MD Proposal to Share “Suspected Gang Activity” with Schools: Potential for Problems

In response to the 2009 gang-related beating death of a 14 year-old child, the Maryland House Speaker is proposing the sharing of suspected gang activity information with public schools. If passed, the bill would allow unprecedented coordination of information on suspected gang activity of public school students between law enforcement and school officials. As anyone would expect, serious concerns about the bill have been raised. In particular, civil liberties groups contend that the sharing of such sensitive information could have “dramatic and unintended consequences if used incorrectly” (Davis & Birnbaum, 2010).

Let me say first that I believe the bill has great intentions, but serious questions remain if something like this is going to be considered. First comes the question of consitiutionality, which I am not really qualified to discuss, but I suspect that such a proposal could be a threat to privacy rights. Next is the question of what school district/school officials would have access to this sensitive information. Third, I have serious concerns about the use of the phrase “suspected gang activity.” What specific critieria would be used to determine what children are placed on this list to share information about? We have seen time and time again that the suspicions of police are not always warranted or correct, and in some instances those suspcions are fueled by prejudice. I fear that young people could be labeled as “suspected gang members” for reasons including style of dress, neighborhood, or family activities. If these young people are misidentified and that misinformation is passed on to schools, their reputations and school careers could suffer irreparable damage.

In my own adolescence, I have been “supected” by the police of engaging in illegal activity more times than I care to remember. I have been wrongly suspected of having drugs, wrongly suspected of driving a stolen vehicle, and wrongly suspected of stealing. For me, those suspicions resulted in being detained, searched, and harassed by the police. But if this bill is passed, young people in Maryland who are unjustly “suspected” of engaging in gang activity would have that misinformation passed on to their schools, potentially casting them in a negative light that would be difficult if not impossible for them to shed. I agree with the Maryland House Speaker that It is imperative that we get youth violent crime under control in our schools and our communities, but we must do it in a way that is fair to all young people.

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