PORTLAND, Ore. – In an attempt to crack down on violent gang activity, Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime just being linked to a gang.
Portland saw its latest gang-related shooting in Northeast Portland on Thursday. Edward Paden Jr., 18, was shot and killed near the corner of Northeast 60th Avenue and Killingsworth after a fight in a gas station parking lot. Police haven't arrested anyone yet in the killing.
Mourners on Thursday dropped off balloons and other mementos at a growing memorial for Paden at the site where he died.
The big question is how would authorities decide who's a gang member and who's not. The bill says any group of three or more people whose main purpose is criminal activity, has a commonly known name or symbol and regularly engages in criminal acts would be considered a "criminal street gang."
Right now police track gang members but there's no law against belonging to any particular gang even if that gang is repeatedly tied to criminal activity. House Bill 2679 and its companion, House Bill 2851, would give judges another tool for cracking down on gang members. Under the new law, just being a gang member would be a felony.
"We have people that are in gangs, that have legal guns and you can't do a whole lot about it," said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Portland. "This will give a judge the authority to kind of drop the hammer on them. And we're seeing more and more of this vicious gang activity. We want to get that stopped."
Anyone found guilty of a crime tied to gang activity could also get a stiffer sentence under the bill. Gang-related crime convictions would also go into the Oregon State Police Law Enforcement Data System with a special designation – "gang related."
That would give any police agency in the state a heads-up that someone has committed a crime tied to gang activity.
The criminal gang activity bill had its first hearing Thursday before the state House Judiciary Committee.
The Oregon American Civil Liberties Union told lawmakers it is concerned that the definition of a "criminal street gang" is too vague.
"The breadth of the bill and the confusion that will result from its definitions, or lack thereof, risks violating a defendant's due process rights because that defendant is not on notice of what activity is criminal," the ACLU said.
The organization also argued that current laws are strong enough to crack down on gang activity and urged lawmakers to not advance the bills.