Since early 2017, I and JFP state reporter Arielle Dreher have paid close attention to the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators’ efforts to get an expanded gang law in Mississippi. They have an existing Streetgang Law, which is fairly standard and an apparent effort to be able to charge groups of gang members for collectively committing crime. But MAGI wants an expanded gang law that has failed the last two sessions. It’s a serious concern in Mississippi that news outlets, including The Clarion-Ledger and the Sun-Herald on the Gulf Coast do very PR-ish news stories that seem designed to prove the need to lock up gang members for pretty much just being a gang member—which is very different from being prosecuted for the crime that the gang member commits, which already happens often in Mississippi.
In 2017, we learned near the end of the legislative session that the supporters of the new gang law, which hadn’t passed earlier in the session, tried to insert the whole thing again into an amendment in another bill to try to get it passed. They were using reasons that didn’t make sense, citing violent crimes where there wasn’t evidence of it being gang-related and that were successfully prosecuted. The point seemed to be to prove gangs exist in Mississippi, which can easily be stipulated. MAGI members also pushed that they needed the new gang law to go after white gang members, who are increasing in the state, especially the Simon City Royals. They told The Clarion-Ledger in August 2017 that 53 percent of verified gang members in the state are white, in fact. Probably because of the JFP’s more critical coverage of the gang law, MAGI has not returned our call or honored our request for a breakdown of that figure.
Since then, multiple stories have appeared in those media outlets, usually quoting only prosecutors and law enforcement who support expanding the law. During the 2018 session, the Jackson Free Press did several stories about the proposed gang law, including a cover story I did about MAGI, the gang law and experts’ reasons why the new gang law would actually make crime worse.
The gang law failed again in 2018, but after that I learned from state public defender André de Gruy that all people prosecuted under the existing gang law since 2010 are black. I revealed that information in the context of MAGA pushing that 53 percent of verified gang members are white. MAGI has not returned calls to address the apparent disparity between only prosecuting black people under the gang law, while pushing the 53-percent number in order to build support for the expanded gang law.
And remember, gang databases are controversial and are often accused of containing false and dated information. See this NYU report as well.
Needless to say, this is an ongoing investigation for us.