Oxnard solution is flawed
By Steven F. Arvizu
January 30, 2005, Ventura County Star
My purpose in writing this commentary is to encourage more of us to think about and support a communitywide approach to solving gang violence.
How we in Oxnard create and maintain a safe, healthy and secure environment for everyone is symbolic of “the community that cares.” If we say we care, but we don’t behave like we care, then we can be accused of being inconsistent, disorganized or facetious.
If we say we believe in “community policing,” but implement drastic suppression strategies like the Oxnard civil gang injunction without sufficient community involvement and with no community review board in place, then we risk undercutting worthy previous efforts to build a partnership with community and law enforcement entities.
If we say we value our youth and are willing to provide them with safe, nurturing and developmental opportunities, then why would we not keep their interests and support systems at the center of our decision-making in the allocation of our resources, in the development and improvement of our city, or in negotiations with developers and all others in our deal- making for our future? Our young people are our future and how we care for them will be very telling for our long-term well-being.
Gang injunction critique
As designed, it has many flaws. It is a temporary illusory Band-Aid fix, as the most violent predators are not identified nor dealt with; the violence is displaced to other families and neighborhoods; street-gang culture reappears with new leadership.
It raises multiple constitutional issues and goes beyond previous legal boundaries endorsed by higher courts, as police have a blank “search warrant,” can use unmonitored discretion to criminalize the Bill of Rights-guaranteed civil freedoms of residents, all of which means extended, costly litigation risks.
It has inadequate checks and balances, as significant, systematic community input is lacking and there is no citizens review board. It isolates police as enforcers and underutilizes community resources. Its rationalization is questionable and contradictory due to poor data collection and analysis and its high-cost/low-benefit ratio and other presentations, which claim that Oxnard, for its size and type, is one of the safest cities in the county and state.
Its identification is too broad. It does not adequately recognize renunciation nor redemption, and the opting-out mechanism appears to be an indeterminate lifelong sentence.
As implemented, it has been divisive. Its advocates use demonizing labels, stereotyping of our community, antagonistic communications, even with community citizens who raise questions or seek alternatives. Rather than emphasis on the interests of youth and community, it has the appearance of appeasement of developer interests.
It has been imposed top down, paraphrasing district attorney/Police Department representatives at a Port Hueneme City Council and other meetings: We can and will implement injunctions (note plural) regardless if cities approve them, and if they — disgruntled libertarians within the communities — don’t agree, then that’s tough.
Mediation has not involved public input or negotiation with community organizations wanting to improve strategies, develop better means of identifying the truly violent predators, nor intervention and exit processes for those willing to rehabilitate, presumably because “we don’t negotiate with criminals.”
Court mediation excluded community participation because the district attorney representative invoked confidentiality and rules of evidence and opposed such participation.
It has generated unnecessary fear of police and confusion among families and youth within segments of our communities where mutual support and cooperation are needed to create secure neighborhoods and to recruit youth into more responsible, healthy activities. It diverts massive resources with no public accounting of actual and future anticipated costs with no apparent end to the story, especially since the district attorney representative has forecasted the intent to litigate to the highest levels, expand safety zones, include other gang territories and to implement similar injunctions throughout the county.
As evaluated, it has not been openly researched, comparatively assessed, nor proved to be worthy of continued extraordinary expenditure in comparison with other more proven strategies, such as greater investment in youth, redirection strategies to minimize gang recruitment potential, neighborhood-based organizations, more focused surveillance, DNA and other sophisticated investigative and prosecution techniques, specialized training and staffing, redirection/intervention/rehabilitation, community policing, outcomes assessment, targeted mobilization and use of mentors and role models, among others.
It ignores the deeper, underlying causes of violence such as powerlessness, lost hope, poverty, unemployment, undereducation, inadequate parks, underfunded recreation and social/human resources programming, community underdevelopment and “benign neglect” within certain disenfranchised neighborhoods and at-risk families.
Oxnard as a community, and Ventura County as a region, can do better.
– Steven F. Arvizu, Ph.D., of Oxnard, is an anthropologist and retired educator.