On a Wednesday afternoon in the summer of 2021, gunfire erupted on Rotary Street in Montgomery. When the smoke cleared and police arrived, they found two teens dead and two others wounded.
A month later, a “diss track” was posted to YouTube taunting one of the targets of the shooting to come back and get his car (which he had left behind while fleeing the scene) so that they could murder him too. Beyond the lyrics themselves, the video’s violent revelry consisted of one male after another brandishing weapons and flashing gang signs at the camera — adults, teens, and children alike.
This sort of gang violence and lawlessness — wanton, senseless, sadistic, arrogant — is quickly becoming more normal than abnormal in some of Alabama’s major cities. In December alone, Montgomery witnessed gang-related shootings everywhere from the campuses of high schools you the front doorstep of the mayor’s office. Birmingham and other large localities around the state have seen the same and worse.
But make no mistake: gang-related murders, menace, and mayhem are not confined merely to metropolises. According to the National Gang Center, Alabama has experienced a steady increase in gang activity statewide over the past decade, with gang-related violence and criminal activity being reported in urban, suburban, and rural areas. One in-depth survey — which was conducted during the last crime wave, but which tracks with the trends we’re seeing today — found gang activity in 46 Alabama cities and towns, and a gang presence in 74 percent of these communities.
It’s high time we give Alabama police and prosecutors the tools they need to take back their streets. For far too long, law enforcement in our state have lacked laws on the books that would allow them to combat criminal gangs. This must change — and it must change now.
That is why we need the Alabama Criminal Gang Prevention Act, legislation drafted by my office that should be a top priority for passage during the upcoming session of the Alabama Legislature.
The Alabama Criminal Gang Prevention Act contains three critical components:
First, the act would criminalize gang-related activity, providing enhanced penalties for offenses committed for the purpose of benefiting, promoting, or furthering the interests of a criminal gang. No longer would Alabama lack a law that specifically defines and targets criminal gang-related activity.
Second, the act would impose additional prison time on anyone who uses a firearm in connection with criminal gang-related activity, adding years or even decades to a convicted offender’s sentence. No longer would Alabama allow gangbangers to commit crimes and terrorize communities by brandishing and using firearms without suffering severe, mandatory repercussions.
Third, the act would require anyone age 16 and over charged with criminal gang-related activity to be charged as an adult, ensuring that juveniles who commit adult crimes do adult time. No longer would Alabama tolerate the recruitment and exploitation of youths by gangs for their use as child shields in the commission of crimes, relying on a minor’s ability to get a slap on the wrist in juvenile court and be back on the streets in little to no time.
Gang violence and lawlessness are an increasing threat to the safety of the public — and to the rule of law. This is no small matter. A well-ordered state cannot abide groups of criminals that act with such brazenness and impunity, engaging in rampant illegality and escaping just punishment because police and prosecutors lack the legal tools they need to effectively hold gang members accountable.
This is a problem that Alabama — and Alabama alone — must address. The US Department of Justice of today, under the corrupt stewardship of Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray, has reassigned resources away from fighting crime to focus on persecuting political enemies, harassing law-abiding parents, spying on citizens who dissent from the left’s “woke” agenda, and meddling in American elections.
We must empower Alabama law enforcement to crack down on criminal gangs and the violence and lawlessness they inflict on the citizens and communities of our great state.
We must enact the Alabama Criminal Gang Prevention Act.
Steve Marshall is the attorney general of Alabama.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Steve Marshall: It’s time for Alabama to crack down on criminal gangs