Legislation that would establish enhanced penalties for gang-related crimes "has nothing to do with race," according to State Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), despite claims to the contrary from some Senate Democrats.

Senate Bill 143 by Barfoot would also "establish mandatory consecutive penalties for any individual who knowingly possesses, uses or carries a firearm during the commission of any act intended to benefit, promote, or further the interest of a gang" and "require any juvenile 16 years of age or older to be tried as an adult for any gang-related criminal activity."

The legislation defines a gang member as someone who admits to gang membership or is identified as a gang member by a parent or guardian, a documented reliable informant or an informant of "previously untested reliability and the identification is corroborated by independent information."

This bill also defines a gang member as anyone who meets three or more of the following:

  • Adopts the style of dress of a gang.

  • Adopts the use of a hand sign identified as used by a gang.

  • Has a tattoo identified as used by a gang.

  • Associates with one or more known gang members.

  • Is identified as a gang member by physical evidence. 

  • Has been observed in the company of one or more known gang members four or more times. Observation in a custodial setting requires a willful association. This subparagraph may be used to identify gang members who recruit and organize in jails, prisons, and other detention settings. 

  • Has authored any communication indicating responsibility for the commission of any crime by a gang.

Barfoot said at a Senate Judiciary committee meeting Wednesday where the bill was passed out of committee: "There has to be a conviction for an underlying offense first and foremost, an underlying existing criminal offense before anything else would apply." 

"Secondary to that, there has to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that person was in a gang or for the gun enhancement that there was benefitting a criminal enterprise," Barfoot said.

Democrats on the committee voted against the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said at the meeting that the bill would allow for "legal profiling."

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said the bill was "about taking a whole race of people and throwing them in a whole another category."

"It's a serious concern where we've got to get this right if we're going to do this and this ain't right," Smitherman said.

Barfoot said the bill "has nothing to do with race."

"There has to be an underlying criminal act," Barfoot said. "It's not just because you're in a gang that there's a criminal charge against you. If there is an underlying criminal charge and that's proven beyond a reasonable doubt then these what we would call enhancements would apply."

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.

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