NAACP Opposes Discriminatory Provisions In Gang Abatement And Prevention Act

S. 132 COULD INSTITUTIONALIZE NEW RACIAL PROFILING PRACTICES BY LAW ENFORCEMENT

The Issue:
Legislation has been introduced in the United States Senate, S. 132, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2009, which dramatically expands powers of law enforcement to try to address gang related activities and vastly increases punishments for those convicted of the same activities.  While the NAACP agrees that gang violence is having a devastating effect on American lives, neighborhoods, and communities, and needs to be dealt with effectively, we respectfully disagree with the potentially discriminatory approach taken in S. 132.  Specifically, the NAACP is concerned that provisions in S. 132 in its current form are destructive and counterproductive.  We are opposed to the invariable increase in racial and ethnic disparities that will result from this bill’s discriminatory enforcement, the bill’s overly broad definition of “gang” and “gang crime,” and its excessive penalties, including life without parole for youth as well as for adults.  The legislation would also create “Gang member database” which would collect names of those identified as gang members.  Because of problems with the “criminal intent” provision, as well as the lack of a common criminal purpose requirement in the bill, the potential for innocent young people and other to erroneously be added to this data base is high.  There is also a lack of clarity in the bill about how one can be removed from this data base that is extremely problematic.

African American and Latino communities consistently bear the brunt and the cost of suppression and interdiction strategies, and S. 132 will not be an exception.  The definitions in this bill are of particular concern because the lack of directives governing this bill’s enforcement will invariably lead to an increase in the already troubling racial and ethnic disparity in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, criminalizing the conduct of many more people - particularly young men of color - whose conduct was never contemplated by this legislation.  Of special concern is the expansion of the definition of a “gang” and “Gang Crime”, which are so broad and vague in S. 132 that they will dramatically increase unwarranted federal prosecution of children and youth, especially low-income youth and youth of color.  The definitions fail to include one of the most fundamental tenets of criminal law: criminal intent.  As written, there is no “common criminal purpose” requirement in the bill.  Thus, a group of young people who come together for any legal group activity and not for the purpose of committing gang crime will still be vulnerable to federal prosecution under this bill.   The definitions of “gang” and “gang crime” in S. 132 are overbroad, vague, and will invite discriminatory enforcement.

Young men of color are disproportionately identified as gang members and targeted for surveillance, arrest and incarceration, while whites - who make up a significant share of gang members - rarely show up in law enforcement accounts of gang enforcement efforts.  For instance, African American and Latinos are roughly 15 times more likely than whites to be identified by police as gang members, despite the fact that whites account for more than 40 percent of adolescent gang members.

The NAACP is committed to working with the supporters of S. 132 to amend and improve the bill to eliminate the potential for increased racial profiling and racial disparities by law enforcement and to include proven prevention strategies, especially for youth.  Of special interest is the inclusion of the Youth Promise Act, introduced by Senators Casey (PA) and Snowe (ME) in the Senate and Congressman Scott (VA) in the House.

 

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