It seems a simple solution. Gangs have turned certain swaths of Houston into no-man's lands, shuttering businesses, keeping otherwise law-abiding citizens cowed in their houses. These gangsters -- these Crips, these Bloods, these members of Most Wanted -- have turned otherwise placid neighborhoods into war zones.
The individuals have been identified. Their affiliations have been marked. Their routes have been mapped. And because of this intel, and because we know precisely where they've caused the most damage, well -- let's just prevent them from entering this specific area, yeah?
That's the thesis behind Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan's ruling on Tuesday out of the 164th District Court. Due to the economic and physical degradation following gangs' recent activities, Smoots-Hogan placed a permanent injunction on 16 members of the Crips, Bloods, and Most Wanted, barring them from a nearly 0.75-square-mile stretch in Southwest Houston's Brays Oaks neighborhood. If any of the 16 are found within this certain stretch -- termed the Brays Oaks Safety Zone, and mapped here -- they will face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Smoots-Hogan reached her decision after listening to six hours of testimony about how the gangs have created a "public nuisance" for locals and businesses alike. Indeed, one of the 16 named in the lawsuit was recently charged with killing three people and injuring Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth, though one of the eyewitnesses was killed before he or she could testify in court.
(Among those now barred from the area are Jamarion "Pistol Black" Wright, Feanyichi "E-Funny" Uvukansi, Irving "Piggy" Washington and Lawrence "Law Dog" Johnson. Friends like these, man.)
According to the ruling, all 16 members have committed at least five "gang activities and criminal offenses in the past 12 months" within the Brays Oaks Safety Zone. Thus, they are heretofore barred from entering the Safety Zone. Though they're largely free, they're banned from a public space for the indefinite future.
The ruling is, of course, understandable. These 16 men have been found guilty of frequent gang activities and/or criminal activity. (Those are not mutually exclusive, nor are they one in the same.) But there's something...specious about all of this. Yes, the men are no longer allowed within this certain public district. But they've merely been shunted elsewhere. They've been shuffled off to another district. What reads as a solution merely turns these guys into someone else's problem.
Moreover, when extrapolated, the ruling sets an awkward precedent. If this district can bar free individuals from merely walking on the sidewalk, what bars an adjacent neighborhood from getting the same ruling? After all, these individuals still carry the same record. They still carry the same histories and the same tendencies. Why would a district neighboring the Brays Oaks Safety Zone acquiesce to having them? Why wouldn't they petition a local judge for the same injunction? Why wouldn't the process continue to checkerboard through the larger area, shoving these men further from the epicenter of the activities? Does anyone think this is a viable solution?
Or maybe I'm just jaded by Season 3 of The Wire. Maybe a method with Bunny Colvin's stamp isn't the only thing we should be pursuing. Or maybe Piggy, E-Funny and Law Dog will just keep doing what they're doing, a couple blocks from where they can't.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.