Go Home or Go to Jail – Police and their obligation to keep the streets safe for all

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”.


25 thoughts on “Go Home or Go to Jail – Police and their obligation to keep the streets safe for all

  1. I agree that our society needs to look for new ways for punishing criminal activity because jail is not always the answer. When someone goes to jail they should be in there to learn and take responsibility for their acts of crime, but usually, not always, people come out of there and repeat what they did to get in there without hesitation. They do not learn anything when they go to jail. They do not think about what they did was bad; they may just be thinking about what they can do once they get out and how not to get caught this time. Also, the wealthy and especially celebrities have it the easiest. They can get jail time, but either buy themselves out, which many of us cannot afford to do, or they get out of jail in a few hours because of “good behavior” when I am sure that poorer people also have good behavior in there, yet they have to stay their whole sentence. People are getting out to easily and not learning the consequences like they should be, but i still don’t think officers should allow low crimes; they should maybe make them go to classes or something where they can learn the consequences instead of jail, unless it’s a repeat offender maybe.

    1. Cathy, I like what you said about how poorer people who may have good behavior stay their entire sentence and have no chance of avoiding jail time whereas, say a celebrity who has money, can get out of their time early or avoid it all together. I have a cousin who was about 12-years-old when going through a lot of rough times at home and my uncle, his father, was a screamer. He said hurtful things and seemed to really mean them when he said them and eventually that takes a toll on a 12 year olds mind. His younger siblings were too young to really comprehend what was going on and seemed to grow up okay but my cousin who understood it all grew up with trust issues, control problems, he’s easily offended and makes rash decisions. He recently was kept out of a club because of his middle eastern name even though he has lived here longer than the middle east and is just as much American and I am (who was born here). Of course he got angry when the bouncer got a cop involved saying that my cousin was being an a**. Well, the cop laughed at my cousin for his name and appearance and punched him in the face. My cousin retaliated and punched him back … my cousin was the stronger one and that’s not good for him because he’s a troublemaker and already has a record and no money so even though it wasn’t his fault he is getting jail time and has no money for a lawyer or to get out this. I feel that if my cousin had someone to give him guidance or to help him change he wouldn’t be put in this situation but instead he keeps getting things thrown at him, like tickets and jail time, and officers being prejudiced/racist against him and it’s only making him hate authority figures more and less trusting. Instead of fixing the problem, it is only made worse.

  2. I feel that police should have the power to tell people to go home. If they stop someone and find that they have a small amount of illegal substances on them, the police should confiscate them and go on. There is no point to arresting these people. They just get bailed out, the judge gives them probation for a consequence, and they continue doing what they originally got in trouble for. Sending these people to jail just costs the tax payers’ money and clogs up the jails. I personally feel that prisons/jails should be for people who commit bad crimes. Unfortunately, drugs and gang activities are a problem and I don’t foresee that changing.

    1. I do agree with your statement. But, I do agree that we should at least fine the people who have some type of drug substance on them. I do also agree that the people locked up on petty drug charges should not have to spend their life in a jail or prison. Not only does the law system ruin their life but they won’t be able to do anything without permission of a parole officer. Our jails are really bad and some of the people got locked up for weed and those types of people should be let go instead of being with the murderers and other types of people in jail.

  3. I believe there will never be a way to put a end to crime. Because the leaders of the most corruption would be the government with all the scandals they pull. When you think of gangs you think of violence, murders, and terrorism. But they are no different than the U.S. government with the army. Just like gangs fight for turf the U.S go to other countries land and try to bully them out of what they own. Weather we like it or not the army can be considered a gang as well. I know many will disagree but this is how I see things. I don’t think gang violence or crime will ever stop because most people live by the saying crime pays either good or bad. Without crime happening I think the earth will stand still and we all will fall off the face of earth because certain things are apart of life.

  4. I have a lot of experience working in and being around the inner city. I am used to driving by corners and gang members whistling or attempting to get my attention because there is a stereotype, if a white guy is in the “hood”, they are there to buy drugs. I feel like the police should have the power to make a decision on what to do with someone if caught with illegal substances. If they are a part of a gang, they are a part of it for life. Sure there are some great success stories of individuals that got out of gangs and doing good for themselves. But for the most part, no matter how many times you go to jail, they are still going to go back to their gang because of the lack of father figures and large families and not enough attention, for a lot of these young boys… gangs are like family to them. I agree with KO, I feel like there are alternatives other than jail for cases like these.

    1. I do agree with your statement. That the boys or girls in gangs who need a better family or better home should be relocated or moved with a new family or a new town. You are right that these kids or young men don’t have any parents or father figures but a father figure is not the only type of person they need. They need teachers, role models who will guide them to the right direction and not to the wrong direction. And in some cases the young kids in the gangs state that they don’t even want to be there, that the gang they are apart of is all they have. This is alternatives but if these kids are committing serious crimes should have to do jail time.

  5. There is a statute called the “RICO” act which police can go after gangs that are organized. The problem is where are the every day citizens that stand up to these thugs. The gang life style has been glamorized with terms like “Bling Bling.” People need to stand up and say enough is enough. Police can only do so much and it takes a community effort to have a lasting change. Many times gangs form because of the lack of parental structure and the socio economics force many to fend for themselves to survive. These “family” groups love, sometimes in wrong ways but many times this love gave them a sense of belonging. I don’t agree at all with Gangs and they a problematic bi product to the issue of failing family structures. If we addressed the issue of families falling apart in these areas and helped facilitate change then the problem of gangs would greatly diminish.

  6. I think the police should be able to tell someone to go home. When there are a few kids standing around in the suburbs is a different situation than members of a gang standing around in a bad neighborhood. The kids might have little amounts of drugs on them but not a big enough issue where they would need to take them to jail. Gang members in a bad neighborhood would be a much better chance of finding more narcotics on the person. I also think the police would get more respect for letting some people off that just might be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    1. I do see what your saying but what if the drug was more serious like cocaine or mushroom. I think there should be some type of punishment towards those kids. If it was weed I agree with you just take it away and send them on their way but usually if they have weed on them once they will have it again or at least try to get it again. They wouldn’t learn anything without punishment. Police would get more respect but again the kids who got off might just turn around and get more. Its kind of like a cycle if you get caught you learn to be more sneaky and more concealing than the last time. Maybe if first time offenders or even multiple offenders get caught send them to a program but not arrest them if its just weed.

  7. This is a grey area for me simply because even though the members protray themselves as non educated they are street smart. If the only thing they get is to be sent home for having a small amount of drugs then they will always walk around with small amounts of drugs when in reality they have a mound of drugs waiting for them at home. The people of Chicago are asking for rules and laws to be strict and even though it’s manily the gangbangers fault unfortunately everyone has to pay for it. I think America needs to come to terms with the idea that guns do play a big role in the crime involved and it is statisticly proving in countries where guns are prohibited the crime rate is lower. So maybe this is a bandwagon that we need to jump on, agree ?

  8. I believe that the whole point of our democracy is to stand wherever we like at all times. City streets are always busier than in the suburbs but people were and always will be out in public. It is our choice to use the prostitution services or buy drugs from a random person. Just because someone is suspect of something, doesn’t mean they did it. I feel like soon it might be illegal to take a walk in a “bad neighborhood”.

    1. I agree. First off it should be a person’s decision where they want to walk. People would obviously know whats the bad vs good neighborhoods. People should feel free to go where they please. However, it is a good idea to have more police patroling the bad neighborhoods to prevent any bad activities commited by ANYBODY, not just gang memebers.

  9. This one is a little more difficult to deal with. Im sure that the officers know exactly what corners to look at and patrol. All they are really doing is postponing for a short amount of time, the gang activity that is taking place.Im sure in the city of Chicago there are many places cops are afraid to go.These bad neighborhoods are very well known even to people that do not live within the city. We need to figure out a way to stop their trafficing of people and product that they deal. This is a huge problem and will be very difficult to completely eradicate.

    1. Your right. The people on the corners are the ones carrying the small amounts of drugs. The amount they carry isn’t enough to put them in jail/prison. Police should dig deeper on finding the top distributor. That way all drug selling can be ceased. It’s easy to recruit a kid to sell drugs in the bad neighborhoods. So if the police take one person for having a bit of drugs on him/her, another person will pop up the next day doing the same thing.

  10. It is actually really dumb and childish and not giving back to society. Gangs try to recruit younger children while in loitering. Either by promising money and “Swag” or just to get them to buy drugs. Although the argument against the laws of loitering is that it attacks the freedom of assembly, there is a big difference. People who use freedom of assembly usually do it to protest or a pacifist reason. However gangs use it to assert their power and “respect”.

  11. Very well written article. I believe that we should allow the police to have the authority of when or when not to say “go home”. Within the gang infested communities, both jails and prisons are in fact overcrowding due to the amount of minor offences being processed, as a simple drug charge. Allowing police to make the call on whether they are going to take a criminal in, or self-counsel that individual can make a lot of community members happy as well as clearing up space within our justice system for those individuals who are committing more serious crimes and who cannot function properly within “their” society. This will bring joy throughout the community members, as people HATE when cops do their job by making automatic arrests or issuing tickets, as they believe that they are just being targeted now. I am sorry but I am absolutely SICK of hearing on how the hatred toward cops within a community has come from one single speeding ticket, and the reason of “them” receiving a ticket is because “the cop was an asshole”, not because you were actually speeding and breaking the law but an “asshole”. I do apologize for my language that just seems to be the common response from many young adults. The police have a very tough job protecting and keeping the streets safe for the members of the community, especially in gang infested areas. This is why they have to be so “anal” on their patrols on foot, or when they see a large group at night they might check out what everybody is doing and what might be going on.

  12. In being a young male myself, I agree with you on how law enforcement should use their power to allow “low-weight drug possession” criminals the option of simply going home. Common knowledge proves that jails are coming to the point of no vacancy, especially with the high (no pun intended) rate of “criminals” being charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana. With more and more states legalizing and decriminalizing both medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana, the jails will finally release the smaller offenders, and allowing more attention to be kept on the more dangerous criminals. In regard to gang members using the street corners to do business, I feel as if the police had more of a presence than that of the “bad guys”, there would be less crimes and less illegal distribution of man-made drugs.

  13. I think that being able to send them home is a great thing. It usually has no long-term affect (at least positively) on gang members when they are sent to jail. It also costs a lot more money to send them to jail rather than home. This would allow police officers to become enough of a nuisance to gangs that the gangs stay out of certain areas or at least do not get as much crime/business accomplished. The constitutionality of these laws is questionable, but it would be wonderful if they would be able to keep them in affect. Realistically though, I am not sure that most gang members would respond well to being told to go home. They may just react in a way that forces the officer to arrest them anyway.

  14. I side on the rights of the Constitution for this issue. All though it may be obvious what certain people are doing on the street corner, unless they are breaking a law an officer shouldn’t be able to do anything. Once police have this power it can be used in all instances against law abiding citizens. Besides, if police really want to take these people off the streets they can perform a sting operation or something similar.

  15. I say that there should be some sort of middle option. For example, there should be some sort of fine, In fact I think that they have recently creates a law. Its if a person was caught with a small enough amount of drugs that he or she will only be fined. This can also be a problem because of the fact that other people might be puled over because of the clothes that they wear. Could this be a form of discrimination? Or just a way to fight crime temporarily until another plan is used.

  16. I say that certain things that are illegal like weed for instance should be a choice the officer makes. If it is a small amount of weed then the law should automatically let the person go instead of personally experiencing a ticket of $350 at a time where I did not even have a half a blunt or should I say .2 grams of it. It was unnecessary for them to lock me up and go through the process. Which is also why I say the law do not protect no more because they have a such things called a quota where for each arrest they get some of that bargain which is basically working benefiting themselves and the system. It is unfair that the system gave individual citizens the right over another fellow citizen over something that might be done behind closed doors by the police. One police personally told me they smoked that morning after an argument went out between the two of us. I just think that the law as too much power and overuse it just for the benefit of themselves, not the protection of the citizens of this country.

    1. I have to disagree with your statement. In Illinois and most of the states since 2012 there was a law past banning the quota system. This was so the public which is us can trust in our officers more. And above and beyond having weed that is not medicinal is illegal to have in this state. Police do protect us no matter how much weed you have on you you will get issued a fine. To me i don’t want people high on the streets because it could be a danger to the public.

  17. This was a good article for the most part. I do agree with the laws being passed to keep the gangs or try to keep the gangs out of the streets. It would make a safer environment for the people who live in the area. But, maybe you should mention where this is taking place. I know that many cities have gang violence or gang wars but what areas should we as the people avoid so we don’t run into trouble. Drug dealing is a horrible crime and should be cracked down on hard. The gang violence is affected all of America because our nations youth is now getting into this as well. Instead of these kids going to school and doing something great they are roaming the streets getting into trouble and doing drugs. There are programs to help like the scared straight program that takes kids who are troubled or on the verge of going to jail, they bring them to the county jail where they let the criminals talk, yell, and sometimes even threaten the kids. In jail the kids rights are stripped away and they can’t do a thing about it which to me is good because you get the message through to them. America is taking steps to end all of the violence in America but we are taking tiny steps.

  18. I feel this article addresses and elaborates on an ever-growing universal issue that acts transparently in modern society. Such as the positive aspects transpiring from spearheading development in technological endeavors, which have become increasingly overshadowed by the incessant growth of illicit government moderating. Practices such as these breach constitutionality in many multi-faceted aspects concerning the stipulations in place to combat legitimate criminal efforts. While imposing blatant indiscretions and limitations towards the framework of society. These motives should insistently be interrogated universally from politicians to community members for the purpose of eradicating those infractions.

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