January 15, 2010

Towns fighting back against gang violence run into civil liberties opposition

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Are civil liberties at risk if we implement laws that might bring relief to communities terrorized by out-of-control gangs?

rita_hibbardwebA delegation of Yakima Valley residents appear willing to put those civil liberties on the line, telling lawmakers that they simply can’t take it anymore.

One high school senior told members of the House Judiciary Committee that she and her siblings have been forced to crawl around on the floor of their home to avoid gunshots aimed at a neighboring house, Beth Leah Ward reports in the Yakima Herald online.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I have to be afraid for my little brother and sister,” Anna Aburto, a senior at Davis High School, told the House Judiciary Committee. “I’m afraid to go out in my neighborhood.”

I recently wrote about this problem in Outlook, a small town in rural Yakima County, where one six-block area is home to as many as 150 gang members, where one in every five residents is said to be in a gang. The unincorporated town is only sporadically patrolled by Yakima County Sheriffs’ deputies, and has been plagued by shootings and assaults. There are few community resources for dealing with kids lured by gangs.

At least eight of two dozen homicides in Yakima County last year have been linked to gangs. The police chiefs of Yakima and Sunnyside showed up Thursday in Olympia to testify in support of the tougher laws.

The legislation aims to hit gang members the wallet by seizing their property, extending asset seizure, forfeiture and nuisance laws to criminal gang activity as a way to drive them out of gang houses. It is sponsored by two Yakima Valley lawmakers, but vigorously opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says it could harm property owners who have broken no laws and lead to abandoned properties, worsening the gang problem.

“These are real and frightening problems communities are facing around gangs, but I would urge the committee to consider whether the law will be effective,” said Shankar Narayan of the ACLU. “There are unintended consequences around these laws that have little due process for individuals affected.”

But Yakima City Council member Bill Lover testified that Yakima’s young Latino population is at high risk for gang recruitment.

“I’m looking at two generations of young Hispanic men and women who don’t have a chance,” he said.

House Bill 2413 would allow police to seize property used to facilitate criminal street gang activity, prior to conviction. House Bill 2414 would allow anyone within a one-block radius to file a legal action to stop gang activity as a nuisance. For more specifics on what the legislation would do, check these links for House Bill 2413 and House Bill 2414.

— Rita Hibbard

One thought on “Towns fighting back against gang violence run into civil liberties opposition

  1. The ACLU is correct; our society must not trade our freedoms for security. House Bill 2413 is a bad idea, prone to abuse and is, fundamentally, un-American.

    I have faith that law enforcement can muster the creativity and wherewithal to carry out their work within the confines of the spirit and intent of our system of government.