Several cities are asking courts for injunctions targeting specific gangs and gang members hanging out together as a way of preventing violence. In addition to hampering gang activity, the lawsuits give police legal reasons to stop and question gang members.
The 33 permanent injunctions currently in Los Angeles prohibit gang members from carrying weapons or drugs, committing any crimes, or associating with other gang members in safety zones—neighborhoods where suspected gang members live and are believed to be the most active. Punishment for breaking any of these rules include a misdemeanor charge and up to a year in jail. Studies show crime has been reduced in these areas, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office told The Charlotte Observer.
But critics say the injunctions are unfair and prevent lawful activity as well as gang behavior.
"If you're barring people from talking in the streets, it's difficult to tell if they're gang members of if they're people discussing issues," says Peter Bibring, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The Rev. Jack Crane, pastor of Truevine Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, is reaching out to gang members to try to stop the violence in the community. He says church-based programs are more effective than the city's recent civil injunctions against gang members.
San Francisco is another city hoping to use injunctions to curb gang violence, following the examples of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Wichita Falls, Texas.