The idea of “safety zones” to combat the problems posed by street gangs is a sea change in tactics. Less than 30 years ago, Memphis Police Department brass took the official position that gangs did not exist in Memphis.
A lot has happened in that short span of three decades both in our perception of reality and in the impact the gangs have had on the city’s reality.
If gangs were somehow banished from our streets tomorrow, Memphis would still have a historic problem with crime and violence.
But gangs are a problem beyond the crime statistics that can be directly attributed to them. They are criminal enterprises built on maintaining control of neighborhoods – turf.
That makes gangs a fundamental threat to the ability of law-abiding citizens to feel safe in their own communities. In even the city’s most gang riddled areas, festooned with spray-painted pitchforks and stars and other ample indications of a gang presence, there are more law-abiding people than gang members.
They need support on a continuing basis that is up to the task of knowing these communities and the struggles within them instead of trying to contain what happens within them from reaching other areas.
The court injunctions that would establish safety zones are a big step in combating the gang presence. They limit basic freedoms of association and that is no small matter to consider.
For that reason, we believe it is essential that authorities taking these extraordinary measures not only formulate but spell out and talk extensively about just how these injunctions will work.
There should be a full set of safeguards on the front end to ensure the orders don’t end up doing what they did in the city of Orange, Calif. – target the wrong group of people even after those individuals appealed and had been dropped from the injunction.
A process that works like the current nuisance laws for problem properties where the owners go to court after their property has been shut down to make their case for reopening is problematic for safety zone injunctions.
The case for limiting the non-criminal actions of a citizen should have to be made and tested on the front end. And it should be a high standard in which there is unassailable and specific evidence that those named are engaged in a criminal enterprise.
If the standards are not that high, these injunctions will create a kind of double prison for those caught between the gangs and the crackdown on gangs. These areas of our city and our county do not need a solution that creates a bigger problem than it found.
Community policing in which officers know who is a gang member and who isn’t and who is in between those two absolutes is not a luxury. It is a necessity for the direction we are about to take beyond Blue CRUSH.