There’s a better way to deal with gangs
Ventura County Star-January 30, 2005
By Francisco Romero, January 30, 2005
Gang injunctions are “an intellectual substitute for responsible public policy,” according to Bernard Melekian, Pasadena police chief. Here is why we oppose the civil gang injunction
1. The Oxnard Police Department and Ventura County district attorney did not involve the community in the development of the gang injunction. The injunction is based solely on police allegations, which are filled with speculation and hearsay. Not one community member contributed to the development of the injunction.
2. The due process and First Amendment civil rights of up to 1,300 alleged gang members have been unjustly stripped away by the gang injunction, which limits freedom of speech, association, the right to representation by a public defender, the right to a jury trial, and the right to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
3. There is no public nuisance in Oxnard that can be attributed to 1,300 unnamed defendants. The California Supreme Court has ruled that an “injunction is not the proper remedy to prevent a person from doing an act which he has never undertaken or threatened to undertake.” If people commit crimes, they may be arrested and prosecuted, whether they are alleged “Latino street gang” members or not. The injunction, however, simply labels people “nuisances” and arrests them for nonexistent crimes.
4. The district attorney and Oxnard Police Department have stated that injunctions have led to a 5 percent to 10 percent drop in violent crimes in other cities. This is an unproven allegation, however, widely disputed by several researchers. A more likely outcome is some displacement of crime to Oxnard and other areas of Ventura County outside the injunction area.
5. It has been widely stated by officials that gang injunctions have been upheld by the California State Supreme Court in the Acuna v. Gallo case. However, the Oxnard injunction grossly exceeds limits established in that case. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled unconstitutional a similar loitering law that targeted Latino and African-American gang members in Chicago and resulted in 40,000 illegal arrests.
6. The gang injunction is based on an obsolete and ineffective punitive model of law enforcement. The United States already incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. Most of those prisoners are minorities. Incarceration will not solve the problem of gang violence.
What is our alternative solution?
– We must provide alternatives to gang life through employment, job-skills training, education and substance- abuse rehabilitation.
– We must provide effective social services to families, youth and young adults involved or affected by gang violence through mentoring, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, mental- health service, prenatal care, early childhood intervention, etc.
– We must launch a citywide, community-based movement to end violence in our streets. Residents, city and county agencies and officials, schools, churches, businesses and others must become active agents of social change in our community to make a long-term impact on violence.
– We must learn from other communities that have successfully addressed the problem by viewing violence as a public health crisis.
– We must defend the civil rights of all members of our community. Join us today! Organizations endorsing declarations in opposition to the civil injunction include the American Civil Liberties Union, Ventura County; Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions; Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy; Colonia Civil Rights Coalition; Committee on Raza Rights; Dr. Rodolfo Acuna Gallery and Cultural Center; Green Party of Ventura County; League of United Latin American Citizens; South Oxnard Council; Latino Task Force; Mexican American Bar Association; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Ventura County.
– Francisco Romero is a member of the Oxnard Chiques Community Coalition Organizing for Rights, Equity, Employment and Education.