ACLU Has Problems With Latest Version of Gang Bill

Last year’s controversial anti-gang bill is back, following a push from a group of Republican legislators from eastern Washington. The previous bill died after civil rights group raised concerns it would have led to profiling by law enforcement and civil injunctions against people without criminal records, and this year’s version doesn’t appear to be any less controversial.

This year’s proposed anti-gang bill allows county or city prosecutors to file a court complaint, identifying alleged gang members and a territory where they’re supposedly causing problems. Prosecutors would then have to prove in court that alleged gang members are, in fact, part of a criminal organization which is detrimentally impacting a neighborhood.

If prosecutors make a convincing argument, a judge can issue a civil injunction to prohibit gang members from hanging out in certain areas,  set curfews, and even bar them from wearing certain colors. The ramifications for violating the order are pretty minor, however, amounting to fines and a misdemeanor charge.

Civil rights groups still aren’t happy about legislators latest run at the gang bill because, according to the ACLU’s Shankar Narayan, the new legislation still contains a “piece of last year’s bill which [the ACLU] objected to the most.”

Last year’s bill was much broader than this year’s legislation, and would have lengthened sentences for gang-related crime, and given law enforcement the ability to seize the homes of gang leaders. However, while this year’s bill has been significantly pared down, Narayan says the ACLU is still concerned about a key portion of last year’s legislation, which has carried over to this year’s bill.  Narayan says the ACLU believes alleged gang members facing civil injunctions will not be given adequate public representation. “It’s assembly line due process as far as we’re concerned,” he says, adding that “injunctions don’t work to fix the gang problem.”

Narayan also suggests legislators focus on “prevention and intervention, rather than a suppression-based approach” to gang problems.

In addition to opposition from the ACLU, this year’s gang bill isn’t—as it was last year when he sponsored the bill—Washington Attorney General Rob McKeana’s marquee legislation.

McKenna’ss spokesman, Dan Sytman, says the AG is “trying a different strategy this year,” working behind the scenes to support the current legislators behind the bill.

While McKenna believes gangs are a “significant problem” in Washington in need of a “strong response,” it appears he’ll be providing legal advice to help push the bill this time around, rather than stumping for it and firing off missives assailing the bill’s opponents.