Gangfighters Weblog

July 13, 2012

Addressing the gang problem in strategically different ways

Filed under: civil remedies, gang, gang member, gang violence, nashville, tennessee — carterfsmith @ 10:43 am

In A great civil law tool — injunctions and related actions against gangs — but what about civic involvement — Southern Style! we looked at Metro Nashville’s efforts to declare the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several members a public nuisance. The use of gang injunctions prohibiting documented gang members from associating with each other in public has been on the rise across the country — especially in California, though also used effectively in Florida and Texas, among other places.

But what other innovations in the use of civil law are there? How creative can We, the People get to effectively combat the plaque of gangs and gang crime that threaten our cities and states?

Traditional Anti-gang activities include formal anti-gang teams, sections, or task forces; injunctions; and restrictive ordinances.

Civil Law provides a way to get a legal remedy for accidents, negligence, cases of libel, contract disputes, property disputes, probating wills, trusts, administrative law, commercial law, and other matters that involve private parties and organizations including government departments. Civil law helps resolve non-criminal disputes like disagreements over the meanings of contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, personal and property damage.

In California, as an example, the state sought damages on behalf of residents (who cannot file suit themselves because they fear retaliation) to distribute proceeds from seized (and sold) homes, businesses and other assets. CA state law allows government to act on behalf of members of the neighborhoods affected by gang activity and collect monetary damages in areas with gang injunctions.

I’ve got the scoop on injunctions and ordinances — looking more for nuisances, penalties, and forfeitures. I am specifically looking for innovative ideas that may be a challenge to implement! Ideas like:

  • make “gang offenders” register (for certain crimes) and identify their residences and known hangouts online
  • increase difficulty of custodial or non-custodial parents to conceal gang affiliation
  • allow use of gang affiliation in settling of divorce and child custody disputes
  • hold business owners responsible if they allow/don’t prevent gangs from gathering, committing crimes or concealing evidence on premises.
  • require specific lighting for public and open private areas where groups of people congregate with regularity
  • seize gang or gang member property used in or purchased from profits of crime 
  • recoup damages for graffiti on private or government property

What do you think?

Please either comment or email me — carterfsmith at g


June 13, 2012

A great civil law tool — injunctions and related actions against gangs — but what about civic involvement — Southern Style!

Filed under: gang member, gangs, nashville — carterfsmith @ 9:11 am

It’s not been covered too much in the news, but check out Metro Files Lawsuit Against Accused Gang Members: Metro’s legal department has filed a lawsuit against the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several of their alleged members, asking that they be declared a public nuisance. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the gangs and other organized crime groups — heck, even regular everyday criminals — could be declared a nuisance?

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be enough citizens who are 1) annoyed and 2) able to stand up for themselves. I completely support the MNPD‘s actions, but why is it they seem to be the only ones acting like gangs in our communities are a bad thing? These groups have been treated as if they are living the American Dream — and unfortunately in many cases, they are. 

Typical responses to gang behavior include public (community or neighborhood based) official (using the criminal justice system) and legislative (local, state, and federal legislative bodies) action.  Local anti-gang legislation like civil abatement laws, injunctions, and restrictive ordinances rarely make an impact on gangs, though they often force a move out of “our neighborhood”. With these injunctions, gang-free zones are sought (like public parks or neighborhoods). 

In this country, it′s not against the law to be a member of a gang. The First Amendment  gives us the right to join any group or club, assuming we meet their requirements. Implicit within this right is the right to associate with members of the group. That seems to indicate the right includes membership and affiliation with gangs and gang members. What is prohibited is the committing of crimes and other actions that gang members often do. In a nutshell, then, it’s legal to be a member of a gang, but not to be an active member, as active gang members commit crimes (or their group would not “qualify” as a gang). The constitutional right to assemble allows us to gather (only) for lawful purposes. Thankfully, the courts have held that the government may prohibit people from associating in groups that engage in and promote illegal activities. 

With injunctions and related actions, the gang is sued as a public nuisance with evidence provided by the police and sometimes members of the community.   Injunctions have been seen to reduce gang member visibility, gang intimidation, and fear of crime by residents.   That works for the community, at least for a time, but we can do better.

The better strategies incorporate the community-based policing efforts that include mobilizing and interacting with community members in a coordinated effort.  When there is an established community policing effort (not unlike what it took to implement bike patrols, drug market interventions, and the use of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety — DDACTS), prosecutors and police can include input from police, prosecutors, merchants, property owners, and other community members when devising strategies like obtaining injunctions, so there’s more of a chance the affected parties are included in the decisions.  

Additional work to improve neighborhood cohesion and informal control is needed, but let’s not depend entirely on the police to do it.   Gang injunctions should be used on a continuing basis and more resources should be directed into the enforcement and maintenance of gang injunctions, assuming they are effective, but at some point citizens need to get engaged in the process. It starts by teaching children (not just our own, unfortunately) that gangs are a bad thing. We need to change the paradigm, and that requires a relatively long-term commitment. 

The action against the KPG represents the first time a local government has sought to have alleged members declared a public nuisance since criminal gang behavior was added to the state’s public nuisance law in 2009. This action (at least the use of injunctions in Nashville) has been planned for a few years. That serves as yet another reason that citizens need to get involved in the push-back effort against gangs. Citizen groups, as evidenced by Occupy Nashville, Wall Street, and so many others, don’t have such a long and extended lead time waiting for the legislators, leadership, and courts to synchronize.

Other coverage by NPR here.

What do you think?

All grown up but still banging – when juvenile gang members become adults

Presenting today to the Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families, 8th Annual Education Conference “Achieving Success in the Face of Adversity.” 

Presentation titled All grown up but still banging: What issues can we expect if they don’t “age out?”  in Nashville, TN on June 13, 2012. 

April 26, 2011

Come join us for a talk about Gangs on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 on OpenLine with Scott Arnold on NewsChannel 5+

Filed under: gang, gang member, gang violence, nashville — carterfsmith @ 10:53 am

Topic: Gangs

Date: Tuesday, May 3, 2011

OpenLine with Scott Arnold on NewsChannel 5+ (250 on Comcast in Nashville).

The show is on the air from 7:00-8:00 p.m.

We will have a discussion and take viewer phone calls.

March 7, 2010

Question and Answer on responses to Gangs

Filed under: gang, gangs, middle tennessee, nashville, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 11:29 am

1. What should schools do about gangs?

School leaders need to be able to treat gangs as they would any other group of people that threaten the safety of the students. In the elementary, middle, and high schools, youth who are involved with gangs will often be disruptive or divisive in the classroom. Teachers must be able to respond with respect while still controlling the situation. The School Resource Officers are trained to identify problems — including the presence of gangs. Work with them. Don’t let the kids in the school be terrorized by gang members — protect them.

2. What should parents do to keep their kids out of gangs?

Parents need to fight the tendency to think “my child would never join a gang” and act as if they want to do everything in their power to keep that from happening. This applies to parents at all socio-economic levels. Parents need to teach their children discipline and respect and the boldness to express individuality. If you sense that your child has something they don’t belong having in their possession (gang attire, paraphernalia, guns, knives, drugs, etc.) ask them about it and then follow up by looking through their possessions — no matter what they think about it. Gangs are not a minor illness that will go away with time. They are a poison that will kill people. If a police officer suspects your child is in a gang — don’t start by denying it, start by trying to see why it might look that way.

Act like a parent — not a lawyer.

Demand that the local school system stop tolerating the presence of gang members in the schools. Call your elected representatives and public servants regularly and voice your concerns. There are gangs in many of the public schools in Middle Tennessee — stop sitting idly by and letting them establish a presence in the schools. If the people we vote for and pay to run the schools won’t work to keep gangs from taking over the schools — replace them.

3. What should youths who are being recruited to be in a gang do?

If members of a gang try to recruit you — make it clear that you are not interested. It is possible to be respectful while declining an offer to join or even affiliate with the gang. These people will act as if they will be your best friends and yet what they will do is help you ruin your life. Gang members rarely become productive citizens and when they do it is only after they leave the gang – many are dead before they are old enough to be parents. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life — it’s better to do nothing than to join a gang (even if they don’t call themselves a “gang”).

4. What should members of the community (police, churches, neighborhood groups, etc.) do about gangs?

Community leaders need to respond to gangs as if they are poisonous to the welfare and safety of all members of the community — because they are. The gang mentality is being shared through movies, music, and Internet communication methods, and will reach the youth. Members of the community need to be vigilant in their search for indicators of gang activity and find things for the youth to do other than “hanging out” with a bunch of thugs. Avoid denial at all costs — if someone acts like they are in a gang they probably are. There’s no need to support what others are doing when what they are doing hurts them and everyone that comes in contact with them. Being a gang member is not a protected class of society – treat gangs like you want them to go away — and they will.

Carter Smith is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association (TNGIA). MTSU and TNGIA are co-hosting a Youth Gang – Organized Crime Symposium March 11-13, 2010. The event is open to the public. For more information, visit

More at The Tennessean.

March 4, 2010

Gang Activity in Middle Tennessee

Filed under: gang, middle tennessee, nashville, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 11:23 am

Interview snippets throughout the Tennessean articles this week:

Low-level gang members barely make pocket change, said Carter Smith, a gang expert and assistant professor in the criminal justice department at Middle Tennessee State University.

Compare the structure of a gang to a fast-food restaurant. The local manager doesn’t make much, but the guy who owns three or four McDonald’s can do pretty well.

“The bottom line is it’s business,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of what risk you’re willing to take.”

Carter Smith, a parent and gang expert who lives in Franklin and works as a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, said parents who think their kids are immune because they live in an upscale neighborhood or don’t fit the typical gang-member profile may be at risk of losing their sons or daughters to gangs.

People in a gang may target them because they have a car, they have money, and they have accesses to places the members of the gang may not have,” Smith said.

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