There is a troubling case out of Harris County, Texas where a court has issued an order barring 16 individuals from a Houston neighborhood on the ground that prosecutors alleged that they are gang members up to no good. However, this was a civil proceeding where the 16 individuals were neither given representation nor were present. The precedent established by such a public nuisance ruling is chilling if prosecutors can bar citizens from neighborhoods based on associations or future conduct.
Prosecutors told the court that the 16 individuals are members of various gangs, including the Bloods, Crips and Most Wanted gangs from entering the area. They have now been declared human public nuisances by the Texas court and can now be enjoined from being in the area.
Laura Cahill, senior assistant county attorney, insists that “This is a way to clean up certain areas where there has been a lot of gang activity.” It is also a wonderful tool for more authoritarian designs if people can now be declared akin to pollution as a public nuisance. What prevents other neighborhoods then banning the same or other individuals? Presumably, other neighbors will not want to take this curious form of a negative externality from nearby neighborhoods.
While five police officers testified, the decision was not based on the criminal standard of proof of a crime: beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the individuals were not afforded representation and did not appear. Notably, the prosecutors wanted to ban 28 individuals but could only find 16 to serve.
Now, any of these individuals who are found in the neighborhood can face a year in jail. These orders, in my view, violate core constitutional guarantees and present a serious threat to civil liberties. If successful, it would invite the creation list of persona non grata individuals barred from travel within cities or even states.
What do you think?