Gang activity can be a source of terror for communities. Once gangs were only found in large cities, but now they appear in suburban and rural neighborhoods, and they grow more complex each day. According to a 2011 National Gang Center report, there are 30,000 gangs now active in the United States.
Although there are many ways to combat gang activity, one solution has risen above the others because of its effective way of preventinggang activity before it escalates to criminal behavior. This technique, called an anti-gang injunction, is a restraining order against a group, declaring that their collective activity is a public nuisance and asking that special measures be taken to prohibit the group’s collective activity.
While some protest that anti-gang injunctions violate a person’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has pointed out that anti-gang injunctions apply the public nuisance doctrine, which says that gang activity violates citizens’ rights. When a gang claims a territory as its own, it restricts residents from using community lots safely. Gang members often mark parks, street corners, schools, and stores with graffiti, making these places off limits to anyone who is not a member of their gang. This violates a person’s right to free passage or use of public property.
In order to protect citizens’ rights to free passage and use of community lots, anti-gang injunctions offer “safe zones” to neighborhoods. In these “safe zones,” gang members are no longer allowed to congregate, wear or present gang clothing or symbols, or act as a lookout for gang activities. If children wish to play in their community playgrounds, they can now do so without fear of encountering gangs. Parents can also feel safer knowing that their children are not being harassed or recruited by gangs.
Anti-gang injunctions can also benefit the members themselves. If consequences are implemented, gang members will face punishment for engaging in gang activity and may be deterred from this behavior. Separated from their gang, the members also may feel less peer pressure to engage in the illegal activities they were performing while surrounded by other members.
Since the introduction of anti-gang injunctions in 1987, to combat the Playboy Gangster Crips gang in Los Angeles, anti-gang injunctions have become a popular gang prevention tool and spread to other states, such as Florida, Utah, and Minnesota.
To learn more about efforts to prevent gang activity, visit NCPC’s gang prevention resources.