Discrimination by database


How Do You Define a Gang Member?

Laws across the country are being used to target young men who fit the description for gang affiliation. But what if they aren’t what they seem?

The State Legislature responded with the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code, which, for the first time, legally defined “gang” in the state of California: a formal or informal group of three or more, sharing a common identifying name, symbol or sign, and whose primary activity is crime. The law augments a prison sentence, adding anywhere from two years to life, depending on the severity of the underlying conviction… Similar laws are now in place in 31 states across the country…

“The only way a jury is ever going to be able to connect something as minor as spray painting over a wall to a murder conviction is by adding a gang enhancement.” …

In Stanislaus County, as in many counties in California and across the United States, law-enforcement officers keep a database of individuals that they have identified as gang members. From their point of view, these lists are vital and necessary, but activists argue that they can be discriminatory. Researchers have found that white gang membership tends to be underestimated and undercounted, while the opposite is true for black and Latino youth. In 1997, California created a statewide database, called CalGang, and by 2012, according to documents obtained by the Youth Justice Coalition, there were more than 200,000 individuals named in it (roughly the same number as the population of Modesto), including some as young as 10. Statewide, 66 percent were Latino, and one in 10 of all African-Americans in Los Angeles County between the ages of 20 and 24 were on the list…

Just because you’re white, or a chronic pain patient, don’t think this kind of discrimination isn’t coming our way through the soon-to-be nationwide PDMPs.  In fact, there will be millions of names included in this database of people who aren’t even chronic pain patients — it will include anyone who filled a prescription for pain medication, even if it was just one time.  If you are included in this database, your electronic health record will always indicate that you’ve taken pain medication, along with any other drugs that states deem fit to include in the database.

“We thought the original writing of that bill was bad,” he said. “It made being a gang member a crime, and that flies in the face of the Constitution, in my mind. What’s to stop the Boy Scouts from being considered a gang?” …

Young men and women are bundled into the broad category of “gang member” all the time, based on photos like the ones shown at Sebourn’s trial; based on their wearing this color or that one; based, essentially, on a misunderstanding of how difficult these neighborhoods really are for youth. “Posing in a picture, acting cool or acting tough can be a navigation strategy,” Raju said. “That may not mean they want problems; in fact, it may mean the opposite.” …

Black and Latino inmates account for more than 90 percent of inmates with gang enhancements; fewer than 3 percent are white…

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