On Monday, PBS ran a story on San Pedro Sula, Honduras called “Gangs ‘Do Whatever They Want’ in Honduran City Known as Most Dangerous Place.” Besides being very low-quality documentary film, the piece has huge, and dangerous errors in it. I am currently conducting research on the gangs in San Pedro, taking the bus, taxis, and my own two feet to get around town. It’s certainly not Oslo here but neither is all hell breaking loose as the documentary tries to claim, and the gangs are surely (and quite demonstrably) NOT behind most of the violence in this country. Thus, I just wrote this paragraph of protest to the executive editor:
Dear Executive Producer,
A friend recently sent me the PBS piece called “Gangs ‘Do Whatever They Want’ in City Known as Most Dangerous Place” and I must confess that I was terribly disappointed with the quality of the piece and , frankly, angered by the dangerous inaccuracies it promoted. I am a sociologist who has researched and published on the gangs of Central America (see my book “Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America” published by Oxford University Press in 2011), including the gangs of San Pedro Sula, where I am currently conducting new research. While it is true that violence is a serious problem in San Pedro, it is an egregious mistake to report that the youth/street gangs are behind most of this violence. It is absolutely essential that you make a distinction between “drug cartels” and youth gangs. By confusing these two and referring indiscriminately to “drug gangs” and “gangs” the filmmaker created the dangerous misperception that young gang members from marginalized communities “control” the city. This assertion is absolutely false and, while the gang leaders are of course perfectly pleased to be portrayed as such, it puts young boys in the gang or sympathizing with the gang, in grave danger. Nor does it help resolve a complex situation in which drug cartels operate with impunity within vast rural areas of the country. (Another error in the title of the report is the assertion that San Pedro is the most dangerous area of the country. It is not. By simply accessing the publicly available Honduran Violence Observer (compiled by the Honduran National University and funded by the U.N.) one can observe that Atlantida, not Cortes (the area where San Pedro is located) is the province with the highest homicide rate in Honduras. Atlantida, a coastal region with no major city, does not have a major gang presence in it. More evidence that the piece you aired on Tuesday is false and misleading by stating that the gangs are behind most or all of the violence.
I expect MUCH better, more informed journalism from PBS. Please contact me with any responses or questions.