Schwartz & Powell

Gang Crimes and Special Allegations: Disparate Racial Impact?

by Steven D. Powell Attorney at Law

If a crime is committed by a targeted group of African American or Hispanic youths who associate with or become members of a “criminal street gang” the alleged offender is often looking at more jail or prison time—and it can be decades—than an  offender not so affiliated or associated.  I haven’t seen any stats on this issue but I am not blind and I am in court all the time and have noticed  here in Ventura County what looks like a disproportionate racial impact on Hispanic and African American young people routinely resulting from these gang crimes and enhancements.    

If you have any doubt about this think for a moment about the use of the “gang injunction” as a tool used by law enforcement agencies to enjoin “gang members or associates.”  The bottom line in court is that a gang member or associate, the buzzwords activating increased penalties for “crimes furthering” the gang’s activities or making one subject to the gang injunction, is whoever the prosecution’s gang expert says is a gang member unless the defendant can show through his expert witness that this is not so.  People “identified” by the authorities as “gang members or associates”  are subject to arrest and criminal contempt charges for simply associating together. They become second-class citizens in the eyes of the law.  The application of gang related injunctions prohibits, for example, any “gang member” in Santa Barbara from entering upon the property of Santa Barbara City College.  If that doesn’t marginalize a young Hispanic or African American man or woman I don’t know what does.

Furthermore, even though there are supposedly White “gangs,” these gang injunctions don’t ever seem to be directed to and enforced against anybody but Hispanic young adults in this part of Southern California.  This is stigmatizing, demeaning and insulting to racial minorities and is contrary to notions of equality under the law. The law breeds discontent with, not respect for, the law for many young people. The legislature and law enforcement authorities are throwing the baby out with the bathwater passing and enforcing such racially discriminatory laws.

The additional penalties for gang crimes is imposed when a gang member or associate “furthers the activities” of the gang.  This really means commits any crime at all.  I have seen gang experts testify commission of any crime by a gang member or associate furthers the purposes of the gang because the offender and the gang gains prestige and status by virtue of committing the crime.  Really?  Shoplifting?  Tatooing a minor?  Illegal importation of parrots?

I do not minimize the havoc gang crimes can wreak on a neighborhood but I do think the legislature should reconsider its approach to the issue.  It seems to me our society is unwittingly throwing a net of criminality over classes of citizens based on race and socioeconomic factors completely contrary to fundamental fairness and equal treatment under the law.

Schwartz & Powell has extensive experience defending “gang charges and crimes,” so if you or a loved one find yourself accused of such gang crimes , please give us a call.






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