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Gang Injunctions Take Root in San Francisco

San Francisco Bay View, News Report, Chris Brizzard Posted: Jul 16, 2007

Editor's Note: On the heels of a 'successful' gang injunction order in San Francisco's Hunter's Point neighborhood, the city attorney seek new injunctions for two other neighborhoods racked by violence in recent weeks.

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.

So say the People of California, as represented by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Apparently, Mr. Herrera is just the person to give the people what they need in order to live peaceful and harmonious lives, even if it has been 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 is 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, according to Herrera. The epidemic of violence must be targeted and brought under control.

Indeed. Gang injunctions leave communities targeted not 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. The Idriss Stelley Foundation 24-hour bilingual crisis line can be reached at (415) 595-8251. A Bayview Hunters Point resident for the past 10 years, her son was shot to death six years ago by the San Francisco police 48 shots, nine 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 North Beach, 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.

Which people? The upwardly mobile.

In San Francisco, look at whats happening along Third Street the new Muni T-line, the old warehouses being torn dorn, new condominiums 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 Third 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 Mesha. (According to Kristen Holland, public relations officer at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the trees cost between $2,300 and $2,512 each.)

Which brings us back to the Oakdale Mob injunction. Again, the City Attorney speaking at his latest press conference: What youve seen there is a 75 percent reduction in police calls in the area of the Oakdale safety zone and really only three arrests that have been necessitated. Thats not because police arent doing their job; its because people have disappeared. The question at that time was, Would they migrate to surrounding neighborhoods? and the answer has been a resounding No. They are not appearing here in the City and County of San Francisco.

Since this directly contradicts his earlier statement about violence spreading to the Western Addition and the Mission, it leaves one wondering just what he means. First, Herrera says gang injunctions are effective, but the problem is that the violence spreads elsewhere. Then he says theyre effective because people in the affected communities have disappeared. Which explanation is more likely?

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 that is organized as a criminal street gang 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.

Rev. Ernest L. Jackson, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church on Oakdale Avenue, across the street from the safety zone, 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. Mesha 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 bona fide 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 Juniper 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 Hunters Point 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 which 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 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 Juniper Lesnik, ACLU attorney.

People wont want to live in these neighborhoods any more if their son, brother, husband, grandchild has to live under [these conditions] indefinitely. Thus gang injunctions contribute to the further displacement of the African American community that has been taking place over the past several decades in San Francisco at a higher rate than in any other city in the country.

A dark picture is emerging here, one far more disturbing than that painted by City Attorney Dennis 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 Bayview Hunters Point community. The price is steep, the descent sharp and the slope slippery.

Chris Brizzard is a graduate student in media studies at New College and an intern at the Bay View. Email him at cepheus_1@msn.com.

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