New York Racial Disparities Task Force Coordinator Argues New Gang Bill is Misguided and Troubling

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Charisa Smith, Coordinator of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, argues in a blog published today that a new bill aimed at criminal street gang initiation raises potential “Constitutional issues about wrongful arrests without probable cause and unfairly lowered burdens of proof for prosecutors at trial.”

While the police often have the chance to stop crime with resourcefulness rather than handcuffs, NYPD policies already leave little leeway for alternatives; and Intro 1-2010 makes their job more difficult

Charisa Smith, Coordinator of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, argues in a blog published today that a new bill aimed at criminal street gang initiation raises potential “Constitutional issues about wrongful arrests without probable cause and unfairly lowered burdens of proof for prosecutors at trial.”

Her blog examines the new bill Intro 1-2010, which the New York City Council passed Feb. 11 in a vote of 38-9. The legislation creates a new Class A Misdemeanor penalty for “criminal street gang initiation.” A person charged under the law would face up to one year in jail for the initiation of a person into a criminal street gang if it created “a substantial risk of physical injury.” To convict, police and prosecutors do not have to prove with witness testimony that an injury took place during the gang initiation.

“It is more than likely the NYPD and prosecutors will fall short of the new law’s expectations,” Ms. Smith writes in her blog. “The result would mean shifting valuable human and financial resources away from the few individuals who actually commit gang-related crimes to the many who may be perceived to be, wrongly. Intro 1-2010 will widen the net of ‘suspects’ — which undoubtedly adversely affects low-income communities of color who are already subject to intensive police scrutiny — while also failing to address the root causes of criminal gang activity.”

Instead, Ms. Smith argues, the City should respond to gang recruitment, drug prevention programs and the lack of recreation in low-income areas by funding, and investing in, creative after-school and evening programs and safe spaces for youth, including alternatives to detention. “With these solutions, we will see more vulnerable youth steering clear from gang culture while still feeling safe,” Ms. Smith writes.

“While the police often have the chance to stop crime with resourcefulness rather than handcuffs, NYPD policies already leave little leeway for alternatives; and Intro 1-2010 makes their job more difficult,” Ms. Smith writes. Read her entire blog here: http://www.burnsinstitute.org/article.php?id=180

To interview/book Charisa Smith and other members of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, please contact her directly at 609-902-1675 or charisasmith(at)gmail(dot)com.

The New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System is a project conceived and supported by the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), a San Francisco-based national juvenile justice nonprofit that has worked in more than 40 counties to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and supports a network of 140 juvenile justice organizations across the country. http://www.burnsinstitute.org.

Press Contact:
Shadi Rahimi
(415) 321-4100 X103
srahimi(at)burnsinstitute(dot)org

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