D.C. Council Rejects Fenty's Anti-Gang Measure
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The D.C. Council rejected a proposal yesterday that would have made it easier to arrest and detain suspected gang members, gutting a key provision of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's strategy to fight crime.
The vote on the emergency crime bill, designed to prevent an increase in violent crime this summer, followed an unusually heated council debate.
Several council members, including a majority of the African Americans on the panel, fiercely protested the gang proposal because they feared it would lead to racial profiling. The objections outraged several other members, who argued that their constituents are increasingly afraid to leave their homes at night.
"This is what the entire law enforcement community is asking for," said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). "If we do nothing, then we are responsible for what happens" this summer.
But several council members recounted their, and their children's, experiences with D.C. police in stating their opposition to the gang provision.
"It's a dangerous proposition," said council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who is black. "I have three boys. If my three boys are walking down the street and they get pulled over, are they now the Thomas gang?"
Instead of adopting Fenty's emergency crime bill, the council approved a separate proposal by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) that focuses on gun crimes.
Mendelson's bill also was adopted on an emergency basis and would be in effect for 90 days. He is working on a permanent crime bill.
The gang provision, which was voted down 9 to 4, would have allowed authorities to target alleged gang members in civil proceedings. A prosecutor could obtain an injunction barring an alleged gang member from engaging in a range of activities, such as associating with known gang members.
Violating the order would have led to a criminal charge of contempt of court and, upon conviction, a jail term of up to six months.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips pushed for the proposal. But the American Civil Liberties Union, backed by the NAACP, argued that it would undermine civil liberties in the District.
In a statement late yesterday, Fenty (D) said he was pleased that the council enacted an emergency crime bill but added: "I must express my great disappointment in the Council's failure to enact civil gang injunction legislation. We all know that the City experiences an increase of violent crime during the summer. . . . The community demands that we deal with the gang problem now."