Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Madison County Throws Book at Hate, Gangs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Madison County Throws Book at Hate, Gangs

Article excerpt

The violence of street gangs and the bigotry of hate crimes are the targets of two new criminal cases filed by Madison County State's Attorney William R. Haine, who pledges to attack such problems because they tear at the fabric of society.

For the first time, his office has applied a new state law aimed at stopping the use of force to keep someone in a gang or get them to join one. Andrew L. Johnson, 17, of Alton, was charged last week with the new felony of compelling organizational membership for what police said was a beating of a man who wanted to quit the Vice Lords gang in Alton in October.

The gang charge carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Johnson was charged also with felony battery for allegedly kicking the man. On the other front, Haine filed the third hate-crime charge in a month on Tuesday after a disturbance at a fast-food restaurant in Collinsville. Erik S. Brooks, 29, of Collinsville, was charged with felony hate crime after a black woman who was working at the drive-up window said Brooks, who is white, used racial epithets and swore at her while she was taking his order at 6 a.m. Tuesday. When she refused to serve him, police said, Brooks got out of his car and reached through the window to swing at her. She threw coffee on him, police said. Haine said he hopes to attack gangs and hate crimes by vigorously prosecuting such cases. He said police departments are responding to the message that he will file them if they will bring them to him. "The law has to say that this kind of conduct is beyond the pale," he said. He remembered seeing the law on compelling organizational membership in a package of anti-gang bills enacted last year by the Legislature, and wondering then if anyone would ever use it. "And now, we've filed our first case on it," he said. "It's a statement that the law finds gang activity to be hostile to a peaceful, orderly society, and that gangs are inherently violence-prone, criminal organizations. It's a reminder that there isn't any redeeming social value in gangs, even though some people say they provide members with a sense of belonging. …

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