- Black youth in Peril (FCN, 04-23-2008)
- Deadly silence covers passing of federal gang bill (FCN, 06-02-2005)
- Durham Muslims offer solution to city’s gangs (FCN, 08-31-2004)
A few weeks back, Minister Paul Scott founder of the Durham, N.C.-based Messianic Afrikan Nation posted a message on the internet: “Black youth under fire in North Carolina need help!” He said his main concern at that moment was a proposed anti-gang bill. The bill passed the North Carolina State Senate, 47-0, at the end of May, and is under consideration in the House.
The “Street Gang Suppression Bill” defines a street gang as a “group of three or more people with a primary activity of committing felonies.” The bill makes it a felony to engage in street-gang activity; and gang leaders can be charged with higher felony crimes. It would also be a felony to coerce others to join a gang or to prevent someone from leaving a gang.
“I have been out in the community passing out CDs with timely music and information about the gang bill,” Min. Scott told The Final Call. The key is to use the information proactively, he said. Min. Scott explained legislators have been trying to get a bill passed since 2003. The first bill was called the “Street Gang Terrorism Bill.”
“Every year the bill has been shot down because of its failure to define what is a ‘gang member,’ ” Min. Scott said. That didn’t change in 2008 and the House version of the bill was sent back to committee. “A lot of our youth are falling prey to the way the mass media is stereotyping them,” observed Min. Scott. He worries a murky sense of what “gang member” means could result in the targeting of youth based on clothing, words, music and culture.
The bill’s sponsors in the Senate and the House are Black legislators, Sen. Malcolm Graham (D-Charlotte) and Rep. Mickey Michaux Jr. (D-Durham). “The mainstay of our bills is prevention and intervention, so we have attached $5 million to a separate bill which deals with prevention and intervention only,” Sen. Graham told The Final Call. The lawmaker said his constituents say they are sick and tired of being sick and tired of gang violence. “What I want is a comprehensive approach, not settle for the ‘band aid’ approach. We must hold everyone accountable for this problem–parents, teachers, politicians and religious leaders,” said Sen. Graham.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported an 11 percent increase in violent crime between February and April. The city manager suggested placing electronic monitoring devices on “chronic repeat offenders” because of gang problems. The cost for 100 monitors would be approximately $250,000.
Maybe this bill will put a dent in the gang activity, which is destroying our neighborhoods, said Dwayne Collins of the Charlotte-based Black Political Caucus. “Our organization pushes policy that we feel is in the best interest of the Black community,” Mr. Collins said. He admitted the gang problem in Charlotte has existed for years, and the city council could never find the money needed to fight the scourge, but when 200 Whites marched on the council recently, money was found.
“People are ready for something to be done,” commented Sen. Graham.
Marcia Owen, an anti-violence activist who works with a coalition of religious groups in Durham, agreed something must be done. “But criminalizing our young people is not the answer,” she said. “Five-hundred students a year dropping out of school and filling the jails, that’s the problem. And when they are released from prison, there are no jobs for them,” Ms. Owen said. “What have we given these young men so they may prepare themselves for life after prison? Have we prepared them for anything but picking up a gun, which seems to be in plentiful enough supply?”
Ms. Owens said the $5 million for prevention Sen. Graham is asking for is a good start, but much more is needed. “Six teenagers and 11 twenty-year-olds were killed in Durham in 2007. Yes, we have a problem, but an anti-gang bill is not the answer,” she insisted.