Does Echo Park need a gang injunction?

Los Angeles Times | August 18, 2013

Los Angeles has 45 gang injunctions. Does it need one more?

Gang injunctions restrict the actions of people associated with street gangs within designated zones. They bar two or more from gathering and add civil penalties to acts that already are crimes, such as tagging and public drunkenness, on the theory that such limitations undercut a gang’s ability to control the streets. Los Angeles began imposing injunctions in the 1980s.

Echo Park has a history of gangs dating back at least to the 1920s, and in more recent decades six gangs were involved in violence, drug dealing and other illegal activities that harassed neighbors and undermined the quality of life in the community. Residents say that the worst of times was the 1990s and that since then, the area has gradually improved. They can, and do, argue over the reason for that improvement: the most violent gang members were prosecuted and sent to prison; the area became gentrified by young professionals and artists unconnected to the history of neighborhood rivalries; or the culture of gang violence petered out, even though the suspicions and loyalties remain and violent crimes still occur.

Backers of an injunction in a “safe zone” in Echo Park known as the Glendale Boulevard Corridor argue that the injunction is needed to consolidate gains and to nip out the remaining problems, and to prevent the area’s relapse into chaos as imprisoned gang members complete their terms and return to their old neighborhood and, perhaps, their old ways. They argue that new City Atty. Mike Feuer is right to continue the court process, begun by his predecessor in the waning days of his term, to put an Echo Park gang injunction in place.

Critics point out that Echo Park is well past its gang emergency days and argue that an injunction, if it was ever appropriate, would be 15 years too late. Some assert that an injunction would serve to harass longtime residents, preventing, for example, two brothers who may have tenuous connections to a gang and haven’t been charged with any specific crime from sitting together on their own front steps.

In pursuing the injunction, Feuer has a more complete and more enlightened approach than did previous city attorneys. He seems to recognize that although they are intended to protect neighborhoods, gang injunctions also ensnare thousands of the city’s young men and their families in a cycle of failure. For example, in addition to barring two or more members of a designated street gang from gathering in public, and in addition to allowing city lawyers to seek civil penalties for illegal behavior (with evidence that can fall short of the strict criminal law standard of proof), injunctions flag people — often for life — as gang members and make it harder for most to get decent jobs with advancement opportunities or to seek higher education. And, some assert, they don’t do it all that accurately, occasionally including a person who fits a demographic profile or who may be friends with or related to gang members without being one.

Read more at: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-echo-park-20130818,0,2673257.story

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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