Fri, Jul

Is the LAPD Gang Database the New Jim Crow Too?

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - I’ve been immersed in this book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. She provides some compelling arguments about the social impacts of mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States.

She eloquently articulates how the felon labeling has resulted in legalized disenfranchisement. This book will absolutely blow you away.

While I was reading the book, I thought back to an Empowerment Congress Central Area Neighborhood Council meeting where the issue of the gang database came up.

A few community members were gravely concerned to hear about it and some of the impacts that it was having on residents in South Los Angeles, including a young man, non-gang member, who was denied employment because his name surfaced on the list after submitting to a background check that required a security clearance.

Without going into detail on how the LAPD Senior Lead tried to handle questions with diplomacy and answer respectfully, he summed up that the gang database was for intelligence gathering and to help reduce crime in the area.

What was very clear about the gang database was that no one really understood it or could articulate truthfully how it worked, who got on it, how it was used, how long one stayed on it, or even how to get off of it if you were not a member. Everything about it was vague and based on supposition.

Honestly, I don’t know what is fact or fiction about the gang database. All I know is that it is a disconcerting private confidential bubble.

The public is told that the database is used for LAPD’s internal informational purpose of gathering intelligence. Yet, the database populates into a broader law enforcement statewide list and may be accessible to other states.

Only law enforcement knows who is on it and is not required to share the information, even with those placed on it.

Unlike a crime database, there doesn’t appear to be any careful consideration of who’s entered. The vague criteria based on dress, association or affiliation, tattoos, or an activity is a judgment call of an officer who has the power to label a person a suspected gang member.

From what I’ve been able to gather, there is no clear cut process to appeal or dispute being a gang member like you find with credit reporting bureaus when something erroneous is on a credit report.

How long does a person stay on this database and who is mining the information? Some say 2 years. Others say 4. I think I even heard 5. Who really knows? It may be indefinite. The critically important piece is who has this information, who is reviewing it, and criteria for purging records.

Maybe it’s a database abyss connected to a new Jim Crow era of unfair legalized gang labeling.

If you are listed, not a gang member, and have no history of criminal activity, expect an uncomfortable police encounter because there is a prejudice already established and precautionary policy in place on how to approach you.

Or, if you are looking for a good paying job with benefits that require a background check or clearance, expect to have your employment rejected. You may have to wait your time off the database before you get job.

For repudiated gang members, the caution sign is up. More than likely, your name will never come off and you will pay for your past gang affiliation over and over again leaving you to recidivate back to your old ways.

South Los Angeles neighborhoods are hoping to break the gang database shroud of secrecy and want LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to engage in some community conversations.

They are on the same side of public safety, officer safety, and warding off gang crimes. However, they are not co-signing on a potentially new Jim Crow era of gang labeling and disenfranchisement without transparency and truthfulness.

(Janet Denise Kelly is a CityWatch featured contributor. She offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at jdkellyenterprises.org and can be reached at: janetdkelly@yahoo.com)

Tags: Janet Denise Kelly, Urban Perspective, gangs, South LA, South LA gangs, Jim Crow, LAPD, gang database, LAPD gang database

Vol 10 Issue 55
Pub: July 10, 2012