Menace to Society: Why Many Young Black Men are Accused of Being in Gangs

Albert Sama (August 8, 2012) | SF Weekly

Shots fired at Oakdale Avenue and Baldwin Court.

It was Nov. 8, 2008, nearly four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. The two plainclothes police officers reporting to the scene saw a public housing security guard following four black teens along the 1000 block of Oakdale, a corridor of project buildings halfway up a hill overlooking Candlestick Park and the Hunters Point shipyard. The officers pulled up in an unmarked car and detained the teens.

One of the kids was Jacori Bender, then a lean 17-year-old with thick eyebrows on a round face. He’d just moved back to the neighborhood after living in group homes since he was 10, when his mother — who now lived in Texas — decided she could no longer take care of him. As he looked for a job, he crashed at his grandmother’s, his auntie’s, and his godmother’s.

The officers released the boys after a few minutes, then searched the area for evidence of a shooting. All they found was an empty gun magazine hidden in a crawl space some 200 yards away from where they stopped the teens.

At the Bayview precinct a few hours later, Officer Reginald Scott typed up an 11-sentence report. “It should also be noted that these above mentioned suspects are up and coming future (OAKDALE MOB GANG MEMBERS),” he wrote (caps and parenthesis his). “All of these suspects have similar tattoos, loiter together, and flash gang signs.”

Bender’s only tattoo was of his mother’s name. But to the San Francisco Police Department, Bender was Oakdale Mob now. The tag would stick to him, over the next years, as prosecutors and policemen interpreted his every action to fit their conclusion: that he was guilty of being a gang member, just like the miscreants behind the “explosion of gang violence” — as the San Francisco Chronicle put it — that hit the city’s southeastern quadrant this summer. He didn’t have to sell drugs or rob a liquor store. Spending time in his childhood neighborhood with his childhood friends was enough to get him in the system. Bender went into the day just a teenager on the streets, and came out on the fast track to High Desert State Prison.

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Image credit: SF Citizen

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