Just from personal observation, the discussions I’ve heard and seen about the no gang zone declaration in the Riverside neighborhood made a week ago Monday have been as nuanced as the issue itself and as complex as the court order that specifies what gang members in the zone can and can’t do — the list of what they can’t do in the area being much longer.
There’s also been a fair amount of frustration expressed about the problem the zone is designed to combat.
“It puts everybody’s name in there – up on Front Street. Just as they tag these buildings, we have tagged them,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said. “It’s going to make it a bit more inconvenient for the higher-ups in the criminal enterprises to work with someone who’s been tagged in a court complaint.”
District Attorney General Amy Weirich and the local and federal Multi-Agency Gang Unit is applying a 2009 Tennessee law permitting the zones. The local effort got advice from authorities in Fresno County, Cal. who have used them extensively. But Weirich is trying to avoid some of the pitfalls that caused the use of a similar zone in Orange County, Cal. to be challenged in court.
We went into some detail on the Fresno County effort and the court challenge in our March 9 cover story in The Memphis News.
“It’s the people that we know that are members of this criminal enterprise. … With this injunction, the police department has the authority to arrest,” Weirich said noting that a non-gang member standing with gang members on a street corner in the zone will not be arrested for violating the court order even if they are related to the gang member.
The California court challenge involved citizens who were identified as gang members when they were not. It also raised questions about relatives of gang members who aren’t in a gang.
The court challenge to the zone itself was unsuccessful. But the ruling in the case prompted changes in how the zone was applied.
“There’s going to be a lot of unexpected things to pop up because this is new to all of us,” Weirich said of the Memphis zone. “A lot of it was figuring out what do we need. A big part of it is getting the community to open up to us.”
And Weirich acknowledged a point that has come up in several discussions and which is sure to come up in several others. She acknowledged this approach alone isn’t the solution.
Some of the same discussion about what to do and how to do it came up when Weirich’s office was putting together the Drug Market Intervention program. We detailed that effort in a June 2010 cover story.
Riverside is a big test of the no gang zones in Memphis. It is hard to imagine an area where the presence of gangs is more palpable and the history of gang life is more extensive. A drive through the area last week to see if the painted over gang graffiti had returned on the abandoned house at Hollowell and Farrington – it had not – found not a lot of activity. Some adults in the neighborhood were out walking, some adults with children, and there was a very noticeable police presence.
Time will tell.