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Residents of Gang-Controlled Areas Often 'Hostages in the 'Hood'

August 1994

g.gif (1119 bytes)ang violence threatens the civil rights of all citizens, says Robert A. Destro, a constitutional law expert at The Catholic University of America.

As gangs spread from metropolitan areas to small communities, officials should think twice before allowing gang summits or hiring members as street counselors. "It's dangerous for leaders to view gang activity as related to the civil rights struggles of law-abiding citizens," Destro says.

"Gangs are really organized criminal syndicates, not the legitimate representatives of a political cause. When civic leaders condone a summit, they're conceding they've lost control of their own communities." Gang-ridden areas won't enjoy economic development unless the average person's rights are made the focus, he says.

Our civil and criminal justice systems provide protections for all citizens, he says. But officials often seem at a loss in dealing with gangs while also safeguarding neighborhood residents' rights, Destro notes.

The lives of residents of gang-controlled neighborhoods resemble those of citizens living in war zones, he says. "The Fourth Geneva Convention provides for neutralized zones to protect medical services, children and expectant mothers. Geneva IV also imposes penalties for terrorism, looting and reprisals against persons and property." Perhaps we should look to Geneva IV's articles for inspiration in protecting citizens caught in the crossfire, he says.

"It's time we take the rights of the innocents in our own country as seriously as we do the rights of those caught in the crossfire in places like Beirut, Sarajevo, and Belfast."

Destro is available for interviews at 202-319-5202 (office) and 703-534-9079 (home).

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Revised: 27 October 1997

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The Catholic University of America,
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