Critics say State Pointer File a form of guilt by association
Over 40 community residents, including 15 young people, attended last Thursday’s forum on gangs at the Martin Luther King/Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.
Last week’s forum was sponsored by several community organizations. “We allowed folk to vent” their frustrations, said Diane Binns, as she compared last week’s forum to one held on July 28 at MLK. (See “Gang list criticized as racial profiling,” August 6-12, 2009)
At that first meeting, St. Paul police, city and county law enforcement officials told residents that once an individual gets listed in the State Pointer File as a gang member, they are on it indefinitely. Those in attendance complained that the meeting was more informational and they weren’t given an opportunity to share their concerns about the practice.
However, residents last week spoke on how this gang list has impacted them. Many expressed concerns that the gang list might contain names of people who shouldn’t be there.
Being on the list could mean being denied employment, notes University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds. “Not to mention the harassment that goes along with being identified as a gang member. Or there could be an enhancement if you subsequently do commit a crime — what impact that may have on your sentence,” she adds.
The Metro Gang Strike Force (MGSF), which has been in the news recently on reports of improperly seizing cash, property and vehicles, set up a 10-point criteria system to identify gang membership, the Minnesota State Pointer System, back in the late 1990s.
According to Minnesota Gang Pointer statistics, there were 2,438 “confirmed gang members at the end of 2008, an increase of 168 since 2007: over half (1,324) are Black.” Furthermore, another nationwide database, GangNET, showed that nearly half of the 16,764 individuals (42 percent) of those who either are affiliated, suspected, confirmed or confirmed/convicted at the beginning of this year as gang members are Black.
“Ice” Demmings, 31, told the gathering that law enforcement officials informed him that he has been on the list for at least eight years. “They told me that they put me on the gang list in 2001,” he admitted, adding that he was convicted of a felony in 1996, but according to him, the conviction was reduced to a misdemeanor in 2002. “I applied for a permit [to carry a gun] and that’s when I found out about this gang list that I didn’t know I was a part of.”
Now a father of a 10-year-old son, Demmings says that the repercussions of being on the list have followed him ever since. “I’m in the medical field, but I was fired [from a previous job] because of my misdemeanor,” he claimed.
Binns, a longtime Hennepin County probation officer, pointed out, “I work with a lot of young folk who used to be gang bangers but they can’t get jobs, housing or can’t get anything [because of being on the gang list]. This information is like a ‘hidden piece’; a lot of times, they don’t even know about it. Even some who are now in their 30s and older are still listed as gang members,” she added.
Demmings said that being seen with known gang members is oftentimes unavoidable: “All my male cousins are either gang members or ex-gang members,” he noted.
Seventeen-year-old Giorgio Hall, who says he is not a gang member, points out that he knows “at least 30” people who are connected with a gang. “What kept me out [of a gang] is playing basketball, football and other extracurricular activities,” he said proudly.
“I got a couple of family members on this list,” claimed Damone Presley. He added that he knows several young men “who have been put on the [gang] list by just physical contact, or [they] have a family member or a friend [associated with gangs]. I think that is a big concern for our youngsters.”
Also, too often Black young men can’t even stand around in small groups for fear of being stopped by local police, complained Presley.
“Our biggest problem is with the beat cops who want to hold onto the fact that, as far as they are concerned, once a gang banger, always a gang banger,” said Steve Randall of Youth In Transition, a local program that works with approximately 40 at-risk youth in St. Paul.
If used properly, having a gang list is important, the audience agreed. However, it should only contain those individuals who actually are involved in gangs, said Mentoring Young Adults founder Dora Jones. “There’s no way they should be put on it unless they are actually [committing crimes],” she pointed out.
Levy-Pounds say that the gang list is just one of a number of “deeper level issues” that the community is dealing with. She admitted that “tension” usually exist whenever the gang issue is discussed.
Many residents are concerned that the list isn’t periodically monitored and updated.
“We really are talking about people who should not be in the system because they are not active gang members,” said Levy-Pounds. “We are not saying not to hold people accountable if they are actively involved in a gang, but for those who are mislabeled by virtue of being poor and in an inner-city community, there is a problem with that. That is an injustice that is happening.”
Read more excerpts from last week’s community forum at www.challman.wordpress.com.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-record er.com.
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