City Council Votes Down Fenty Gang Proposal

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/17/2009, 11:51 p.m.

In an effort to curtail crime in the District, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty called for emergency legislation to contend with the ongoing scourge of youth and gang-related violence, a move that was voted down by the City Council on Tue., June 16. Both Fenty and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the legislation would have given them new tools to combat violence, but instead, the Council approved a separate proposal that specifically targets gun crimes.

The Council rejected the legislation by a vote of 9-4. The four Council members who supported the Mayor€s proposal were Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), David Catania (I-At large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

Fenty proposed the legislation with the belief that administrators need to be tough on crime, but opponents of the legislation, including The National Black Police Association, Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and members of the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), considered the move subjective, racist, and ineffective.

On Mon., June 15, members of the ACLU were joined by a diverse group of legislation opponents at Freedom Plaza in Northwest, to publicly denounce the proposed gang injunction. Under the letter of the Fenty legislation, young people in the District with alleged gang ties would be prohibited by the Attorney General Peter Nickles from further association with known or other alleged gang members and risk incarceration.

Carl Takei, a Tony Dunn Law Fellow with the ACLU, said that gang injunctions do little more than antagonize members of marginalized communities, while usurping the judicial process.

€Gang injunctions accomplish a short-cut around the protection of the criminal justice system. It allows the attorney general to sentence people who he determines are gang members to a lifetime sentence of probation, without the right to an attorney, without the right to a trial before a jury, and without the right to confront your accusers in court,€ Takei said.

Takei insisted during the two-hour rally that the scope of such legislation is narrow enough to victimize family and friends of suspected gang members and further strengthen actual gang ties due to segregation of members unable to associate with anyone other than each other.

€The legislation would prohibit young people from associating with other people on the list in public, including their own family, say at a barbecue if they have a cousin who is also on the injunction list. More importantly, they cannot even go to €anti-gang€ programs because there may be people in that program whose names are also on the injunction list,€ Takei said.

The Fenty legislation would also have prohibited any person on the injunction list from entering an establishment unless they had expressed written permission of the owners.

€That means that they cannot even go into a neighborhood CVS to buy a tube of toothpaste, they have to have written permission from CVS-Care Mart Corporation to do that,€ Takei said.

For Ron Hampton, a retired veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and Executive Director of the National Black Police Association, the legislation spells disaster for police-community relations.

€This legislation does nothing, in my opinion, but criminalizes young people. We ought to be doing more to keep them out of the criminal justice system than trying to put them in it,€ said Hampton, who compared the move to arrest and monitor D.C. youth with the 1986 Congressional legislation that determined the difference between crack and powder cocaine.

€This reminds me of that crack-powder cocaine legislation. The community is asking for programs and projects in this city to help young people and instead the city council is coming with Draconian legislation that does nothing more than criminalize them and put them in the criminal justice system,€ Hampton said.

Although not on the official list of scheduled speakers, Barry ambled across the street to talk with reporters about Fenty€s emergency legislation. Barry called the legislation a €man-made approach.€ He said it allows more young Black men to be unfairly targeted for the criminal justice system, simply for being out late.

€The Mayor has no concept of what he is doing in this area. When violence occurs the police show up and when things die down, they leave. The whole thing is disjointed. Think about it, some of these young people don€t have air conditioning. What are they supposed to do, sit up in a hot house?€ Barry said.

€The Mayor needs to take a comprehensive approach in matters of violence, that don€t impede the rights of innocent people,€ said Barry who was the second elected mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1979 to1991 and from 1995 until 1999.

Barry€s own attempts at curbing gang-related violence during his mayoral administration enacted similar legislation that he now said he regrets. At the height of its success, Barry claimed the police, under his anti-gang crackdown, arrested roughly 12,000 people in one month.

€We cannot arrest our way out of these things; I know, I€ve tried it. In my administration as mayor, I arrested 12,000 people in one month and it didn€t do a damned thing. We€d arrest 50 over here one night and another 50 or 100 over here the next night. I learned from that and there is nothing wrong with learning from mistakes,€ said Barry, who voted against the legislation.