A wide array of illegal activities will carry much harsher sentences when connected to gang membership if a bill sent to the Senate floor for a final vote is enacted into law.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes (D-STX,) has been floating around in various forms for several years. This version, co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Smith (D-At Large) would make any member of a group that engages in criminal activity and has identifiable signs, symbols or colors and commits any of a wide variety of “predicate” nonviolent and violent criminal acts, would also be guilty of felony “gang criminal activity” and up to 10 years in prison.
Predicate” offenses include publicly using “any vulgar, profane, or indecent language in a loud and boisterous manner,” or damaging a car to steal things from it, as well as more serious offenses such as arson or threatening a juror.
It also has harsh penalties for gang members who commit other violent felonies and for recruiting minors into a gang. And it allows prosecutors to add one to three years onto the sentences for other felonies if there is a gang connection.
The bill also gives police broad power to confiscate money and property from gang members and places any confiscated money and any gang-related fine revenues into a fund which, if funds are actually there, can be used for gang prevention programs.
When the bill was considered in committee in February, Attorney General Claude Walker said the bill needed to be written in a way to not infringe on people’s right of free association.
Senators on the committee were broadly supportive of the bill, with the exception of Sen. Janette Millin Young (D-STT.)
“You guys go ahead and criminalize our young people” Young said. She talked about the fear young men and women have over being targeted for coming from a different neighborhood.
Voting for the bill were Sanes, Sens. Jean Forde (D-STT,) Janelle Sarauw (I-STT) and Novelle Francis (D-STX). Young voted no. Sens. Myron Jackson (D-STT) and Positive Nelson (ICM-STX) were absent.