled together criminality, policing, and incarceration in ways that drew upon the fears of the black/latino Others that were imminent in panics surrounding the “crack epidemic” and inner-city crime. Jumping to April 2016, the Salvadoran government has passed strikingly similar legislation, which centers on reclassifying gang-associated crimes as terroristic; in essence under their new laws gang affiliation is a terrorist. This, too, has been enacted in the midst of panic about gang violence and low-level warfare between gangs and the Salvadoran state. The adoption of US-style anti-gang approaches by the Salvadoran government is not new. In 2003, the right-wing government passed mano dura [“iron fist”] policies that sought to address increases in gang associate crime with zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime measures. Law enforcement received expanded leeway to target and arrest gang members, especially those from Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18. Despite the lack of sustained reductions in violent crime, the mano durapolicies have remained and will only be exacerbated by the new legislation.