A short hearing on the status of North Oakland’s gang injunction this Thursday served as a backdrop for protest and legal maneuvering by groups opposed to the city’s newest tactic for curbing violence.
The hearing took place at the Alameda County Administration Building, where the county’s Superior Court has extra hearing rooms across the street from the courthouse. Judge Robert Freedman convened the hearing to iron out several issues related the injunction, the foremost being a request by one individual’s attorney to stall investigation into his client’s alleged gang involvement. Judge Freedman also addressed separate requests from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a local group opposing the injunction.
Oakland’s first gang injunction took effect in June, 2010. It is a civil court order that restricts the activities of 15 alleged North Side Oakland gang members within a 100-block “safety zone” in Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood. People named in the injunction currently cannot hang out together or go out between 10 pm and 5 am within the safety zone. Breaking the curfew or being caught in other gang-related activities, such as recruiting new gang members or carrying a gun, can lead to fines and a six-month jail sentence. As individuals named in a civil proceeding, the Oakland residents listed on the injunction have the right to contend in court that they are not gang members, or “opt out.”
Community response has varied, with some calling the injunction an excuse for racial profiling and the infringement of civil liberties. Others say the injunction is necessary to rein in violence that takes lives and scares people away from the neighborhood. Thursday’s hearing came one day after the City Attorney’s office announced it has filed a motion for a second gang injunction in the Fruitvale area targeting 42 alleged members of the Norteño gang.
Thursday’s hearing at the Alameda County administration building lasted less than an hour and summarily addressed three issues—a request by the defense of one individual named in the injunction, a series of questions from the ACLU, and the admissibility of several documents filed by the Stop the Injunction Coalition to the injunction’s case file. Up first was a request by the attorneys for Yancie Young, a man listed on the June injunction as a member of the North Side Oakland gang. Young’s lawyers asked the court to halt the process in which the city attorney and the defense both gather evidence regarding Young’s alleged involvement with the gang until Young can come to court to try to opt out of the injunction. Judge Freedman denied the request.
Freedman also addressed a letter he received last week from the ACLU of Northern California requesting that the Oakland City Attorney answer the group’s questions about the implementation of the injunction. The judge said that the ACLU’s questions did not need to be answered that day. However, during the hearing, a council contracted by the City Attorney addressed the group’s request for information about what kind of training the Oakland Police Department has given to its officers on how to implement the injunction. The council, David Lyon, said the officer in charge of the area covered by the injunction trained North Oakland’s beat officers on what the order does and does not allow. “He continues to monitor and communicate with the officers,” said Lyon.
Jory Steele, a lawyer for the ACLU, said she was glad to hear these training measures were in place for police, but that residents themselves need more information about the parameters of the injunction. “There needs to by more public discussion by the city attorney about the complaint process,” Steele said. “More people would come forward if they knew it was safe for them to go and complain without being afraid of retaliation.”
The city attorney’s representatives did not answer the ACLU’s other requests for information, but Judge Freedman said they would be asked to do so at a hearing scheduled for February, 2011. In its letter, the ACLU had asked for information about “what, if any, steps the City is taking to monitor the implementation of the injunction.” The ACLU also sought data on how the order has been implemented, including, “data regarding arrests, civilian complaints related to the injunction, and crime statistics.”
Judge Freedman also addressed several documents filed last week by a group of Oakland residents and activists called the Stop the Injunction Coalition. The documents—a collection of declarations opposing the injunction submitted by people who live in North Oakland—did not qualify as evidence that the court might consider in any decision regarding the order, Judge Freedman said.
The declarations addressed concerns that the North Side Oakland gang injunction targets individuals based on a false assumptions. For example, resident Margaret White stated in her declaration that tattoos used by police to identify members of North Side Oakland don’t indicate a gang affiliation. Resident Alyssa Pluss stated that new North Oakland residents like herself do not feel unsafe in their neighborhoods and don’t think an injunction is necessary.
Freedman said he admitted the declarations in the interest of keeping a complete record. However, he also called the declarations “sheer speculation of no evidentiary value,” and said that the court was not the appropriate forum to publicly voice community feedback publicly. Freedman suggested the city council or another public forum as a place to discuss the issues brought up in the declarations.
Steele said that a public forum for discussion would be helpful for the community, but pointed out that the only way a person can change the injunction is through the legal system.
Before the hearing took place, the Stop the Injunction Coalition staged a two-hour rally outside the County administration building where the hearing was held that attracted more than 100 people. Protesters spoke out against what they saw as excessive efforts to jail young people from minority communities. “They gathered up thousands of brown and black people,” said Mama Ayanna, speaking of California’s gang injunctions collectively.
Stop the Injunction Coalition member Manuel La Fontaine agreed that jail time doesn’t deal with the root causes of violence. “Can we incarcerate our way out of poverty?” Fontaine asked the crowd, receiving shouts of “No!” in reply.
Protesters also asserted that gang injunctions lead to gentrification. Lisa Nowlain, an activist with the coalition, said an injunction lowers property values and makes the area “vulnerable to development.” An injunction, said Nowlain, “increases fear about a neighborhood. It makes it easier for developers to come in.”
At the rally, activists dramatized their concerns about police harassment and gentrification by acting out a scene in which a police officer arrested a young black person who was waiting for a bus, only to usher in a bright-eyed, white homebuyer.
A handful of activists and Oakland residents—some with former gang affiliation—also addressed the crowd at the rally, exhorting Oaklanders to oppose the injunction with them. Speakers emphasized the importance of investing in education and programs for young people instead of police.
“The solution ain’t in the police or in a conference hall,” coalition member Jerry Elster said. “Given the right opportunities and resources, there can be hope.” Elster, currently a resident of Richmond, served time in San Quentin for his involvement with gangs and said his current work with social service organizations, including the Neighborhood House of North Richmond, represents the kind of programs that will prevent violence in communities like Oakland. The Neighborhood House offers programs for low-income families and individuals, including crisis intervention for families with young children.
Onlookers were taking their lunch break in the plaza in front of the county building when the protest started up. Michael Fields of from Davis, California, was in town for a job training program, and stayed late from his lunch break to see what the protestors would say.
“I was told, at least growing up, that Oakland was a place where you’ve got to be aware,” said Fields. The protestors’ arguments about government spending resonated with Fields—he agreed that jailing young people wasn’t effective an effective way to halt violence. “They’re putting money into incarceration as opposed to education. It still doesn’t seem to be stopping it,” he said.
Update: This story was changed to correct two errors on 10/20/2010. Oakland homeowners are not required by the injunction to disclose that they live in a safety zone. Also, The council representing the Oakland City Attorney is David Lyon, not David Hall. Lyon is contracted by the City Attorney from a private firm.