Bike bells chimed as voices shouted “Bike for justice!” on the streets of Oakland’s Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods late Tuesday evening. A group of 30 community activists toured the streets—lined with taco stands, vedura y fruta mercados, liquor stores and auto body shops—calling people inside stores and at bus stops to join them in opposing what could be the city’s second gang injunction.
In November, Oakland’s City Attorney’s office filed a petition for an injunction against 42 named individuals in Fruitvale, in addition 30 additional “John Does,” or people yet to be named. If the court approves the injunction, then those named in the injunction would not be allowed to congregate in groups, wear certain colors and would be subject to a curfew within a 400-block “Safety Zone” between 21st Avenue and High Street.
In October, Oakland police officers served at least ten of the 41 people named in the injunction with a notice that they were named in the injunction. In a number of instances, the officers serving the papers conducted probation or parole checks on the targeted individuals.
A date for an approval hearing for the Fruitvale injunction has not been set yet, but an initial hearing is planned for Thursday, December 3. At this hearing lawyers will argue that the Fruitvale injunction is similar to a previous injunction in North Oakland and should be overseen by the same judge.
The city’s first gang injunction was implemented in North Oakland in June, 2010, and encompasses about 100 blocks of North Oakland between Emeryville, Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue. City leaders say that these restrictions make it more difficult for gang members to commit criminal acts, while making it easier for the police to monitor gang activity.
Oakland police and city officials have said that gang activity is related to an increase in violent crime in the Fruitvale area. In October, KALW’s blog, The Informant, quoted City Attorney John Russo ’s announcement that the new gang injunction in the Fruitvale neighborhood would target the Norteño street gang. “The Norteños have been one of the most destructive, vicious and sociopathic gangs in Oakland,” Russo said, “not just for years, but literally for generations.”
“The purpose of an injunction is to put on notice the gang members or people in the community who are causing so much harm,” Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts also said in the same KALW piece, “and to allow good people who live in those neighborhoods to come back and reclaim their civil rights and liberties and go out in public in a safe manner.”
But opponents of injunctions cite studies from cities that have found injunctions do no not significantly reduce incidences of violence. The ACLU Foundation of Southern California, for example, examined trends in San Fernando Valley police reporting districts covered by a gang injunction. According to statistical materials provided by the LAPD, the report concluded that the implementation of the injunction was actually associated with an increase in violent crime.
On Tuesday, the bikers argued that gang injunctions use policing as a way to address social problems instead of investing in programs for youth, jobs that pay living wages and affordable housing. “We don’t want our tax dollars to continue going to policing when we know that our communities have an antagonistic relationship with the police,” said Sagnic Salazar, an organizer with Youth Together, a group that promotes youth leadership in Oakland schools. “We want solutions that empower our young people in being leaders in our community,” she said. “We see the gang injunctions doing the opposite.”
Many of the protesters at Tuesday’s bike ride said they view the proposed court order as state-sanctioned racial profiling that will lead to the gentrification of the largely Latino neighborhood. “We definitely know that not only is this going to increase the criminalization of our communities,” said Salazar, “but we also see this as a strategy to gentrify our communities, like what happened in the Mission.”
At least fifteen of the individuals named in the Fruitvale injunction have sought legal representation to fight the civil lawsuit, said Jose Luis Fuentes, an attorney with the well-known law firm Siegel & Yee, who will represent at least 15 of the named individuals.
Dressed in a suit, Fuentes joined the bikers Tuesday afternoon and made a stop at Fremont High School. Students greeted the bikers as Fuentes took the bullhorn and announced: “This gang injunction is a way for police to put all of you in jail, because of the way you look, the way you dress, because of who you hang out with or where you live, that’s not fair, we have to stop this. We have to go to court and tell the judge we’re not letting this happen.”
Last Friday, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson accused Siegel & Yee of a conflict of interest. City Council President Jane Brunner is a partner in the firm, and another partner, Dan Siegel, has previously represented mayor-elect Jean Quan.
Tuesday’s protest was organized by several Oakland groups including The Bikery, a community bike shop, Eastside Cultural Center, a community arts organization, and Critical Resistance, a group working to propose alternatives to the prison system. It was part of three planned days of protest events that will end with a rally outside the Alameda County Courthouse on Thursday, December 2, before the injunction’s initial hearing. Fuentes said Siegel & Yee plans to represent the firm’s clients pro bono at Thursday’s hearing.
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee will also discuss the injunction at a hearing on Tuesday, December 14th at 5:30 PM.