A guest blog entry by MH (student, world citizen)
Gang members and their illegal activity revolve almost entirely around the acquisition and control of territory. The gang territory and the lines drawn are not always clear-cut. Natural borders do not separate the warring factions, and the battles in this territorial war are fought block by block. The victors of each conflict gain the corners.
And here I literally refer to the street corners and intersections where gangs conduct much their operations.
Gang members use these corners to distribute illicit drugs, spot law enforcement officials, oversee prostitution, and conduct illegal street gambling. To maintain their presence and control these corners, gang members congregate in groups at these locations, often twenty-four hours a day.
In an effort to combat illegal gang activity, police officers routinely perform foot patrols and question suspects in these areas. Young men wearing supposed gang colors or exposing gang tattoos in a known gang operated drug market are questioned as to their purpose for congregating at or near the corner. Even laws have been set in place making it illegal to loiter in areas for the purpose of perceived or actual criminal activity.
Often the goal is simply to disperse the crowd of people from the corner area. By dispersing these groups and maintaining a presence in the area, law enforcement officers can effectively disrupt criminal activity on a given city block.
However, despite the positive outcomes of such laws as those mentioned above, the very application of criminal loitering ordinances have been challenged for their constitutionality in many areas. Critics argue that the ordinances are vague and violate the right to free assembly.
Laws similar to the loitering ordinances are in fact essential to discretionary policing. Rather than simply performing incident searches on these suspects and be forced to detain them when they recover small amounts of narcotics, officers have the ability to simply send these young men home.
When discretionary police measures are stripped from officers, they have no choice but to arrest every suspected offender they encounter rather than having an opportunity to provide positive counsel and guidance that may simply keep our jails and prisons open only to most extreme criminals.
As our society looks to improve our methods for correcting criminal activity, we must decide whether we would prefer to put more young men behind bars for low-weight drug possession crimes, or simply give law enforcement the power to say: “go home”.