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Judge declares gang members a public nuisance

TRAVIS LOLLER • Mar 21, 2013 at 2:55 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville judge is permanently barring members of the Kurdish Pride gang from associating with each other in certain parts of the city.

The move comes in response to a petition by Nashville's legal department last June to have the gang and its members declared a public nuisance.

Typically Tennessee's public nuisance law has been used to shut down businesses like night clubs associated with prostitution and drugs. This is the first time it has been used to try to directly control a gang.

With the public nuisance designation comes a permanent injunction restricting gang members from being together within a 1.4-square-mile "safety zone" in the south Nashville neighborhood where police say the gang operates and where many of the men live.

In all, the injunction will affect 22 young men. On Monday, eight were ruled to be gang members. Six were labeled gang members last year. Another eight never responded to the petition.

Metro Attorney Brook Fox said those last eight men also are subject to the permanent injunction, although Dozier has not yet issued a formal order.

The restrictions on public association include riding in a car together within the safety zone. If the men were caught doing so, the car could be seized.

Police have said the Kurdish Pride gang has a pattern of criminal activity including vandalism, assaults, gun possession, burglaries, witness intimidation and threatening police officers. In announcing action against the gang last June, Mayor Karl Dean said, "It is clear that illegal activities of the Kurdish Pride gang have significant detracted from the quality of life and the feeling of safety in this area of south Nashville."

But Remziya Suleman, a Kurdish activist in Nashville, said she thinks Metro could make better use of its resources by providing mentoring for the young men, many of whom have committed only minor offenses.

"There are more dangerous gangs in Nashville than the KPG," she said. "What is Metro doing to help these kids get on the right path?"

Suleman also said some of the men included in the petition have not been involved in the gang for years.

Several of the men said the same thing in court, but Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier credited the testimony of police in finding that the men were gang members. Proof included the fact that they wore gang colors, associated with known gang members and frequented the area where the gang operates.

Suleman objected to those criteria.

"The police are declaring them gang members because they hang with their relatives in the neighborhood where they live," she said.

The city's petition includes a way for the men to opt out of the injunction if they can prove they are no longer part of the gang. It also gives the city a way to add other gang members to the injunction in the future.

Kurdish immigrants have sought refuge in Nashville since the 1970s, and the area now has the largest Kurdish population in the U.S., with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 members.

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