Ramsey County judge orders first ever gang injunction

Gang injunctions raise questions of First Amendment infringements

Just hours after taking the injunction under advisement, Ramsey County Judge Gregg Johnson ordered a ban on 10 known members of the Sureño 13 gang from engaging in gang activity at this yearâÄôs Cinco de Mayo festival in St. Paul. The first-ever gang injunction for Minnesota is expected by city officials to be an effective tool for St. Paul to fight against gang activity. âÄúSt. Paul is a safe city, and these injunctions are a proactive approach to send a clear message to gangs that we will not tolerate any violence in our community,âÄù Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement. The order sets a precedent for more gang injunctions in the future. Under St. PaulâÄôs injunction, the 10 men, who were identified as most influential within the gang, are not allowed to associate with other known gang members, wear gang colors, show gang signs, intimidate festival-goers or recruit people for the gang within the St. Paul West Side neighborhoods. A violation of the order is a misdemeanor. Although similar injunctions are common in California and Texas, critics question the line such tools walk for infringing on a citizenâÄôs First Amendment rights. Unlike other gang injunctions, St. PaulâÄôs is only temporary, lasting for the duration of the festival, May 1 to May 3. Gang members will be prohibited from conducting gang-related activity in âÄúsafety zonesâÄù during the festival. Injunctions used in other states are permanent, usually in areas where gangs have a strong presence. Now, with the injunction in place, the next step will be enforcing it âÄî an area Director of Anti-Gang Operations for Los Angeles Bruce Riordan admits can be the most challenging and time-consuming aspect of the injunction. âÄúA gang injunction itself, standing alone, is not going to end crime. ItâÄôs a tool,âÄù he said. âÄúCrackdowns and the like have their merit, but one thing about a gang injunction is that it goes into place, itâÄôs court ordered, itâÄôs permanent and then it gives the legal authority and paperwork to make arrests and go to court.âÄù In Los Angeles, a handful of police are dedicated to enforce 41 gang injunctions. Riordan said that with budget cuts, a âÄúhandfulâÄù is a significant portion to dedicate to one area. With some of the injunctions covering as many as 10 gangs, Riordan said 66 total gangs are affected. He estimated 450 gangs have been identified in Los Angeles, with around 40,000 active members. The city has utilized gang injunctions for more than a decade, and Riordan admits First Amendment concerns are still prominent among citizens. âÄúI was literally asked about [First Amendment concerns] last week,âÄù Riordan said. âÄúThat is the balancing test that is the injunction.âÄù Courts in California have ruled that if gang members are infringing on the rights of citizens in a safety zone, then the gangâÄôs rights can be limited. With so many First Amendment issues raised by the injunctions, the parameters set by courts for gang members must be narrowly tailored, said Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota media law professor and First Amendment expert. She cited the 1999 case of Chicago v. Morales , where the U.S. Supreme Court found that an anti-gang ordinance was deemed too broad to be enforced. For Kirtley, the purpose sought by using gang injunctions is already covered by the law. âÄúHereâÄôs the bottom line: A lot of times, these orders are enjoining people âÄî forbidding them from doing something which is already illegal,âÄù Kirtley said. âÄúIn that sense, it is not necessary. I mean, there is no legal reason for it. Police would have probable cause to arrest people if they were engaging in that kind of behavior anyway.âÄù For cities using gang injunctions, the tool is purely preventative, seeking to discourage illegal behavior in a certain area before it starts. âÄúThis is a country where people have the right to be on the street, and if they are committing a crime, then police have the authority to arrest them,âÄù Kirtley said. While loitering can be considered a crime, Kirtley referenced a response from the Chicago case by Justice John Paul Stevens saying police do not have the authority to punish a person for something that is normally an innocent act, such as standing on the sidewalk, simply because the individual has a prior record. One of the St. Paul restrictions regards gang colors. Members are prohibited from wearing the color blue, as it is heavily associated with the Sureño 13, another area Kirtley expressed concern over. âÄúThe color blue is a very broad prohibition âÄî so broad it does call into question whether it could be constitutional to enforce it,âÄù Kirtley said. With similar restrictions for some of the injunctions in California, Riordan said a term forbidding colors is included when a color is used for intimidation. He cited the Bloods gang in Los Angeles, where 60 to 80 members will dress in red from head to toe during gatherings, warning outsiders to stay away. The effectiveness of gang injunctions is highly disputed, with varying reports of success. In his report, âÄúThe effects of civil gang injunctions on reported crime,âÄù which is cited by St. Paul officials, Jeffrey Grogger , a professor at the University of Chicago, says in the first year after the injunctions are imposed, they cause violent crime to decrease by 5 to 10 percent. Adversely, Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis , criminal justice policy experts, published a report on gang injunctions that states, âÄúGangs do not drive crime rates, and aggressive suppression tactics simply make the situation worse by alienating local residents and trapping youth in the criminal justice system.âÄù Many critics also express concern over the prevalence of populations of color being affected by these injunctions. Kirtley said black and Hispanic populations are often most affected by these measures. Kirtley agrees budget cutbacks are to blame for the loss of beat cops, making neighborhoods more vulnerable to criminal activity. She said she believes more police work is the real solution.