Oakland to seek injunction against street gang

Demian Bulwa, SF Chronicle
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Oakland is poised to join San Francisco as one of the first Northern California cities to try to tame street gangs by slapping them with lawsuits.

In coming months, City Attorney John Russo will seek Oakland’s first civil gang injunction, his office said. Such measures bar gang members from associating with each other or displaying colors, among other sanctions, in certain areas of town.

Officials in Russo’s office and the Oakland Police Department declined to reveal the gang they planned to target, saying they did not want to tip off its members.

But they said they were gathering evidence and would soon reach out to community groups and civil rights advocates who may have concerns about the injunction.

The plans come as Police Chief Anthony Batts, who took over in October, promises to focus his resources on “gangs, guns and drugs.” With 116 killings, Oakland had the state’s highest per capita homicide rate in 2008 among cities with at least 100,000 residents.

Gang injunctions are a way for cities to hold criminals accountable, said Rocio Fierro, a deputy city attorney who acts as general counsel for the Police Department. “We see a lot of the crime here in Oakland related to gang activities, directly or indirectly,” she said.

The strategy is certain to prompt criticism from opponents of gang injunctions.

They see the measures as unfair, ineffective and politically motivated. They’ve fought them in cities like San Francisco, which has injunctions in place against five alleged gangs, and Los Angeles, which has more than 55 injunctions.

Opponents say the lawsuits can prompt racial profiling of black and Latino men. Those who are named as gang members, they say, can have trouble finding work because of either the restrictions or the stigma. And unlike in criminal court, indigent defendants in civil hearings do not have a right to an attorney.

“It’s an attractive tool for police because it gives them a lot of discretion and it circumvents a lot of protections and rights people have when they’re accused of criminal activity,” said Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Proponents say gang injunctions have helped to bring calm to areas plagued by violence.

Gang injunctions have been used in California since the 1980s. The California Supreme Court upheld their use in 1997, ruling that San Jose could use the tactic in the Rocksprings neighborhood.

The way the measures are set up has varied from city to city. In some places, alleged gang members must be given a chance to fight their inclusion in court. In other places, police officers have been given the leeway to add names to an injunction list during traffic stops.

Some injunction zones extend over a few blocks, others for miles.

Typically, the measures prohibit a list of gang members from hanging out together in a “safety zone,” from displaying gang colors and tattoos there, from intimidating witnesses and from recruiting members. Some injunctions also include curfews in a zone.

Violations of the court orders are punishable by as much as six months in jail.

Community leader Bob Jackson, a church bishop who founded the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and a job training academy for ex-felons, said the injunction sounded like an idea worth trying.

“They’re not so notorious and bad when they’re by themselves,” he said of gang members. “I would rather try something like that rather than continue the way we’re going right now.”

But Jackson said the injunction would be a “Band-Aid” unless young people in the criminal justice system were given more chances to succeed.

“Let’s set up some opportunities for these people to get jobs and get training,” Jackson said. “I don’t know a lot of people who really want to be crooks and criminals.”

E-mail Demian Bulwa at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com.

Posted by on Jan 2 2010. Filed under Gang Injunctions, Legal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Comments for “Oakland to seek injunction against street gang”

  1. If my mom is arrested for a major offense is it necessary that he find representation !

  2. Oakland Wants Curfew for Street Gang

    […] Oakland to seek injunction against street gang Demian Bulwa, SF Chronicle Saturday, January 2, 2010 Oakland is… […]

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