Local News

Gang Prevention Plan Meets Resistance at General Assembly

Posted July 25, 2007 5:42 a.m. EDT
Updated July 25, 2007 1:52 p.m. EDT

— State lawmakers have a plan to combat the rise of gangs in North Carolina, but one group, trying to improve the lives of young African-Americans, is not sold on the idea.

The Street Gang Prevention Act would make it a crime to be part of gang that engages in criminal activity, to organize a gang, to coerce people to join gangs or to threaten them if they want to leave. Under the bill, the offenses would be felonies, which would likely mean prison time.

Mayors and police officers statewide came to the Legislature Wednesday to support the bill's sponsors, but some activists said the bill focuses too much on locking people up and not enough on keeping kids from heading into gang life in the first place.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell recently urged a House committee to pass the anti-gang legislation.

"It's truly a tool we need to deal with gang activity across the country, across the state," he said.

However, the Triangle Lost Generation Task Force said longer sentences are a failed strategy. Officials said the bill will only lead to more racial profiling and a disproportionate number of minorities in prison. Plus, critics like Otis Lyons, a former gang member, argue increased prison time only increases gang cohesion.

"Prisons don't work for the majority because prison is designed to send them back out there like animals," he said.

The group would like to see more money spent on keeping kids from joining gangs in the first place.

"Funds that are to be allocated to the governor's Crime Commission, which can actually be used for suppression as well as prevention and intervention, is only allocated in the first year and is to the tune of $3 million," said Landon Adams, of the Lost Generation Take Force. "If, after five years, the conservative fiscal projections hold true as we stand today, the money spent in the street gang prevention will be 95 percent toward incarceration and 5 percent to intervention."

Under the bill, communities would be allowed to apply for grants to prevent gang activity.