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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Would the Gang Injuction Serve Us Well In the Case of the Amtrak Beating?

I post this letter to the editor that appeared a few days ago in the Woodland Daily Democrat. I am not certain I agree with all of the letter. But there has always been something about the case described above that has not sit well with me.

Five of the youths were charged for crimes. Four of them were found guilty. That's of course the headline. It is interesting that while a lot of the news accounts covered the guilty verdicts, a few of them did not note that they were acquitted of the most serious charge--attempted murder.

In fact, from what I see, only the Sacramento Bee reported that they were acquitted of the attempted murder charges.

They were convicted of various assault charges, attempted manslaughter, and of course being members of the Broderick Boys street gang.

But as Mr. McKinnon points out, this case arose about the time the original gang injunction was thrown out. It was sited as why we need the gang injunction. What Mr. Reisig never explained to us is how the gang injunction would have prevented this incident.

The rhetoric was heightened was the beginning, with Mr. Reisig referring to the suspects as "domestic terrorists."

What does not sit well and Mr. McKinnon notes in his letter was the actions of the engineer who was attacked. Why would he get out of the train and confront them rather than call the police? Did his confrontation and punching one of the young men on the tracks six or more times, escalate the incident from simple mayhem and mischief to violence?

I am not trying to minimize the incident, but again, the media descriptions of the incident have never sat well with me. They are too neat. The incident seemed too well-timed to prove a point on the gang injunction.

Does labeling them as gang members help us in some way? Would the gang injunction have prevented this incident? Are we safer with such laws? I have often wondered.

On a personal level I believe that even gang members are covered by the constitution and are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I will point out the obvious here as well, the legal system isn't exactly stacked in their favor as it is. Law enforcement feels hamstrung in fighting this kinds of crime, and yet we see large numbers of young minority males in jail. There is a disconnect here, and yet I never hear people on the other side question if maybe we ought not take a little different approach to law enforcement. To acknowledge that the heavy-handed, sometimes almost militaristic mindset just isn't an effective means by which to fight crime.

None of this unfortunately answers the questions I still have about this case, even after the convictions. I didn't attend the trial, I wasn't there, perhaps the case was simple and clear cut. But I still find it interesting that most news accounts never bothered to report that they were acquitted of the most serious charge.

The question here to me is not whether these individuals deserve jail time, whether they deserved to be acquitted, a court of law ruled that they did, but the question to me is whether the DA overreached in the case with some of the charges and the overall efficacy of the gang injunction as a crime fighting tool. Some of the asserted facts are bitterly disputed by residents in the affected areas.

---David M. Greenwald reporting