Computer-generated e-mail campaign to legislators promotes misleading allegations
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers are being blanketed with computer-generated e-mails that spread inaccuracies and misleading accusations about the Attorney General’s anti-gang bill, HB 1126. The ACLU of Washington’s e-mail campaign claims that the bill’s civil protection orders will “sweep up innocent people into court” and deny them an attorney.
The Attorney General’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, and Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, is designed to provide relief to those who live in neighborhoods plagued by gang intimidation, property crimes and gunfire.
Meanwhile, the violence continues. In Sunnyside, a 13-year-old girl was wounded last week when shots were sprayed into her home by a drive-by shooter. As the Yakima Herald-Republic reports, during the two-day period in which the girl was wounded, “dozens of shots were fired into six homes from Granger to Grandview.”
“[A]nti-gang" legislation proposed by the Attorney General would make the problem worse by focusing on the wrong people.”
The bill focuses squarely on members of criminal street gangs. The bill’s civil protection orders, which provide a zone of safety in neighborhoods hardest-hit by criminal street-gang activity, are only allowed to be used on those found by “clear and convincing evidence” by a court to be active members of a criminal street-gang involved in a pattern of criminal activities.
Contrary to the ACLU claim that these kinds of laws “make the problem worse,” in Los Angeles County, crime levels dropped by up to 10 percent in neighborhoods benefitting from a similar law. A survey of San Bernardino, Calif., residents showed “positive evidence of short-term effects, including less gang presence, fewer reports of gang intimidation, and less fear of confrontation with gang members.” And in San Antonio, Texas, gang members subjected to the law “were charged with almost 50 percent fewer crimes in the 20 months after the injunction issued.” In other words, the law provided an incentive for gang members to cease some of their criminal activities.
“This legislation allows injunctions - court orders that can prohibit lawful behavior such as travelling through certain areas, spending time with certain people, or wearing certain styles of clothing.”
The bill allows civil protection orders modeled after domestic violence protection orders and anti-harassment orders. The standard for showing the court that a person is a criminal street gang member is high. Law enforcement must provide a written document to the court, made under oath, that a person is an active member of a criminal street gang and intentionally promotes, furthers, or assists in criminal acts by that gang, and that the subject of a protection order has shown a pattern of criminal street gang activity. That pattern includes dealing drugs, breaking firearms laws, or going to a school and harassing or intimidating kids into joining a gang. Simply being friends with gang members is not enough — a judge must be convinced that a person is an active participant in criminal gang activity. And unless a prosecutor petitions the court, the protection order automatically expires after a year.
“This approach will sweep up innocent people and order them into court where they will have no right to an attorney and no realistic opportunity to show they are not gang members.”
As the ACLU knows, appointment of counsel at a protection order hearing is not constitutionally required because the protection order hearing is a civil hearing. This is how anti-domestic violence and anti-harassment protection orders work. This protection order statute is identical to all other protection order statutes in Washington in that none of them require court-appointed counsel at the protection order hearing.
If the ACLU does not oppose domestic violence protection orders, in which an individual under serious threat of injury petitions the court for protection, it is inconsistent for the organization to oppose protection orders against known criminal street gang members, who intimidate and harm entire neighborhoods.
“We know what works to stop gang violence – provide youth with alternatives to keep them out of gangs and arrest and charge violent criminals. The Attorney General's legislation ignores these proven methods.”
Attorney General McKenna has long promoted intervention and prevention programs to help young people stay out of or abandon gangs. Through Consumer Protection settlements, AG McKenna has directed more than $600,000 to sponsor conferences featuring drug, alcohol and violence prevention programs for youth. This year, the AG’s anti-gang bill originally called for $10 million in gang prevention and intervention programs – the same amount called for by the Legislative Gang Workgroup in 2008. As in 2008, due to budget concerns, it was removed at the request of legislators, and replaced with language calling for the state to approach the federal government for funds.
It’s unclear whether or not the ACLU of Washington State has ever raised funds for anti-gang intervention or prevention programs. Last year, the ACLU also declined the Attorney General’s Office’s offer to participate in the crafting of the anti-gang bill.
“In a gang injunction, you have the potential for unspecified behavior — remember, injunctions don’t require any crime to happen, just that a gang exists and this person is a member — by an individual [where] little or no evidence may exist other than their dress and associations, against ‘the community’ (ACLU’s Shankar Narayan, Publicola, Jan. 20, 2011).”
Both the proposed sentencing enhancements and civil protection order require the prosecutor to prove to a judge that an individual is a member of a criminal street gang as defined in RCW 9.94A.030. Among the defining legal characteristics of "criminal street gang" is having as one of its primary activities the commission of criminal acts, and whose members or associates individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal street gang activity. "Criminal street gang associate or member" means” a person who actively participates in any criminal street gang and who intentionally promotes, furthers or assists in any criminal act by the criminal street gang.” As defined by law, some of those criminal acts include:
- Committing acts to gain admission, prestige or promotion within the gang, increasing the gang's size or control in any geographical area
- Exacting revenge or retribution for the gang obstructing justice
- Intimidating any witness against the gang or any member of the gang
- Dealing drugs
- Trafficking in stolen property
- Promoting prostitution.
Media Contacts: Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725.