The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit http://www.gangfighters.net/ and http://www.gangsinthemilitary.com/ The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A great civil law tool -- injunctions and related actions against gangs -- but what about civic involvement -- Southern Style!

It's not been covered too much in the news, but check out Metro Files Lawsuit Against Accused Gang Members: Metro's legal department has filed a lawsuit against the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several of their alleged members, asking that they be declared a public nuisance. Wouldn't it be nice if all the gangs and other organized crime groups -- heck, even regular everyday criminals -- could be declared a nuisance?


Unfortunately, there don't seem to be enough citizens who are 1) annoyed and 2) able to stand up for themselves. I completely support the MNPD's actions, but why is it they seem to be the only ones acting like gangs in our communities are a bad thing? These groups have been treated as if they are living the American Dream -- and unfortunately in many cases, they are. 


Typical responses to gang behavior include public (community or neighborhood based) official (using the criminal justice system) and legislative (local, state, and federal legislative bodies) action.  Local anti-gang legislation like civil abatement laws, injunctions, and restrictive ordinances rarely make an impact on gangs, though they often force a move out of "our neighborhood". With these injunctions, gang-free zones are sought (like public parks or neighborhoods). 


In this country, it′s not against the law to be a member of a gang. The First Amendment  gives us the right to join any group or club, assuming we meet their requirements. Implicit within this right is the right to associate with members of the group. That seems to indicate the right includes membership and affiliation with gangs and gang members. What is prohibited is the committing of crimes and other actions that gang members often do. In a nutshell, then, it's legal to be a member of a gang, but not to be an active member, as active gang members commit crimes (or their group would not "qualify" as a gang). The constitutional right to assemble allows us to gather (only) for lawful purposes. Thankfully, the courts have held that the government may prohibit people from associating in groups that engage in and promote illegal activities. 


With injunctions and related actions, the gang is sued as a public nuisance with evidence provided by the police and sometimes members of the community.   Injunctions have been seen to reduce gang member visibility, gang intimidation, and fear of crime by residents.   That works for the community, at least for a time, but we can do better.


The better strategies incorporate the community-based policing efforts that include mobilizing and interacting with community members in a coordinated effort.  When there is an established community policing effort (not unlike what it took to implement bike patrols, drug market interventions, and the use of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety -- DDACTS), prosecutors and police can include input from police, prosecutors, merchants, property owners, and other community members when devising strategies like obtaining injunctions, so there's more of a chance the affected parties are included in the decisions.  


Additional work to improve neighborhood cohesion and informal control is needed, but let's not depend entirely on the police to do it.   Gang injunctions should be used on a continuing basis and more resources should be directed into the enforcement and maintenance of gang injunctions, assuming they are effective, but at some point citizens need to get engaged in the process. It starts by teaching children (not just our own, unfortunately) that gangs are a bad thing. We need to change the paradigm, and that requires a relatively long-term commitment. 


The action against the KPG represents the first time a local government has sought to have alleged members declared a public nuisance since criminal gang behavior was added to the state's public nuisance law in 2009. This action (at least the use of injunctions in Nashville) has been planned for a few years. That serves as yet another reason that citizens need to get involved in the push-back effort against gangs. Citizen groups, as evidenced by Occupy Nashville, Wall Street, and so many others, don't have such a long and extended lead time waiting for the legislators, leadership, and courts to synchronize.


Other coverage by NPR here.


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