OPINION: Legislation to Prevent Gang Activity Passes in Annapolis

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

Back in the “good ole days” hanging out with the “gang” was not a bad thing. These were your friends and their companionship was something we treasured all our lives. I would define gang back in those days as a bunch of friends getting together to go to the movies, a school football game or any other social activity to have fun.

However, this definition has changed greatly in recent years. Today, gangs pose one of the greatest threats to public safety in our state and are slowly permeating into Southern Maryland.

I am pleased that the Maryland General Assembly had the vision to see this as a major problem by passing the Maryland Gang Prosecution Act of 2007.

This law prohibits a person from participating in a criminal gang knowing that the gang members engage in or have engaged in criminal activity such as murder, carjacking, robbery and other felonies.

It also prohibits an individual from willfully promoting or assisting in a criminal offense committed for the gang’s benefit.

The legislation enables the Attorney General to participate in or prosecute gang cases as long as he gets permission from local prosecutors. I am pleased that this legislation expands the attorney general’s investigative powers, which are mostly focused on white-collar and environmental crimes into the public safety arena.

Violators of this law would be guilty of a felony and subject to imprisonment up to 30 years and or a fine as much as $300,000.

Many of you may have heard of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, better known as RICO. This federal legislation, passed in 1970 has led to the arrests and convictions of some of the most notorious Mafia and drug kingpins who terrorized their victims.

The Maryland Gang Prosecution Act of 2007 is modeled after the RICO law. Federal prosecutors have resorted to prosecuting gang members using the RICO statute. In August 2005, 22 members of the infamous MS-13 gang were indicted in Maryland on federal racketeering, murder, assault and rape charges.

The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has reported that gangs are an “emerging problem” in every corner of the state. Three national gangs – the Bloods, Crips and MS-13 are already organized in Maryland.

Eight jurisdictions including the counties Allegany, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Wicomico and Baltimore City have a disproportionate number of neighborhood gangs.

The last thing we need in Southern Maryland is for these gangs to gain a stronghold which is why The Gang Prosecution Act is so important.

I am pleased that the General Assembly, working with Attorney General Doug Gansler who proposed this legislation, were able to work together on a bi-partisan basis to recognize a problem and pass a law that will hopefully keep our children away from the “allure” of these nefarious organizations.

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