Words, and in law, punctuation and its placement, matter. In fact, both of them matter a LOT. That is why I am concerned about exactly how the General Assembly, Governor Kemp, the courts, and, ultimately, the law enforcement community is going to define and implement SB 44 once it goes into effect. That happens on July 1, 2023.
In O.C.G.A. Title 16 Section 16-15-4(e), it says “It shall be unlawful for any person to directly, or through another acting upon such person’s direction, cause, encourage, solicit, recruit, or coerce another to become a member of the or associate of a criminal street gang, to participate in a criminal street gang, or to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity.” That’s interesting. Because the bill itself doesn’t tell you a definition of just what a “gang” or “criminal street gang” is.
Being the type to wonder just why this bill was needed in the first place, I looked at it more closely and saw that it is meant to clarify and amend the language of a previous statute. Okay, that’s fine, but what did that one say and what was the definition of “gang” in it?
In Section 16-15-3(2) Definitions, I found this (2) “Criminal street gang” means any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity as defined in paragraph (1) of this Code section. The existence of such organization, association, or group of individuals associated in fact may be established by evidence of a common name or common identifying signs, symbols, tattoos, graffiti, or attire or other distinguishing characteristics, including, but not limited to, common activities, customs, or behaviors. Such term shall not include three or more persons, associated in fact, whether formal or informal, who are not engaged in criminal gang activity.” It’s still somewhat of a judgement call for the law officers who might be doing their job, but that would be the argument for the defense attorney/public defender in court. (Assuming you actually get to arraignment/bond hearing in the first place. I’ve seen guys arrested who sat in jail for over a year just waiting on this. Not charged with anything. Just sitting in jail on the taxpayers’ dime waiting for their turn in front of a judge. Please note: I’m in the part of JUVENILE court that puts kids in foster care because parents are in jail and can’t work to support them. WTH?)
Understand me now, I know there are criminal street gangs and I know they are a serious problem. The people in them are not to be trifled with. I’m just concerned about very low-level teens and young adults who have children, might be doing some ill-advised things, hanging out on a hot summer night on a porch or in the street, and they mouth off at a cruiser. Or maybe they just see the car and decide to scatter. Who knows why. But the person with the badge sees a hoodie or sagging pants and decides what was seen was ‘gang activity’. How does that officer know that?
I know what the LE community will say. I also know what the poor and/or Black community will say. Each will be biased towards their own. I want the CORRECT thing to be done. This is dangerous stuff for everybody concerned.
If you want to read the bill, the link is here. Underlined stuff is the new language. The words that are strikethrough are being taken out. The Georgia Code for Gang Crime can be found on this website. Remember that the wording is what is CURRENTLY in effect and will be changed on July 1, 2023.
I love the law because it is the way society keeps itself orderly. But it can also be used to suppress and oppress in the wrong hands. Law is merely a tool and it can be used for good or evil. It pays to watch how it is made and implemented in the highest seats of power. That’s why I want to be part of the process. Some of our laws are being used to oppress. Those need to be either changed or eliminated. Others need to be strengthened.
Help me get to the State Senate to work to change what needs to be changed. I want to help make certain that you are protected, enabled, and liberated to live full and free lives in Georgia.