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ACLU opposes King County anti-gang proposal

A proposal to fight gangs in King County is coming under fire from civil liberties groups. Among other things, a proposed county ordinance would make it illegal to coerce someone into joining a gang.

King County Council members says they want to make the county unfriendly to gangs, but there isn't agreement on how to do that.

Councilman Reagan Dunn says if you look at the numbers, the problem is clear.

“There are 10,000 gang members in King County. We’ve seen 800 gang related incidents. That’s a 165% increase from 2005 to the present,” he said.

Dunn’s proposal is to set up “gang emphasis areas.” These would be sort of like those “drug free zones” around schools. Under the ordinance, convicted gang members could be barred from hanging out on certain street corners known for drug dealing or other illegal activity.

'Tools' spurring opposition

Dunn says the idea is to give law enforcement officers tools they can use to fight gangs.

“Tools don’t have to be used everyday. But when you need one and don’t have one, you really need it,” he said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other groups say the proposal is so broad and vague it could be used against anyone. The ACLU has sent a letter to the King County Council saying the ordinance:

“... violates due process rights, invites differential enforcement and will not solve gang problems in King County.”

Echoing that sentiment, Councilman Larry Gossett says his fear is that laws like this meant to go after the biggest of the big often end up just getting the littlest of the little.

And, as for a part of the ordinance making it illegal to force someone to stay in a gang, he doesn’t think it’s necessary. He says he’s had cousins and neighbors leave gangs.

“And nobody tried to beat them up to make them rejoin. I think it’s mostly urban myth,” he said.

The proposal is still in the discussion stage. It’s likely to be revamped before any vote is taken.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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