The Bronx district attorney has accused members of the St. James Boys street gang of violating New York State terrorism laws, particularly shootings “committed with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” says the Washington Post. Prosecutors have not alleged that the gang is connected to any terrorist network. “The terror perpetrated by gangs, which all too often occurs on the streets of New York, also fits squarely within the scope of this statute,” said District Attorney Robert T. Johnson.
Civil libertarians and some terrorism experts say the case underway in New York State Supreme Court is a misuse of state laws and should raise concern about what they consider is an ever-expanding definition of the term “terrorism.” Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that prosecuting the St. James Boys was not what most Americans envisioned when state legislators passed anti-terrorism bills. The new laws give prosecutors new opportunities. Once on the books, the laws can be applied to various crimes if prosecutors believe they can make them stick. Anti-racketeering laws were created to combat mobsters but are now frequently used in drug and corporate-corruption cases. “Language is plastic,” said Gregory Mark, a former prosecutor who is now a legal historian at Rutgers University. “As new situations arise and the imagination of prosecutors is stimulated, the statutes which were clearly intended for one purpose are expanded.”