Stop the New Gang Injunction in the Sylmar-San Fernando Communities

I live in a relatively quiet and safe neighborhood in an area of San Fernando City known for some time as Huntington Estates. The prices of homes around here went up to $750,000 during the height of the real estate boom -- now they are down to $350,000 and below (I've seen some homes marked down to the $150,000 range). San Fernando is a 2.5 square mile city with about 25,000 residents. For years it was mostly white - today it is almost entirely Latino. Recently this city along with a large section of LA city next to us known as Sylmar has been designated for a court-ordered gang injunction against the San Fer gang.

Gang injunctions began in the LA area in the early 1980s, with the first highly publicized one involving the Playboy Gangster Crips in 1987. Other cities have had gang injunctions throughout California, with similar injunction-type laws sprouting up in cities around the country.

LA City now has twenty gang injunctions, all of them against gangs in the Black and Brown communities. They also seem to target not the "worse" gangs, necessarily, but those communities slated for gentrification or that happen to be near well-off mostly white communities.

My neighborhood is included in the proposed gang injunction area.

This injunction prohibits San Fer gang members who have been served by the courts for arrests based on acts that most of us can do most of the time - they cannot associate with each other, have cell phones, stay out between 10 PM or 5 AM, and they can be generally stopped and searched (or arrested) by police anytime (and other similar provisions). These prohibitions are directed at acts that are not criminal in themselves, but which would become criminal for those served persons in the gang injunction zone. These persons would also be part of a statewide gang data base system. The determination of a San Fer gang member is not based on previous or even potential criminal acts. It's based on how they dress, any alleged gang tattoos they may have, if they say they are gang member, who they associate with, etc. Again, acts that are not criminal in other circumstances.

Although I'm 54 years old, I have tattoos, wear Aztec/Mayan shirts from time to time, and I associate with known gang members as a gang intervention specialist in these and other streets. I would be prohibited from doing the work I do to help youngsters get out of gangs and drugs within the gang injunction zone. The aim of these injunctions is to isolate and further marginalize so-called gang youth so that even those who seek and want help won't be able to find it.

I'm opposed to this proposed San Fer gang injunction. I stated my case against the injunction as a panelist for the Sylmar Neighborhood Council's Town Hall meeting on the proposed gang injunction on Wednesday, June 18 at Sylmar High School. The other panelists included representatives from the LAPD, the LA City Attorney's office, a community member, a gang expert, and a lawyer with the ACLU. While we had a spirited and informative panel, pro and con, and mostly civil and respectful dialogue (a couple of people from the audience weren't as civil), this may prove to be a moot meeting -- the gang injunction is presented to a judge. All proposed gang injunctions have been approved--with or without community town hall meetings. Real community input is nonexistent and never sought. By all accounts the San Fer gang injunction will be approved.

Once in effect, there is no end date. This area can be under this gang injunction for perpetuity. While there are steps for alleged gang youth to be removed from the police list of served San Fer members, no one of the thousands of youth affected in other gang injunctions have been successfully removed from these lists.

The effectiveness of gang injunctions are often touted for using them. In the sort term there is generally a reduction in gang-related crimes in areas under gang injunctions. But the arrests of local youth and adults escalate -- even people that may not be in a gang. Our jails and prisons are being filled with honor students, ex-gang members, non-gang members, marginal gang members as well as actual heavy-duty gangsters. It's a broad net that ends up putting people behind bars or under strict surveillance although they are not involved in criminal or gang-related acts.

There are already enough laws to put active gang members behind bars -- you cannot kill, steal, extort, threaten, or commit mayhem under present statutes. We don't need to spread the laws so that others not necessarily criminals get pulled in.

Police say San Fer is organized crime. However, they are an old barrio street organization that goes back at least four to five generations. Some have family members -- dads, uncles, brothers, cousins, etc. -- in the gang (they would be prohibited to be around them in public). They include heavily tattooed young men and women as well as those without tattoos. They include criminals as well as people who have never committed a crime. They mostly are involved in "disorganized crime" -- random acts of violence, robbery, beatings, etc. Yet despite the fact that San Fer members have been known to commit murders, this does not mean there are 500 to 900 (the supposed number of San Fer members) gang members pulling triggers. In LA, for example, there were some 350 gang related murders last year. There are, however, some 40,000 to 50,000 alleged gang members. They are not all killing or shooting people.

Obviously, if you kill, beat, or rob people you should be arrested. Police are here to do their job. What I contend is that most people in San Fer, as in other gangs, would leave this life if they had viable meaningful options of 1) jobs 2) training/education 3) drug, alcohol and anger treatment 4) arts/creative outlets 5) organized & safe recreation and sports 6) real mentoring 7) a caring, cohesive and consistent community.

We have to address the roots of gangs and social crime -- not just keep hacking at the branches. Gangs arise out of poverty and also the entrenched racial and class bias in our society. We have to deal with the deepening economic crisis that is forcing people out of their jobs, their homes, their families. Arresting ourselves out of these issues can never work. We cannot keep asking the police to address what are social, economic and cultural concerns.

Any short-term drop in gangs is undermined by the squeezing of these communities so that the poor (and gangs among) end up in other counties, states, and even countries. Already LA gangs have spread to the outlying areas of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Ventura counties. The biggest rise of gangs around the country is of LA-based gangs (such Sur Trece, 18th Street, and MS-13, including, of course, Crips and Bloods). And because of deportations of convicted undocumented people, including many in gangs, there are now LA-based gangs all over Mexico, Central America, and parts of Cambodia and Armenia.

The fact is, in the long run, gangs in LA have not gone down. Despite gang injunctions, trying juveniles as adults, gang enhancements, and three-strike-and-you're-out laws, we still have many gangs in LA (known as the "gang capital of the world"). We only end up with more of our people in prisons -- already there are 575,000 people in California that are in prisons, jails, parole, or probation. Too many of our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives are being removed from their families and communities.

The only solution is to address the root causes of the poverty, the economic displacement, the lack of adequate schools and institutions. We can't keep blaming young people for doing wrong when any other decent option is cut off from them.

I will continue to address this and others similar issues throughout the city, the country, and abroad (my recent trips include to Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, and Japan). We have to find the imagination and abundance with our resources, families, and communities to save and help our youth, not write them off and discard them. It's possible. And it's imperative.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.