A group of 100 students, lawyers and community organizers rallied in front of Oakland City Hall Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed Fruitvale gang injunction which would limit the activities of 40 alleged Norteño gang members.
If an Alameda County judge approves the Oakland City Attorney’s Office’s petition for a gang injunction in the Fruitvale neighborhood, it would be the city’s second injunction. Similar to the North Oakland gang injunction that was approved in June, 2010, the 40 alleged gang members named in the Fruitvale injunction would not be allowed to congregate in groups, carry guns, wear certain colors and would be subject to a curfew within a “safety zone.” This zone would include the area between 21st Avenue and High Street in the Fruitvale area.
A six-piece brass ensemble accompanied protesters as they chanted “No justice, no peace,” amidst a scattering of signs bearing slogans like “We are homies, not criminals” and “Injunctions are the new black codes.”
Speakers from the groups Youth Together, which promotes youth leadership in schools, Critical Resistance, a national group dedicated to abolishing the prison system, and the newly formed Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), a civil rights group, took turns handling the bullhorn, voicing their opposition to more law enforcement strategies and calling instead for more programs for youth and people re-entering the job market after incarceration.
Opponents at the rally 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.
But city officials say that restrictions imposed by injunctions make it more difficult for gang members to commit criminal acts, while making it easier for the police to monitor gang activity. A violation of the order is considered contempt of court, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
The City Attorney’s Office agrees with injunction opponents that the measure is not a complete solution to addressing violence in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. But Alex Katz, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said that injunctions are still useful for reducing violence even though their impact can be difficult to quantify. “Injunctions are supposed to be preventative,” Katz said. “The idea is that these guys won’t be carrying guns or going out and looking for people to shoot at if they obey the terms of this order.”
Last week Katz said there was a drive-by shooting in East Oakland, an area police say is claimed as turf by the Border Brothers gang, the Norteños’ main rivals.
Vincent Delgudice, a 21-year-old parolee named in the injunction who police allege is a leader in the Norteño gang, was arrested after that shooting, according to Katz. He was charged with four counts of attempted murder and four counts of assault with a firearm, and is eligible for sentencing enhancements if the courts decide that the shooting was gang-related, Katz said.
“Ask the guy who got shot if he’d rather have the police arrest someone after the fact, or not get shot in the first place,” Katz said. “If the injunction were in place and this guy was obeying its orders, [Delgudice] wouldn’t have had a gun at all.”
Still, as he demonstrated in front of City Hall Wednesday, Kaza Haga, president of the board of directors for Community United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), dismissed the idea that injunctions are effective. “Strategies like the gang injunction only look at young people as the sum of the past mistakes they’ve made,” he said.
A nonprofit group, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice was created this December by attorney Michael Siegel and his partner Jose Luis Fuentes, who work with the law firm Siegel & Yee. Their firm had previously sought to represent people named in the Fruitvale injunction. Siegel and Fuentes are asking that the state waive the 40 defendants’ $900 in filing fees and appoint lawyers to each of the defendants, who currently have no legal representation.
The City Attorney’s Office has argued that allowing the Siegel & Yee law firm to represent those named in the injunction would create a conflict of interest because city councilmember Jane Brunner works for the firm. The City Attorney’s Office is concerned that her involvement with the law group could expose them to confidential city information.
At an early January court hearing, Michael Siegel explained that while continuing to be employed at Siegel & Yee, he and Fuentes had distanced themselves from the firm by creating CURYJ, which had taken over as counsel for one man named in the injunction. Siegel said the group had also created a “firewall” preventing any possible conflict of interest from occurring. The newly-created organization filed for nonprofit status on December 14, established a board of directors and is currently awaiting paperwork from the State Bar Association, according to Haga.
But in a tentative ruling on January 5 regarding the City Attorney’s Office’s motion to disqualify the Siegel & Yee firm from representing injunction defendants, Alameda County Judge Robert B. Freedman took a dim view regarding whether CURYJ was a separate entity from Siegel & Yee. “The current record does not establish that attorneys Michael Siegel and Jose Luis Fuentes are no longer members of the Siegel & Yee firm, or that Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (a) is an organization recognized by the State Bar, or (b) serves any purpose other than as a vehicle for Siegel and Fuentes to accomplish an ‘end run’” around state rules regarding professional conduct, he wrote.
“That’s a huge misunderstanding,” Haga said. “He doesn’t seem to understand the full scope of CURYJ and the wide range of services we’re offering. We’re much more than just a legal defense organization. Our very founding came from the understanding that legal defense is not going to impact violence on a long term level.”
A judge will consider these issues at the next hearing regarding the gang injunction on February 2.
Katz also said the City Attorney’s Office will release a report on February 22 that will address specific questions posed by Oakland residents at a December public safety committee meeting, including estimating the cost of implementing the injunction, and the effect it is having on young people. Included in that report will be the cost for outside counsel. Katz estimates the City Attorney’s Office has spent about $70,000 already on paying for the services of additional lawyers. “That’s pretty cheap for a complex lawsuit with 40 defendants in it,” Katz said. “When we do complex cases like this we have to hire help from outside. That happens on every kind of lawsuit.”
But opponents of the injunction say this report will be released too late, since a court hearing that could result in the implementation of the injunction is scheduled for February 16. “We could have an injunction in place before we understand the entire ramifications and financial impact of this injunction,” said Isaac Ontiveros, communications director for Critical Resistance.