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Gang Injunctions Take Root in San Francisco
According to the People of California, as represented by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrer, The Oakdale Mob, by virtue of its criminal and nuisance activities, threatens the freedom of the peaceful citizens who live and work in the neighborhood. These citizens have the right to live without fear. They have the right to have the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their community. Their children have the right to play in their own front yards and to ride their bikes down the sidewalk in front of their own homes without fear of harm from gang violence. As such, the Oakdale Mobs public nuisance behavior must be enjoined to restore and protect this community.
Apparently, Herrera was just the right person to give the people what they needed in order to live peaceful and harmonious lives, even if it was done largely behind their backs. For the Oakdale Mob gang injunction, only six months in its infancy, has been officially declared a success.
I will say that this has been tremendously effective over the course of the last several months. In fact, there have only been three arrests in that area and thats mostly because most of the activity that was there previously has disappeared and youve seen a tremendous reduction in the number of police calls and the like, said Herrera at a recent press conference.
The city attorney continued: Unfortunately, we have seen a migration of the violence to other parts of the city and county of San Francisco, more specifically the Western Addition neighborhoods and the Mission district.
Thus the need for more gang injunctions. The epidemic of violence must be targeted and brought under control.
Indeed. Gang injunctions leave communities targetednot by gang violence, but by a system with vested interests, for gang injunctions are but one of the many chokeholds being applied to select neighborhoods across the country.
Its important to look at the socio-economic profile of gang injunctions nationwide. They are only applied in poor neighborhoods of color in metropolitan areas that are targeted for gentrification, says Mesha Monge-Irizarry, director of San Franciscos only organization that holds police accountable and supports the families of victims of police misconduct. A Bayview/Hunters Point resident for the past 10 years, her son was shot to death 6 years ago by the San Francisco police48 shots, 9 officers, no chance.
If you look at San Francisco, there are dangerous, violent, homicidal gangs in many neighborhoods. You have Armenian and Russian gangs in the Richmond and in the Sunset. There are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese gangs in the Fillmore, in Japantown, and in Chinatown. There are Italian gangs in Northbeach, says Mesha. And yet those are not the areas being targeted by the recent gang injunctions. Los Angeles provides a case in point. There are a lot more injunctions in the LA area than in northern California. Injunctions do not exist in the most violent neighborhoods, which is where you would expect them, but they exist in neighborhoods that border white or gentrifying neighborhoods, says ACLU attorney Juniper Lesnik. It makes it look as if the government is taking action to make those neighborhoods safer, which gives people more confidence about living nearby.
In San Francisco, along 3rd Street, there is a new Muni T-line, the old warehouses are being torn down, and new condominiums are popping up. It is very obvious that in a couple of years youre going to have spas and Starbucks out here. Those palm trees here on 3rd Street, they cost $16,000 a piece. They were not put there for us. Its for the next population that is going to move in, says Monge-Irizarry. (According to Kristen Holland, Public Relations Officer at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the trees cost between $2,300 and $2,512 each.)
In his court case, the city attorney paints a foreboding picture of the Oakdale Mob, describing it as a violent, turf-based, predominantly African American, criminal street gang that claims turf located within the Bayview/Hunters Point area...whose purpose is to commit criminal acts for financial and other gain. As a result, people in the community are forced to live with daily acts of violence, drug-dealing, thefts, vandalism, loitering, harassment, physical intimidation and threats of retaliation.
But members of the community paint a different picture. Jim Queen, an activist in the area for 39 years, says that he has not experienced gang violence, harassment, or intimidation. He continues by saying, I firmly believe that the gang injunction is not the right answer for violence in the community and will negatively impact families in the area. Betty Higgins, a retired Muni driver who has lived in the area for 50 years says that she does not believe that a gang injunction is the solution to the problems in our community.
Shanteak Harris was one of three people served in the Oakdale Mob injunction. According to the evidence presented by the city attorney (consisting entirely of police declarations and records), Harris is a member and leader of the Oakdale Mob who has contributed to the creation of this nuisance.
Again, people from the community paint a different picture. Reverend Ernest L. Jackson, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church on Oakdale Ave., says he has worked with Harris to create a community center for the area. Officer Leonard Broberg stated that Harris was instrumental in brokering the ceasefire agreement that has been the most effective remedy for gang violence initiated by the community. Harris himself has stated in court documents that there is not a public nuisance, that he is not a member of the Oakdale Mob and that there is not a gang called the Oakdale Mob.
Others in the community question the existence of the Oakdale Mob as well. Monge-Irizarry, who also runs SF Village Voice Community Radio, was curious about what young people in the community had to say about the gang. We interviewed about 30 kids altogether. None of them have heard of the Oakdale Mob, she said. Damone Hale, the attorney who represented Shanteak Harris in court, concurs. Where is this gang? he asks. Its not because theyve done anything. Its because theyve been labeled and tagged a member of a gang that doesnt exist.
So where did the Oakdale Mob come from? One problem with gang injunctions is that they can target groups that are not necessarily gangs. The danger is that loose neighborhood affiliations get called gangs when they dont really view themselves that way and arent organized the way a street gang typically is, says Lesnik of the ACLU. So its dangerous, especially for young people, when theyre stopped by the police and asked, Where are you from? and the young person might say, Oakdale, and the police officer might write down, Admitted being a member of the Oakdale Mob.
People who are served a gang injunction are prohibited from engaging in a long list of activities, including no intimidation, no graffiti, no trespassing, and no loitering. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the Do Not Associate ban. Suppose that John Doe and Mike Smith are under a gang injunction. One day, they meet while applying for a job in their neighborhood. While waiting for everyone to finish, they catch up on whats going on. A police officer drives by, sees them, and promptly arrests them for violating the injunction. Shortly after their arrest, the employer calls their names. But they dont get the job because theyve been taken to jail. Seem unlikely? It happened last month in Bayview to James Powell and Ellis McGhee.
This is exactly what we feared, says attorney Damone Hale. Programs that are focused on trying to help these young men with opportunities so they dont have to make bad choices are being frustrated by cops, not because they did anything wrong, but because of a civil injunction that allows an officer who sees someone who hasnt done anything to arrest them.
Or what about when alleged gang members attend community meetings? Several Oakdale Mob members have attended such meetings in the past, but are now prohibited from doing so. As a result, the injunction is destroying some of the very people who are trying to make positive changes, says community activist Jim Queen.
Then there is the impact on families. Once an injunction becomes permanent, it causes people to live under probation-like restrictions for as long as they live in the area. Effect? People leave, says Lesnik. People wont want to live in these neighborhoods anymore if their son, brother, husband, grandchild, has to live under [these conditions] indefinitely, thus contributing to the further displacement of the African American community that has taken place over the past several decades in San Francisco.
A dark picture is emerging here, one far more disturbing than that painted by Herrera in his branding of the Oakdale Mob. Before you know it, were going to have a city blanketed [with injunctions], says attorney Damone Hale. Youre going to have young men who are going to have to prove that they have a legitimate reason to be in a particular area in San Francisco. What were going to have is comparable to South Africas pass laws.
It is now time to seriously reflect on Herreras earlier statements. Do gang injunctions cause the violence to go elsewhere or do they cause people to disappear? Combined with a lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of protection from toxic redevelopment projects, and lack of adequate health care, gang injunctions are but one piece of a much larger noose that is choking the community.
Chris Brizzard is an intern at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.
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