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A day in Olympia to talk about gangs

Post by Brian O'Neill on Jan. 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
January 19, 2011 9:54 pm

The O’Brien building, next to the State Capitol in Olympia, was the location for Wednesday’s legislative reading of HB 1126: the Gang Injunction Bill. I was there for an opportunity to testify in favor of the measure.

The place was packed.

The crowd and chaos was a refreshing example of our democratic system in action. The chairman of the committe, Mr. Hurst, seemed pleased at the interest in this bill. He explained that the number of speakers (40) required that each person would have no more than two minutes at the mike.

The gang injunction was the most significant portion of this bill. It was the reason this room included police officers, social workers, prosecutors and several individuals sporting gang tattoos. This law enforcement tool is common in California where numerous cities have had a longer and more serious problem with criminal street gangs than those of us in the Northwest.

Times have changed.

The injunction, explained one of the legislative authors, is modeled after domestic violence protection orders. Here’s how it works: a prosecutor serves  a gang member with a notice to appear in court; evidence is then produced, such as criminal history and gang activity, to prove that the injunction is necessary for public safety; the court then decide may decide to prohibit the individual from a number of activities, including associating with other gang members, wearing gang paraphernalia or actively recruiting gang members. Violations would be a gross misdemeanor.

When my name was called I took a seat next to a citizen activist, a minister and an ACLU attorney. They each talked about intervention and prevention, all great ideas. However, the gentleman from the ACLU strayed from his area of expertise by saying, “We don’t need injunctions…the suppression tools already in place are working.”

No. I wish that were true.

Criminal street gangs tag their turf, walk in packs with their allegiance displayed on their clothing, sell drugs and firearms, and fill the night with gunshots and sirens. And blood. There are streets in Washington that veteran cops won’t venture down without backup.

Whatever decision is made on this bill–and I hope it passes–it must be recognized that the status quo is not good enough.

Either way, I had my two minutes.

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