City Council votes to continue funding gang injunctions
on May 18, 2011
The Oakland City Council burned the midnight oil late last night and into Wednesday morning as they passed a measure that will continue to fund gang injunctions as a crime-fighting tool. By a 4-3 vote, the city council voted for the measure, which has cost the city about $1 million to date in court costs and police overtime.
The city currently has one active injunction and the courts are considering the implementation of a second. The North Oakland injunction has been in place since June, 2010, and places restrictions on 15 alleged members of the North Side Oakland gang. It forbids alleged gang members from hanging out together, wearing gang colors or going outside in a 100-block safety zone after 10 pm. A proposal for a Fruitvale injunction targeting 40 alleged members of the Nortenos gang is moving through the county court system, and its future is still undetermined. In the last three months, only two of the 40 defendants have appeared in court, costing the city $200,000 in legal fees.
The city council’s vote authorizes the use of public funds for both the North Oakland and Fruitvale injunctions. However, the resolution also prohibits the City Attorney’s Office from filing future injunctions without the approval of the city council.
“I think they are scared of the uprising opposition to the gang injunctions,” said Isaac Ontiveros, communication director of Critical Resistance, an organization that advocates abolishing the prison system, about the council’s decision.
The decision Tuesday night came after hours of public comments. Over 200 community members signed up to speak on the issue. At least 160 of them were opposed to the injunction, representing approximately 30 organizations, but all working together under the auspices of The Stop the Injunction Coalition. Most of the speakers’ one-minute speeches expressed outrage over the injunctions, claiming they impinge on civil rights and increase tension between the police and residents.
“The biggest gang we have to deal with is the Oakland Police Department,” resident Wendy Snyder told the council.
Other speakers offered alternative solutions to violence and economic problems in Oakland. Resident and organizer Sagnicthe Salazar pushed the idea of restorative justice circles to address criminal activity in neighborhoods. Restorative justice is a method of resolving conflicts that focuses on reconciliation and non-punitive measures.
Many of the residents in favor of continuing the Fruitvale injunction were members of various neighborhood crime prevention councils, but there were fewer of them than those in opposition. A couple of residents, who wore pink “YES” tags, told councilmembers that there are more neighbors who are in favor of the gang injunction but are too scared to publicly voice their opinion. Fruitvale resident Agnes Grace asked the council to vote in favor of the injunction. “This is how we live,” she said. “People who don’t want it don’t understand that we speak in fear.”
District 4 councilmember Patricia Kernighan said that she receives many emails from people in support of the injunctions, but said that they don’t feel safe showing their support because of the controversial nature of the measure. Throughout the evening, residents in support of gang injunction were hissed at by community members holding signs “Stop the Injunction” signs as they walked back to their seats.
After three hours of public comment, District 6 council member Desley Brooks vehemently spoke against the effectiveness of gang injunctions, urging fellow council members to ban future funding of the measure. “The reality is there are other tools that should be looked at,” Brooks said. “Why haven’t we looked at the breadth of other tools that doesn’t require having to spend a million dollars?”
After midnight, when it came time to vote, councilmembers Kernighan, Ignacio De La Fuente, Libby Schaaf and Council President Larry Reid voted in favor of funding the existing injunctions. This will allow the city to continue to use public funds for court fees, staff costs and police overtime.
Voting against the proposal were council members Brooks, Nancy Nadel, and Rebecca Kaplan. “As a council, we have to stop selling to the public these remedies that we know don’t work in the long run,” Brooks said before the vote.
Councilmember Jane Brunner recused herself from the discussion because of her association with the law firm that is representing the defendants in the Fruitvale gang injunction. Earlier this year, she promised the court she would stay out of any discussion on the matter to avoid a conflict of interest.
By the end of the evening, councilmembers also adopted Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts’ recommendation to have an independent study examine the effectiveness of gang injunctions. “I believe this gang injunction that we did in North Oakland is not a panacea … It’s not the thing that’s going to end crime in the city of Oakland,” Batts had said earlier in the evening, “but it is a tool that the Oakland Police Department can use.” He said it’s important for Oakland police to be held accountable on how they administer the injunctions.
The council also asked that any new injunctions proposed by the City Attorney’s Office come before them for approval before being filed, and instructed the City Attorney to dismiss the 70 “John Does” from the Fruitvale case who are listed on the injunction in addition to the 40 named alleged gang members.
Injunction opponents said the council’s vote to continue funding injunction measures would not be the last word on the matter. “The struggle continues,” said Ontiveros. “But I felt excitement and inspiration. We were able to bring out 300 people to that meeting.”
Alameda Superior County Court Judge Robert Freedman is expected to make a decision on whether to impose the Fruitvale gang injunction next month.
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