County Attorney Puts Another Gang Injunction on the Books

The idea behind a gang injunction is to limit a gang's ability to gather, cause trouble or plan any future troublemaking. At least that's what's behind the Harris County attorney's push for a preliminary injunction ordered last week to create the "East Aldine Safety Zone."

Under the order by Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan of the 164th Civil District Court, nearly 40 people can't step foot into a .34-square-mile zone that wraps around an apartment complex on Aeropark Drive and includes a pair of schools, stores and restaurants. The reason: All of these people are allegedly Bloods or Crips.

The injunction will be in place until a June 16 trial. There are as many as four injunctions in place to limit gang activity, according to the county attorney's office. Last year the Brays Oaks Safety Zone was similarly established in southwest Houston. Legally, how fair is it to limit people's rights to enter an entire neighborhood and business district?

"It doesn't seem to address that we have a gang problem," Amin Alehashem said. Alehashem is a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project--Houston. His office hasn't seen any lawsuits stemming from this type of injunction, although Robert Soard of the county attorney's office acknowledges that court orders against gang members have been criticized. "The legal theory is that gangs are a public nuisance," Alehashem said.

While gang injunctions have been rare in Houston, they've been used and fought by the ACLU in other cities with known gang problems, like Los Angeles and Chicago. An injunction put in place just south of Los Angeles in Orange County was defeated in a federal appeals court. The issues at hand dealt with constitutional rights and how you even decide who is a gang member.

"We're very careful with [these court orders]," Soared said referring to court cases against injunctions. In compiling the list of more than two dozen suspected gang members the attorney's office relied on testimony from the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Police Department. The court order goes so far as to establish a dress code, "The court ... orders them to stop wearing clothing that identifies them as gang members while in the Safety Zone."

The words "Blood" and "Crip" are general terms, according to Soard. He said there are varying gang subsets within the East Aldine district, an unincorporated area of Harris County. Among those groups, he said, is the Houston gang the Hardy Boys.

If any of the (mostly) guys on that list are "physically present" in that area mapped out by the court, they face a $4,000 fine and a year in jail. Talk about scare tactics.

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