WILMINGTON — After almost two years, District Attorney Ben David is ending the so-called “anti-gang injunction” against two dozen gang members in specific areas of the city. Despite criticism by the ACLU and other groups of the potentially unconstitutional nature of the injunction, David has always defended the legality of the move and pointed to its role in helping the Wilmington Police Department (WPD) fight gang-related crime.
Initially filed on January 17, 2017, the injunction prohibited specific members of the Folk Nation 720 Gangsta Disciples from publicly congregating in several neighborhoods around Wilmington: Creekwood, Long Leaf Park, Market North Apartments, the Sun Aire area, and Greentree Apartments. David announced this week that he had filed a motion to allow the injunction to expire, saying it has been “successful” over the last two yeras.
The anti-gang injunction
The injunction, which worked of the same legal principle as protective and restraining orders, was the first time a district attorney in North Carolina had used civil law to fight gangs. While the injunction was civil law, the penalties for violating it could be criminal, which in theory would allow WPD officers to arrest known gang members.
The move was not without critics, including a lawsuit seeking relief for three gang members that called the injunction a “dangerous erosion” of the right to due process. The American Civil Liberties Union also voiced concerns about the issue and had apparently planned to file motions related to the injunction.
But David said allowing the injunction to expire — it was initially set to last until January 2020 — had nothing to do with the legal or philosophical disputes with the injunction.
“I’ve been very clear that we believe the courts would uphold the legality of the injunction,” David said. “What we’re talking about here is that the injunction has worked.”
David noted that several of the gang members named in the injunction had “left the gang life,” but that the majority were now in prison or facing felony or other serious charges, in some cases as a direct result of arrests made based on the injunction. David said he had personally spent time in the Creekwood neighborhood, and had heard from residents that gang activity had been substantially reduced.
According to a joint release from WPD and Ben David’s office, the “District 2” area — which includes Creekwood and the now-shuttered Market North Apartments — saw a 46% decrease in violent crimes and a 40% in Part I crimes (murder and nonnegligent homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and arson).
It’s worth noting that the Market North Apartments have been closed since Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Around 700 residents were displaced and the area has been vacant since then. It’s not clear what effect this has had on crime statistics, but it stands to reason that with no one in the area the opportunities for violent crime are drastically reduced. It’s also worth pointing out that there have been numerous shootings this year in the Creekwood area, however only a few have incidents have been officially identified as gang-related.
[Editor’s note: We reached out to the Wilmington Police Department on Thursday following the announcement that the injunction would be allowed to expire. Questions included whether the closure of the Market North Apartments contributed to a decrease in the District 2 crime rate and what WPD’s current appraisal of the gang situation in the city looks like. WPD noted it was working on responses and this article will be updated when they are received.]
More injunctions in the future?
In previous discussions about the gang-injunction, David acknowledged that the targeted nature of the civil action wouldn’t eliminate gangs as much as force them to relocate, something David referred to as “squeezing water.” Still, David said pushing gangs off their home turf would make it more difficult for them to operate.
While David said the injunction has “destabilized and diminished” Folk Nation’s Wilmington presence, he acknowledged that the gang — or others — could reorganize in other areas, like northern New Hanover County, or even Burgaw.
David said that, should the need arise again, he would have no concerns about filing another targeted injunction. He noted that state legislators have promised to deliver tougher anti-gang laws by December 1 of this year, legislation David said would have a similar impact on WPD’s anti-gang efforts compared to civil injunctions.
“So we’re waiting to see what they deliver,” David said. “But if those laws aren’t what we need, or if the specific need arises in one of our communities again, then yes, in a heartbeat, I would file another injunction.”