Bill seeks to toughen up punishment for gang related crimes

Updated: Mar. 16, 2018 at 11:00 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - House Bill 169 is sparking all sorts of discussion from supporters and opponents.

HB 169, also known as the Gang Violence Prevention Act, was designed to crack down on gang activity in Kentucky. It seems like a simple initiative on the surface, but critics of the bill fear it will only increase incarceration rates for people in African American communities.

Before discussing the bill, a question needs to be answered. "Is there a gang problem in Louisville?" is the initial impetus of the bill.

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"I think so," Josh Crawford, the Pegasus Institute's co-executive director, answered. "I think you're seeing a growing recognition across the political spectrum here in Louisville."

Folks who share Crawford's sentiment put forward HB 169. If passed, it would make gang recruitment a felony in Kentucky. Those affiliated with gangs would also face tougher punishment for crimes.

"It's designated for folks that have said 'I am going to live a criminal life, I'm going to live a potentially violent life,'" Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. "Everyone should be able to sit out on their porch in any neighborhood in our city."

Fischer said the bill has a high burden of proof and would add to the city's tools to deter gang activity. House District 41 Representative Attica Scott disagreed, saying supporters of the bill are disconnected from the community they represent.

"There's this clear racial dichotomy that exists where you have mostly white people who have positions and titles who support the bill," Scott said. "You have the people in the community doing the real work who are opposed to the bill."

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Senator Morgan McGarvey agreed, saying the bill started with the right intentions, but needed to be fixed to ensure that African American communities don't become the target of increased incarceration.

"We need to do it in a way that targets the people in the gangs that are causing problems in the community," McGarvey said. "But [one] that doesn't sweep everyone under the same rug."

The bill passed the house Friday evening and will head to the senate for a hearing. It will have to pass through that chamber before it makes its way to the governor's desk.

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