WILMINGTON, N.C. – A North Carolina Superior Court judge today agreed to end a 2017 “gang injunction” that subjected Wilmington residents whom local law enforcement accused of being gang members to probation-like conditions without a fair day in court.
The New Hanover County District Attorney obtained the injunction under a 2012 state law against 23 named defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina is representing three men who were subject to the injunction and had asked the court for a hearing today to argue that the limits placed by the injunction violated their constitutional rights. Among other restrictions, those named under the injunction could not be in the same place together, even if they were relatives, or they could be arrested and put in jail. That meant that they couldn’t carpool to work or church, go shopping at the same grocery store, or participate in the same public community activities, like playing sports.
Earlier this month, District Attorney Ben David filed a motion asking the court to end the injunction on Oct. 23 – one day before today’s scheduled hearing.
“Gang injunctions pose serious constitutional problems, restrict people’s freedom without a fair day in court, and have been used almost exclusively against Black and Brown communities,” said Katrina Braun, an attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Our clients were forced to miss family birthday parties, graduations, and the funeral of a close family member because of this harmful injunction. We’re glad the court and District Attorney have agreed that it’s time to end this deeply problematic measure. We’ll continue fighting for the rights of our clients and other community members against these unconstitutional practices.”
The Wilmington Police Department’s definition of who is a gang member was particularly broad and burdensome: their criteria could sweep up people who simply live in the same neighborhood as suspected gang members, post photos on social media of themselves with family members who are suspected gang members, or who possess unspecified “gang clothing”.
In 2018, a federal court ruled against a similar gang injunction in Los Angeles, prohibiting the city from enforcing its injunctions against anyone who has not had the opportunity to challenge the designation in court before they were made subject to the injunction. Other gang injunctions across the country have faced legal challenges as well.