Gang-Free Zone Prevents Brothers from Hanging Out

A group of accused gang members in the small Houston suburb of Bryan, Texas say their civil liberties are being violated after authorities placed several restrictions on their cell phone use, where they can drive their cars and who they can socialize with.

"It ain't right what they're doing," said Alfonso Ponce, a 14-year-old who risks arrest if he associates with either of his two brothers, who are admitted members of the Latin Kings street gang.

"I ain't no gang member, people just think I am, and so now I can't have no phone, can't be out after 9 p.m. and can't hang out with my friends," Ponce said.

The district attorney's office in Brazos County Texas has listed Ponce along with 37 other alleged gang members in a civil injunction aimed at creating a gang-free zone.

Local authorities say gang-related crime has gotten so bad that they had to do whatever it took to try and stop it, in this case file a civil injunction targeting a group of young men they believe are responsible.

The injunction allows authorities to arrest Ponce or any of his 37 named co-defendants if they are spotted between 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in a three-square-mile radius designated as the "Latin Kings Safety Zone."

Even Ponce admits that the area is rampant with crime. His house is littered with bullet wounds and there have been drive by shootings "about 20 times," he said. "They shoot at me a lot," he added.

Inside the safety zone defendants are barred from using cell phones inside their cars and cannot speak, walk, drive or even bike with people known to be associated with a criminal gang. Using hand signals known as gang signs as well and cursing inside the safety zone is also not allowed.

"In response to an escalation in violence in and around Bryan, we started to look for additional proactive measures that would allow us to respond to gang violence in a way that might not just be reactionary but might be able to stop the crimes before they happen," said Brazos County Assistant District Attorney Cory Crenshaw.

But those "proactive measures" of the injunction -- essentially giving police the authority to pick up individuals before they've even committed a crime -- are what some are calling a violation of rights and what Ponce says he thinks is unfair.

Several other states, such as California and Minnesota, as well as other counties in Texas, have similar gang injunction laws on the books.

"Our focus is stopping violent gang crime and in reducing the number of violent assaults," said Crenshaw. "If you can keep these individuals associated with gangs away from each other -- especially in vehicles -- it really does cut down on the chance of shootings."

Texas Town Creates 'Gang-Free Zone'

Despite Ponce's claims that he's not in any way associated with a gang, Crenshaw says the DA's office must meet several requirements to be able to place an injunction on an area and individuals and that it's not always easy to do.

"People say that what we're doing is just terrible and that we're just casting a net, but that's not the case," said Crenshaw. "I've got more than 50 Latin King members in Brazos county but only included some of those in the injunction. It's not because I didn't feel like bringing them all to court, but at the time they were the only ones we could, in good faith, include."

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