Friday, July 13, 2007

Back on the Gang Chain

Gangs and SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera were back in the news today (read Bob Egelko's reporting in the SF Chron). Herrera was seeking the civil injunctions against gang members that would restrict their movements in certain neighborhoods of the Mission District and Western Addition, which he talked (and we blogged ) about last month.

Mr. Herrera used the occasion to get off more tough talk on youth homicides.

"The San Franciscans caught in the cross fire of gang violence are all too often our most vulnerable residents: children and youth, seniors and immigrants,'' Herrera said in a statement. "We have a moral obligation to them to do everything the law allows to target and disrupt the activities of criminal street gangs before they escalate into still further tragedies.''

These measures closely parallel an increasingly common feature of the United Kingdom's brand of governing through crime, the Anti-Social Behavior Order (or ASBOs as they are affectionately called)

The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 allows British courts to issue orders against behavior "which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more people who are not in the same household as the perpetrator." This flexible instrument of government can turn any behavior that makes us apprehensive of crime, into a crime.

While America currently lacks a statute like the Crime and Disorder Act (for how long?), creative city attorneys like Dennis Herrera can accomplish much the same thing as the ASBO. In both cases, the power to create new crimes, traditionally a legislative power, is handed to the executive to use on an individualized basis against anyone they believe the public fears (in the UK that has included teens wearing hoodies to the mall).

Personally I doubt that someone as smart as Dennis Herrera really believes that these legal orders will stop young gang members from killing each other (maybe they'll have to BART over to Berkeley to do it). But they will document Mr. Herrera's will and ability to turn the fears of his constituents into his own novel legal powers. In the age of Governing through Crime, that kind of performance can help qualify you for much higher office.

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