McKenna's omnibus anti-gang bill is raising red flags among civil liberties and social justice groups, which believe one of the provisions of the bill will result in heavy-handed racial profiling. That provision would give law-enforcement officials the power to obtain protection orders against individual gang members who have not been convicted of a specific crime simply by proving they're involved in a gang. The orders would allow law enforcement to do things like prevent gang members from possessing alcohol or hanging out together. The ACLU and others argued that by creating a crime where one didn't exist, the law would target people without any criminal record and then inadvertently land them in the criminal justice system—in jail (or "gang university" as one opponent, a prison pastor, put it.)
The proposal is modeled on protection orders like domestic violence protection orders that limit the behavior of offenders. In this instance, law enforcement would have to prove that a gang exists in a specific area, prove that illegal gang activity occurs there, and prove that the person is a member of the gang.
If they meet all those criteria, a 12-month protection order would be granted, prohibiting the alleged gang member from
•directly or indirectly associating or communicating with any other person found by the
court to be a criminal street gang associate or member;
•directly or indirectly contacting minors going to or from school or specified individuals,
such as persons on probation;
•going on the grounds of a school or any other designated locations;
•violating a curfew;
•wearing gang clothing in public;
•engaging in gang-related graffiti or possessing graffiti tools;
•intimidating any person;
•forcibly recruiting any person into the gang or preventing a gang member from leaving;
•violating any law;
•possessing firearms, imitation firearms, or dangerous weapons; and
•possessing or consuming drugs or alcohol.
The testimony on both sides was dramatic—often bringing the crowded hearing room to complete silence, pitting scary and heart-wrenching stories of murder ("a little girl had her throat slit") against stories of redemption.
Supporters of the bill flipped the civil rights focus, arguing that gangs were robbing neighborhoods of their civil liberties. Sponsor Ross framed the debate this way when he introduced the bill: "We understand that civil rights are important," he said, "but your right to live in a safe community that is free of gang violence is also important, and we worked to find a balance."
That balance was not evident to Alex Sanchez, a 22-year-old former gang member who testified alongside Pastor Chris Hope, a Skagit County pastor who runs a prison program called Tierra Nueva that works to rehabilitate gang members. "You should pass a bill that will help us, not push us deeper in," Sanchez told the committee, echoing earlier testimony in which opponents of the bill stressed preventive measures. ("We're going to see more kids in juvie hall instead of in after-school groups," Hope testified.)
"This law is not fair," Sanchez, who's covered in gang tattoos, told me out in the hallway after his testimony. "It's going to target me for how I look. It's going to change the police's mindset. They're going to take away my freedom. Now they'll harass me when I'm just walking to the Starbucks."
During his testimony, Rep. Ross had a question for Sanchez. He asked the one-time gang member if he was scared that people would come after him because of his testimony today. (Ross' point being that law enforcement should be able to keep a close eye on gangs.)
"No one can hurt you but yourself," Sanchez replied.