It’s called a gang injunction. A controversial crime tool strategy that some people say should be illegal, and others say is a necessary last resort for communities plagued by violence.
On this edition, we go from the birthplace of gang injunctions in Los Angeles, to their newest use in London, England. Almost 30 years later, communities remain divided about the best way to address youth violence and crime.
This program was crowd-funded on spot.us, a community supported journalism project. 89 individuals contributed micro-donations. At the over $10 level we thank: Annuana Smith, Amy Read, Lyn Headley, Patricia-Anne WinterSun, Maralyn Fisher, Sally Sommer, Renee Feltz, Molly Mitoma, Lauren Cohn, and Panafricanist Sound System. Special thanks to Omnia Foundation, stalwart supporters of our Prison Desk.
This show won a 2012 PASS award for its ability to focus America’s attention on our criminal justice, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems in a thoughtful and considerate manner and an award for Feature Storytelling from the Society for Professional Journalists (Northern Caifornia Chapter).
See the full script below.
Angela Davis, Critical resistance founder; Freddie Hamilton, Oakland police lieutenant; Michael Muscadine, man named in Fruitvale Gang Injunction; Scott Peterson, Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce public policy director; Danielle Rocha, Youth Empowerment School senior; K.E.V., Oakland-based MC; Sagnicthe Salazar, Youth Together organizer; Cesar Cruz, Homies Empowerment program co-founder; Kim McGill, Youth Justice Coalition organizer; Rocio Fierro, attorney for the City of Oakland; Kwame Nitoto, Oakland Parents Together parent education project director; Meriea Jones, Cory Jenkins, Destiny McNeil, Mohammad El-Zafri, Santa Fe Elementary School students; Jonathan Toy, Southwark Council head of community safety; Emeka Egbuonu, youth worker at The Crib; Michael Bailey, young person at The Crib; Russell Higgs, Pembury Estate resident.
*** Segments ***
As part of our investigation into how and whether gang injunctions effectively fight crime, we looked to one of the newest places where the crime fighting strategy is being rolled out: London, England Making Contact reporter Daniel Gordon filed this report from London, where the first gang injunctions went into effect earlier this year. The story explores how economics and race are major factors in how society treats crime in England, just as in the US. And just as in Oakland, CA, many advocates and young people themselves say there are better solutions to be found.
This program is reader supported, thanks to spot.us
The History of Gang Injunction in Los Angeles
Interview with The Youth Justice Coalition’s Kim McGill, about the history of gang injunctions in Los Angeles, and the effect they’ve had on low income neighborhoods and communities of color.
The city of Oakland is divided over whether gang injunctions will help reduce a long-standing problem of street violence. Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer reports on a grassroots campaign, aiming to stop what many activists say is a problematic policy of racial profiling, that won’t help make the community any safer.
For More Information:
Youth Justice Coalition
Stop the Injunctions Coalition
Homies Empowerment Program-Oakland, CA
All of Us or None
Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
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“Colors” by Ice-T
Andrew Stelzer: This week on Making Contact:
BILLBOARD: TRT: 14: “This is not a smart bomb. This is a net a drag net of 450 blocks. Where any young person who the police officer thinks may be affiliated and they happen to be wearing red, can be classified and entered into this database.”
Andrew Stelzer: It’s called a gang injunction. A controversial crime fighting tool that some people say should be illegal, and others say is a necessary last resort for communities plagued by violence
Rocio Fierro: “There is no constitutional right by a gang member to come together associate with others to commit crimes.”
Andrew Stelzer: On this edition, we go from the birthplace of gang injunctions in Los Angeles, to their newest use in London, England. Almost 30 years later, communities remain divided about the best way to address youth violence and crime,
I’m Andrew Stelzer, and this is Making Contact, a program connecting people, vital ideas and important information.
Kids chanting “we want peace..”
Andrew Stelzer: It’s a sunny June morning in Oakland California. There’s still 2 weeks until school lets out, but instead of sitting in class, talking about their summer plans, the kids at Santa Fe Elementary School are marching through the neighborhood, calling for peace. City and state budget cuts mean fewer summer jobs, and youth programs…which equal more teenagers without activities to keep them out of trouble…this in a year that’s already seen more murders than in 2010.
Kai Meriea Jones 4th grader: “We want peace so that we won’t have to worry about getting hurt walking down the street, walking home from school, walking to school and stuff.”
Cory Jenkins 4th grader: “We gotta stop the fighting. Shooting, and all peoples suicide and the environment safety and people just killing each other. And gangs….I seen people getting shot every day…we need more cops in the city.”
Destiny McNeil 4th grade: “I don’t want to go outside or nothing because it will be heck of violence outside.”
Mohammad El-Zafri 5th grade: “This should not be happenning. Everybody should not be shooting each other—this is not nice…”
Andrew Stelzer: As more than 200 children march through the streets of North Oakland, cars honk, and people wave. Anyone who lives around here knows that violent crime has long been a problem. Kwame Nitoto directs parent education at a group called Oakland Parents Together.
Kwame Nitoto: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of the murder rate with young kids, and just the violence and the lack of understanding around human values.”
Andrew Stelzer: As in many urban areas, much of the violence in North Oakland is committed by young men of color. And as is often the case, there’s a public debate raging about how to solve the problem. One part of the city attorney’s solution was to get a judge to issue something called a gang injunction. Here’s Rocio Fierro, an attorney for the city of Oakland, explaining what a gang injunction is.
Rocio Fierro: “The gang injunctions are what we would call protective orders. When there is a spouse that has abused by another spouse they have a right to go and seek a protective order and they do so in order to protect their safety and their home and their children. In these cases those protective orders are for the protection of the community.”
So in this case, the injunction is designed to protect the people of North Oakland. Santé Fe elementary school is smack dab in the middle of a 100 block area, that as of June 2010, was designated a ‘safety zone’. Fifteen suspected local gang members have been put on a list, approved by a judge. And inside that ‘safety zone’ their rights are restricted. They aren’t allowed to go out after ten PM, or associate with each other at any time of day. A violation of those rules could mean up to six months in jail.
CHANT: “Stop the gang injunctions we know our rights!”
Andrew Stelzer: Police say injunctions are necessary to help fight crime, and many residents support the idea. But many other Oaklanders disagree, saying those restrictions are a violation of basic civil rights, and point out that the people on the list don’t have to have been proven guilty of any crime—and once you are on the list, it’s very difficult to get your name taken off . They also say the injunctions allow police to racially profile, since most of those on the lists are black and Latino and police can stop those on the list at will.
Cesar Cruz: “We believe they are criminalizing our youth. They are profiling our youth. They are leading to complete harassment of our communities.”
Andrew Stelzer: Cesar Cruz works with the Homies Empowerment program, which brings together youth from rival gangs to learn about their cultures. He lives in an east Oakland neighborhood called Fruitvale. After North Oakland, the Oakland city attorney targeted the Fruitvale neighborhood with the city’s second gang injunction in early 2011—this one targeting a street gang called the Nortenos. Cruz points out that Oakland has spent more than a million dollars on the North Oakland and Fruitvale injunctions—much of it fighting lawsuits by those on the injunction list.
Cesar Cruz: “This funding that is being wasted by the city attorney could be going to afterschool programs that can have a PM service that could go until 10 o’clock in the evening.”
Andrew Stelzer: The city of Oakland already spends more than 65 percent of its annual budget on the police and fire departments. Meanwhile, the school board has begun action on a plan to close more than 30 public schools in the next few years. Sagnicthe Salazar is an organizer with Youth Together, a group that runs youth centers and various programs addressing violence and conditions in the schools.
Sagnicthe Salazar: “Oakland has over a 50 percent dropout rate, and under a 50 percent graduation rate, because our adults in this city are choosing to prioritize band-aid solutions that ostracize our community, and criminalize our young people, and demonize our young people for the issues that this city chooses not to address.”
Andrew Stelzer: Salazar was one of dozens of volunteers who organized a week of gang injunctions ‘teach ins’ at schools throughout the city.
K.E.V.: “basically today, we just gonna talk about the gang injunctions and the technicalities of it and how it affects all of us. How many of ya’ll heard about the gang injunctions? ….”
Andrew Stelzer: A local hiphop MC who goes by K.E.V. is speaking to a class at Youth Empowerment School, not far from the proposed Fruitvale injunction safety zone.
KEV: ‘OK. Raise your hands if you know someone who’s been killed by police….raise your hand if you know someone who was shot by the police or the police pulled a gun out on ‘em.”
Andrew Stelzer: Many of the kids here know people who might end up on the injunction list. And in addition to 40 named individuals, the list includes 70 “John Does’. Those are open slots, where police can add someone to the list after the fact, if they decide they are a gang member. Danielle Rocha is a senior at Youth Empowerment School
Danielle Rocha: “I’m one of those people that live in that Fruitvale area, and I wear red all the time. You can’t tell me just cause I’m wearing a color that I’m representing a gang. I have a strong possibility of being on that list, so I don’t feel that’s acceptable cause I have my life ahead of me and I’m going to college and you can’t tell me just because I’m in a certain place at a certain time that I’m representing a gang.”
Andrew Stelzer: Students like Rocha were among several hundred that marched to city hall to protest the Fruitvale injuction.
Chanting Stop the gang injunctions we know our rights!”
Andrew Stelzer: After months of similar protests, the city council agreed to hold a public hearing and determine whether to continue funding gang injunctions. While the creation of the injunctions themselves was decided by the city attorney, if the council pulled funding, the injunctions would basically be dead in the water. In May of 2011, hundreds packed an Oakland city council meeting to make their voices heard on the Fruitvale injunction. Rocio Fierro, an attorney for the city of Oakland, made the case.
Rocio Fierro: “Restraining orders that this city has pursued are based on civil rights. It is indeed these gangs and its members who violate the civil rights of residents in these areas by commiting crimes against them, and violating their rights that are protected under the constitution. There is no constitutional right by a gang member to get together associate with others, to commit crimes.”
Andrew Stelzer: One city council member played a recording of a voicemail a Fruitvale resident left him.
PHONE CALL: “I know that my family doesn’t want me to open my mouth or get involved. But I have to. Neighbors don’t open their shades in their front window.”
Andrew Stelzer: Scott Peterson with the Oakland metropolitan chamber of commerce, also spoke about how Oakland’s high crime rate was an obstacle for efforts to create jobs.
Scott Peterson: “Trying to attract businesses and trying to keep businesses in Oakland is a major problem because of public safety. If we want jobs and we want to create renevue to fund the programs that support youth, that support alternatives to violent activity, violent criminal activity. We need to do more to attract business, to retain business, to create jobs for these young people.”
Andrew Stelzer: But the vast majority of public comments were opposed to an injunction in Fruitvale. Even people on the injunctions list came out to plead with the city council to take a different course. Michael Muskin was one of them.
Michael Muscadine: “I’m just surprised about why I’m on the list. My last conviction was five years ago..I’m not violating parole…I’m just…really stressed out about the injunction. You look at the map and it’s like a giant circlearound my house. So Basically I can’t go anywhere between those specific times. I go to the gym when I get out of work, so sometimes I go around 11:30, 12. So if this does pass where am I supposed to go? I live in Oakland, I don’t have the money to move to the suburbs. I wish I did. But I don’t.”
Andrew Stelzer: In the end, despite overwhelming public comment in opposition, the council voted four to three to continue funding the injunctions. Most frustrating of all for anti-injunction activists, was the decision came in spite of an admission by Oakland police lieutenant Freddie Hamilton that there wasn’t much evidence the injunction in North Oakland was working.
Freddie Hamilton : “As far as the effect on crime the injunction has had to this point, I believe we need more time to analyze that more thoroughly. “
Andrew Stelzer: 6 months later, in November 2011, a report from the Oakland police department found no reduction in violent crime in the so-called safety-zone…in fact, those crimes had increased.
Legendary activist Angela Davis, who’s lived in Oakland for almost 40 years, says political will is hard to come by when it comes to fighting crime.
Angela Davis: “We know that any person who wants to get elected to office, if that person does not appear to be “tough on crime,” it will be very difficult, so I think it’s up to us to build the kinds of movements that will empower people to stand up and demand education instead of incarceration.”
Andrew Stelzer: “What do you say to those who want results now, education takes a while..”
Angela Davis: “You can’t get results now, it’s not possible. We have to think of long range solutions and if we want immediate results now let’s have an immediate overhaul of our educational system, let’s support teachers more than we support police. There will be some immediate results.”
Andrew Stelzer: Gang injunctions are most widely used in California, but they’ve also divided communities across the country, from Florida, to Minnesota, to Texas…they’ve been challenged in court, and for the most part, ruled as legal. But the debate about their fairness and effectiveness remains unsettled, ever since the first injunction was issued back in the 1980’s in Los Angeles…To get some perspective, we spoke to Kim Mcgill. She’s an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition in LA. We called her to get a sense of the history, and what effect gang injunctions have had there over the years.
Kim Mcgill: “In the early 80s when gang injunctions were put in place in the far east part of la county, that would be west Pomona and Covina area and that pretty much set the trend for gang injunctions across the county in a really important way to this day. …they weren’t placed in communities that were experiencing high levels of violence, they were first placed in communities that were majority white or bordering white communities. So they’ve always been a toll of protecting white communities or paving the way for gentrification. The first gang injunction to gain national attention was in 1987 against the Playboy Gangsta Crips? and it was brought by then city attorney Hahn who later became Mayor Hahn and he was really a suppression oriented city attorney and mayor and kind of put gang injunctions on the map. The thing about Playboy Gangsta Crips again it was not the neighborhood in LA that was experiencing the highest levels of violence. That was always in other areas of southcentral LA. But Playboy Gangsta Crips was chosen because it bordered culver city which was a wealthier white community…majority white community and it was the neighborhood closest to Beverly Hills.
Andrew Stelzer: And so what do these neighborhoods look like today? espicially those started off in the 80s or early 90s? In what way have the injunctions helped or hurt? What effect have they had?
Kim Mcgill: So I can’t talk about…we have massive numbers of injunctions in LA city and in LA county. In LA city alone we have 71 neigborhoods included in 43 injunctions. I’m not pretending that I can describe every single neighborhood but I can give you a couple of examples. When you look at what’s really decreased homicide the areas that have either no homicide or huge reductions in homicides or other forms of violence in the last two years were the areas that had youth development programs. There’s a new program created out of the mayor’s office and the city council called the gang reduction youth development program. That included something called summer night lights in parks. Particularly targeting playgrounds were there’s been a lot of violence or public housing projects where there’s been a lot of violence. In the area of the district where summer night lights there were no homicides. In the area just blocks away where there were no summer night lights, you continued to see homicide rates. The other thing that we see is the stabilization that injunctions promise communities actually has the opposite effect. So with people cycling in and out of jail constantly, in and out of juvenile hall in some cases this constantly, they lose employment. You know, you can tell your employer once or twice that the police are harassing you or that you’re being unfairly targeted but after a while employers just don’t believe that particuly around the kinds of assumptions that are made about people that have convictions. The people that are in community college or college they lose days of school, they have to drop out, they lose their financial aid. If you have public housing or have section 8 the law is very clear that you can be kicked out in fact your whole family can be kicked out, even with an arrest, not with a conviction. We have people who have actually beaten their cases, won their gang injunction case but they and their whole family have been kicked out. All of these impacts really destabilize communities. I think the most glaring statistic, …we have a multibillion dollar war on gangs here in LA that has been going on ever since the late seventies. But since we started we have at least twice as many alleged gang members, six times as many alleged gangs as when the war started. And no one would consider that a success. The problem’s only grown huge amounts since that kind of investment and suppression
Andrew Stelzer: That was Kim McGill, an Organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles. You can hear an extended interview with her at our website, radioproject dot org. Coming up in a minute, we look at just how far gang injunctions have spread….all the way across the Atlantic ocean.
Well be right back.
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Andrew Stelzer: Just as New York City’s ‘broken windows’ crime fighting philosophy has been exported around the world, the idea of gang injunctions is beginning to make its way overseas. Their first stop is England. Making Contact reporter Daniel Gordon filed this report from London, where the first gang injunctions went into effect in early 2011. He found that economics and race are major factors in how society treats crime in England, just as in the US. And just like in Oakland, many advocates and young people themselves say there are better solutions to be found.
Rapper: “My gang injuctions to just, not to rap about certain things. To not walk with more than three people. That’s not doing anything to help anyone because I could still do crime if I wanted to. I could just do it by myself. So them giving me a gang injunction saying I can’t rap is stupid.”
Jonathan Toy: “Its working the person’s not been involved in any kind of activity He has made a change and he has made a positive change for himself and all credit to him for doing that.’
Daniel Gordon: Two contrasting views of the British style gang injunction. You heard first from an 18 year old rapper who in March of 2011, was the first person in the country to receive a gang injunction, then from the man whose office who asked a court to issue the order. The rapper, who does not want his identity revealed, is forbidden from meeting with more than two people at a time in his neighbourhood, and from walking down certain streets. He’s also banned from recording songs or videos deemed to encourage violence. Amongst the other possible sanctions that courts can order are a ban on wearing particular colours that might identify someone as a gang member.
Jonathan Toy, head of community safety at Southwark Council, the borough the rapper lives in, insists the injunctions aren’t designed to punish.
Jonathan Toy: “So the injunctions we’re looking to put in are to support mechanisms whether it be mentoring or whether it be access to other types of activity or engagement in certain things, they form part of the injunction that’s what makes them very special and if their focused at the people who we believe we can help and support through that and use the enforcement as a backdrop to it, then they can be effective and that’s what we found with our injunction”
Daniel Gordon: Statistics about gangs here are hard to come by. Bill Bratton, the former LA and New York police chief who’s now advising the British government, has called the UK’s gang problem was “gestational” compared to the US. There have been a high number of stabbings and shootings amongst young people in recent years – though the extent of gang involvement is unclear. What’s for sure is that the infrastructure designed to tackle youth violence is under threat.
The Crib youth club, teenagers playing pool.
Emeka Egbuonu is a youth worker at The Crib youth project across town in Hackney. What does he make of the idea of gang injunctions?
Emeka Egbuonu: “I don’t think that solution is effective because it’s tackling the characteristics of what happens in gangs instead of actually tackling actual issues that lead young people to feel like they need to find solace within a gang.”
Daniel Gordon: “Such as what? What do you mean when you say the issues that make people be in gangs?”
Emeka Egbuonu: “Inequality, the lack of education, being kicked out of school, out at a young age, you know for instance a young person who might have been destructive because he couldn’t read properly or write properly but the way he feels he can vent his frustration is by lashing out and so the school feels like you know what? He’s disrupting the learning of other people, which is fair enough, but then by kicking him out of school you’re socially excluding him and now he’s more likely to end up in the prison system which is more of a problem to the community later on and so let’s deal with the issue when it’s still small, before we let it fester”
Daniel Gordon: The Crib is a community centre for young people thought to be at risk of offending and of joining gangs. Those who use it are from underprivileged backgrounds, the majority of them black. The Crib users I met were unwilling to talk to me on the record – all except for one.
Michael Bailey: “Hello, my name is Michael Bailey. I just grew up in the area. I knew about the crib because it was just we could actually just get away from all the negative feedbacks I guess.’
Daniel Gordon: He says the center has given him a sense of belonging he couldn’t find anywhere else.
Michael Bailey: “There’s not many places we can go and say what’s on our mind, and what we think, but cribs a place we can actually go and do that, you know what I’m saying? They actually listen to us. Our words actually mean something at Crib.”
Daniel Gordon: As well as a drop in youth centre, The Crib also provides guidance and training, and has helped Michael Bailey set up on his own, editing videos.
Emeka Egbuonu: “It’s about getting young people and helping and moving them forward and shaping their minds. That’s what we try to do because we work actively with the police in different workshops. We have a workshop called trading places where the police come in and we have a session with them and the young people and they have a role reversal and role play so they can understand each other’s roles within the community. These are the things we do to try and bridge the gap.”
Daniel Gordon: Like many social services across the country, The Crib is falling victim to cuts in funding. It’s already lost 75 per cent of its income, and the future is uncertain.
Restrictions in money for youth services have been widely blamed for helping set the scene for riots in the summer of 2011 that started in London and spread across the country.
Russell Higgs: “I’m Russell Higgs, I’ve lived on the Pembury Estate for about 16 years.”
Daniel Gordon: The social housing estate where Russell Higgs lives, The Pembury is also in Hackney, a couple of miles north of The Crib. The area became a front line in the summer’s disturbances, with local shops looted by crowds, fights between police and rioters and vehicles set on fire
Russell Higgs: “One of the worst things that I saw were we had a lot of diverted buses coming down this road, dumping people off, so literally a crowd was being created.”
Daniel Gordon: Once calm had been restored, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced an all-out war on gangs. Gang injunctions are likely to be amongst the weaponry he uses — although the legislation that brought them to the UK was actually passed before the trouble started. . But it’s never been proven that gangs were behind the riots at all – and the most up to date research commissioned by the government suggests they weren’t.
Russell Higgs: “Were the riots gangs, or were the riots just groups of alienated youth? I mean Who’s to say whether its groups of individuals or what?”
Daniel Gordon: For the purposes of a gang injunction, a gang is defined as three people or more.
Russell Higgs: “All I can say for my experiences is that I have teenage boys, primarily, congregating outside my front door quite regularly, I have done for years and, I’ve always been civil with them, and I find that they’ve been civil with me really, that’s my experience. But I’m very much aware that some of my neighbors do feel intimidated by teenagers hanging out but my impression is they’re not responding to the actual teenagers themselves. They’re filtering them through sort of a negative mediated story about teenagers and they’re not bothering to engage with these individuals.”
Daniel Gordon: Back at The Crib, Michael Bailey and Emeka Egbuonu agree with Russell Higgs that groups of young friends are often wrongly labeled as gangs. And they think that gang injunctions are likely to make things worse still:
Michel Bailey: “Many times I’ve walked down the street with 15 or more people from my football team, you understand, we might be coming from a match or something, we might get stopped by the police, so now that’s classed as a gang. That does not make sense to me.”
Emeka Egbounu: “It all depends on the perception of what a gang is really, and so out here they might see some young people just play fighting or just messing about with each other but people looking from the high rises or tower blocks call the police nine times out of ten cause they think there’s a big sort of ‘gang warfare’ going on downstairs but when the police come it might just be childish or teenagers being adolescents, being young. “
Daniel Gordon: With gangs so high up on the government’s hit list, it’s perhaps surprising that so few gang injunctions have been issued – just a handful in the course of 2011. One senior official told me off the record that the costs involved in getting courts to issue them were a major disincentive for local city governments and for the police. Jonathan Toy, though, says there’s another side to the financial argument:
Jonathon Toy: “If it protects our community then I think its money very well spent. We have to remember that if a young person loses their life, the cost of that to us in our society and criminal justice system is around about 1.8, 1.9 million dollars. It’s a huge sum of money.”
Daniel Gordon: Gang injunctions are too new, and still too unfamiliar in the UK for any definitive conclusions to be drawn about them yet. They may well be seen as an increasingly attractive option by a government that’s cutting back on funding for social services – at a time when it’s determined to show a less tolerant approach to youth violence.
Michael Bailey has his own recipe for keeping young people on the straight and narrow:
Michael Bailey: “Simple. Help these people to be occupied and that’s my answer. If this direct person is trouble, then find him something where he’s occupied, you know what I mean?”
Daniel Gordon: For Making Contact I’m Daniel Gordon. In London.