Injunction isn’t Enough
Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1999
In more ways than one, Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn chose the right metaphor when he described the Langdon Street gang as a cancer on the community. Everyone wants to cure the North Hills neighborhood of its cancerous gangs. It’s just that no one can agree on the best treatment.
Hahn chose the strong medicine of an injunction, awarded last week by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. The injunction, Hahn’s second against a San Fernando Valley gang, makes identified members of the Langdon Street gang subject to a 9 p.m. curfew and prohibits them from hanging out together in public or communicating via walkie-talkies. Less extraordinary measures, Hahn argues, have failed to stem criminal activity on the gang’s turf, two rectangular areas on each side of the San Diego Freeway where police say one-third of all narcotics arrests in the Valley were made last year. Many law-abiding residents have become virtual prisoners in their own homes because of the gang-run open-air drug market.
Just about everybody agrees that the neighborhood would be better off without the gang, but some worry that Hahn’s cure is worse than the disease. The American Civil Liberties Union claims that in addition to criminalizing basic civil liberties such as the right of association, injunctions merely shift gang activity to other neighborhoods. Some North Hills activists worry that the injunction will give police license to harass anyone who even looks like a gang member.
The two sides are equally divided over how well past injunctions against other gangs have worked. But here is something both sides can agree on: Whether or not an injunction is the best way to rid neighborhoods of gangs, it shouldn’t be the only method used. As anyone who’s battled cancer knows, there’s more to the effort than medicine.
Since Hahn’s 1993 injunction against the notorious Blythe Street gang, the Panorama City neighborhood has been slowly turning around. But the injunction was only part of the cure. The city provided money to step up building and safety inspections and to start foot patrols. Nonprofit organizations offered youth programs and classes in English and parenting. Residents took it upon themselves to clean sidewalks, pick up trash and paint over graffiti. By ridding itself of the derelict buildings where gangs thrive and by providing residents with means and skills to resist gangs, the neighborhood is inoculating itself against a resurgence of the disease.
The North Hills neighborhood is ripe for this kind of revitalization. Church and nonprofit youth programs already are in place. A businessman has been buying and renovating apartment buildings in some of the most gang-infested areas, removing graffiti and adding security patrols. An annual Mothers March for Peace brings activists and residents together to reclaim the streets.
If the purpose of the injunction is to stop the violence and give law-abiding residents the breathing space to rebuild their community, let’s bring in the building and safety inspectors, the regular police patrols, the job training and social services needed to speed the effort. Let’s give the neighborhood a full course of treatment.