Are the DA’s Gang Policies Actually Producing Gang Members Rather Than Preventing Them?

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ganginjunction_catA few weeks ago, Judge Kathleen White issued a seven-year permanent injunction on the safety zone in West Sacramento.  As we have written a number of times, there just does not seem to be a nuisance in West Sacramento that necessitates such a move, that infringes on the fundamental right that one is innocent until proven guilty.

The injunction reverses that claim and forces individuals who have been served with the injunction or will be served with the injunction to do the opposite – prove they are not gang members.

What we saw during the lengthy trial was a large number of individual crimes that took place in a certain geographic area, and the individuals that committed these crimes were identified by the police through a variety of means as members of a particular gang.

What we did not see was evidence of some sort of underlying organization.  We also did not see a lot of evidence that these crimes were expressly committed for purposes of promoting the gang or for the benefit of the gang.  Some of these were assaults, many were drug crimes, most appear to have involved an individual or a few individuals.

The DA’s Office in this case could probably point to maybe a handful of crimes that appeared to be truly gang crimes.  Among these, of course, were the Amtrak Attack and the Memorial Park attack – where a group of individuals, some of whom allegedly did shout gang epithets, did attack others.

This article, however, is not about the Broderick Boys trial or even West Sacramento itself.  Rather, it is about what happens next, and more importantly what is happening now.  This is an introduction to a much broader series of articles that will probe these issues more deeply in the coming weeks and months.

I have watched probably half a dozen multi-defendant gang preliminary hearings in the last month or two.  They are all the same.  Most of the defendants are extremely young.  Most look rather innocent, and by that I mean not that they are necessarily innocent of a crime but rather they do not appear to be hardened criminals.

The evidence of a crime in some of these cases is strong, in others it is weaker.  And in many of these cases, the gang ties are thin and based primarily on association.

Both the gang injunction and gang validation are based on assumptions about association.  So people who hang out with validated gang members are often believed to be gang members themselves.  The problem is that while there may be validation processes, this is not part of any kind of adjudicative body which would allow evidence to be introduced and the cross-examining of individuals.

Rather, gang validation is done largely through circumstantial evidence and assertions and declarations from law enforcement.

Recently I had long conversations, independent of each other, with several defense attorneys.  Their chief complaints were the intractability of the DA’s Office on gang cases.  The DA repeatedly insists on admissions to gang charges, which support both grant funding and evidence for the gang injunction.

And individual attorneys with the DA’s Office are not the ones who call the shots.  So, the top brass makes all determinations and often negotiations are fruitless.  We wonder why there are so many trials – look at the structure of the DA’s Office.

These individuals tell me that things are different under Jeff Reisig than they were under David Henderson.

Unfortunately, when the gang injunction case was actually heard by Judge White, no defense attorney was willing to testify that they received a “NSPT” (No State Prison Term) offer in exchange for a gang admission.

There is now evidence that the gang policies themselves might be contributing to any gang problem.  Several people in the last few months have told me that there was no Broderick Boys in West Sacramento until the DA’s Office pressed for the gang injunction.  Now, you have a lot of young kids calling themselves Broderick Boys.

Are they gang members?  That is a difficult question that I am not qualified to answer.  There is a hip-hop cultural mentality that glorifies the “gangsta” lifestyle.  This has spawned a number of “wannabes” – young people who are drawn to the culture and emulate what they hear in rap music and what they see on TV.

The inclination of many is to crack down on these youthful offenders before they become more serious criminals.  The problem is, that process is actually contributing to the problem – it creates hardened criminals and gang members.

What is happening is that when you put these kids in CYA or they end up being direct filed as adults, they end up getting placed in there with hard-core gang members and they naturally become gang members themselves.

One person I have met with told me that her son was not a gang member, but committed a minor crime, ended up going to CYA  for a year, and came back, you guessed it, a gang member.

Fortunately, this kid did not want to continue down that path and has kept himself clean since then, but many others are not so lucky.

It is thus a feedback loop.  As the DA  imposes harsher and harsher penalties for relatively minor crimes, more and more kids get caught up in the system and then ultimately become hardened criminals and gang members in order to survive the harsh conditions inside facilities.

In my view, our gang policies are actually contributing to the problem.  Our system produces gang members and we are feeding it fresh recruits.

More on this in the coming weeks as we illustrate some specific cases.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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11 thoughts on “Are the DA’s Gang Policies Actually Producing Gang Members Rather Than Preventing Them?”

  1. Musser

    DMG: “Most look rather innocent and by that I mean not that they are necessarily innocent of a crime but rather they do not appear to be hardened criminals”

    pure speculation.

    DMG: “Recently I had long conversations independent of each other with several defense attorneys. Their chief complaints was the intractability of the DA’s office on gang cases.”

    Recently I had long conversations independent of each other with several procecutors. They say those defense attorneys are wrong.

    DMG: “Several people in the last few months have told me that there was no Broderick Boys in West Sacramento until the DA’s office pressed for the gang injunction. Now you have a lot of young kids calling themselves Broderick Boys.”

    DMG: “One person I have met with told me that her son was not a gang member, but committed a minor crime, ended up going to CYA for a year, and came back, you guessed it, a gang member.”

    all unnamed sources.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Most of the defendants are extremely young. Most look rather innocent, and by that I mean not that they are necessarily innocent of a crime but rather they do not appear to be hardened criminals.”

    LOL What does a “criminal” look like to you? Did you ever see Ted Bundy? Looked like a typical college boy – he was a serial killer of the worst kind. The criminals that get away w the most are the ones who look the most “innocent”.

    dmg: “Unfortunately, when the gang injunction case was actually heard by Judge White, no defense attorney was willing to testify that they received a “NSPT” (No State Prison Term) offer in exchange for a gang admission.”

    No why do you think that is? If they were not willing to testify under oath that this did happen, but are telling you it did in private, that is very “telling”!

    dmg: “The inclination of many is to crack down on these youthful offenders before they become more serious criminals. The problem is, that process is actually contributing to the problem – it creates hardened criminals and gang members.
    What is happening is that when you put these kids in CYA or they end up being direct filed as adults, they end up getting placed in there with hard-core gang members and they naturally become gang members themselves.
    One person I have met with told me that her son was not a gang member, but committed a minor crime, ended up going to CYA for a year, and came back, you guessed it, a gang member.”

    So what are you saying here, this kid should have been allowed to commit a crime w no consequences, bc to put him in jail will make him a hardened criminal?

    dmg: “There is now evidence that the gang policies themselves might be contributing to any gang problem. Several people in the last few months have told me that there was no Broderick Boys in West Sacramento until the DA’s Office pressed for the gang injunction. Now, you have a lot of young kids calling themselves Broderick Boys.
    Are they gang members? That is a difficult question that I am not qualified to answer. There is a hip-hop cultural mentality that glorifies the “gangsta” lifestyle. This has spawned a number of “wannabes” – young people who are drawn to the culture and emulate what they hear in rap music and what they see on TV.”

    There have always been “wannabes” – you’ve mentioned them in your article may times. It stretches all credulity to think the “wannabes” just suddenly sprang up out of thin air bc of the gang injunction. LOL

  3. JustSaying

    [quote]“Several people in the last few months have told me that there was no Broderick Boys in West Sacramento until the DA’s Office pressed for the gang injunction. Now, you have a lot of young kids calling themselves Broderick Boys.”[/quote]Are these the same people who testified that there’s no Broderick Boys gang and were found not credible by Judge White? Do you figure that these several conversations [u]really[/u] provide “evidence that the gang policies themselves might be contributing to any gang problem.”[quote]“One person I have met with told me that her son was not a gang member, but committed a minor crime, ended up going to CYA for a year, and came back, you guessed it, a gang member. Fortunately, this kid did not want to continue down that path and has kept himself clean since then….[/quote]So, your single, specific example is someone who is [u]not[/u] a gang member? How does it support your conclusion that “(the law enforcement process) creates hardened criminals and gang members….” What do you classify as a “minor crime”–locked up for a year seems like a severe sentence for something minor.[quote]“Unfortunately, when the gang injunction case was actually heard by Judge White, no defense attorney was willing to testify that they received a ‘NSPT’ (No State Prison Term) offer in exchange for a gang admission.”[/quote]Hmmm…now, why would attorneys tell the [u]Vanguard[/u] one thing and refuse to provide the same information under oath in a case as important as this one? Hmmm.
    [quote]“Are the DA’s Gang Policies Actually Producing Gang Members Rather Than Preventing Them?”[/quote]Answer: nope.

  4. SueChan

    I know people who “look like gang members.” They are nice, wholesome young people who are often treated VERY rudely by law enforcement. I’m sure some of them are acquaintances of actual gang members, but this does not mean they are affiliated.

    A lot of people are trying to live right, but if you are told repeatedly that you are scum and don’t belong in this community, why should they keep trying? Kids do stupid things sometimes. So do adults. Does this mean we label them and shove them aside? I’ve seen a lot of young people fall through the cracks, even in Davis. (Maybe especially in Davis schools, where those who aren’t high achievers get no help nor recognition as human beings.) Policies like heavy-handed “anti-gang” enforcement can cause those with a chip on their shoulder to decide that the society has nothing to offer them, so why NOT lash out?

  5. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: Apologies that I am just now getting to read and answer your comments.

    “pure speculation” – I’m not exactly sure why you would respond to my comment about the appearance of the kids on trial, it was an observation that did not carry with it much more than that.

    “Recently I had long conversations independent of each other with several procecutors. They say those defense attorneys are wrong.” – Honestly I don’t get the point of your comment – are you calling me a liar?

    “all unnamed sources.” – Again are you calling me a liar? I have to quote people in order for you to believe that they told me that?

    “LOL What does a “criminal” look like to you? Did you ever see Ted Bundy? Looked like a typical college boy – he was a serial killer of the worst kind. The criminals that get away w the most are the ones who look the most “innocent”.” – The point of mentioning that is not whether or not they are innocent. But there is a substantial difference between the appearance of a teenager who is relatively fresh and has no priors, versus a person who has either been to CDCR or CYA. The point was that these kids are green and presumably given their relative lack of criminal history there is still a chance that intervention could work.

    “No why do you think that is? If they were not willing to testify under oath that this did happen, but are telling you it did in private, that is very “telling”!” – Actually in most of these cases, the offer is public. For instance, not one of the defense attorneys for the Memorial Park Defendants told me that they got the offer, but I saw them get the offer. However, none were willing to testify to it during the Gang Injunction Trial. Why? I’m sure they have their reasons and it probably starts with fear that the DA’s office will take it out on their clients and most attorneys really don’t want to rock the boat that they sit in and profit from.

    “So what are you saying here, this kid should have been allowed to commit a crime w no consequences, bc to put him in jail will make him a hardened criminal? “

    Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. Good job. (Sarcasm).

    “There have always been “wannabes” – you’ve mentioned them in your article may times. It stretches all credulity to think the “wannabes” just suddenly sprang up out of thin air bc of the gang injunction. LOL “

    I’m not suggesting that. What I’m suggesting is that the media coverage and the gang injunctions gave the wannabes an identity that they previously lacks. There were no Broderick Boys ten years ago, and now there are precisely because kids now want to emulate the image that has been created for them.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    “Are these the same people who testified that there’s no Broderick Boys gang and were found not credible by Judge White?”

    The people that testified that there was no Broderick Boys gang were people who have lived in the community for years. And even now it is not a gang per se, but a bunch of kids walking around calling themselves Broderick Boys.

    “Do you figure that these several conversations really provide “evidence that the gang policies themselves might be contributing to any gang problem.””

    Evidence in the sense of a trial? No. Evidence in the sense that we have an understanding of what is going on? Yes.

    “So, your single, specific example is someone who is not a gang member? “

    It’s anecdotal evidence for what I think is going on to some extent based on my observations of court cases and the defendants in them.

    “How does it support your conclusion that “(the law enforcement process) creates hardened criminals and gang members….””

    I had a professor who once said that an anecdote is the singular word for data. As such, this is but one piece in the puzzle.

    “What do you classify as a “minor crime”–locked up for a year seems like a severe sentence for something minor.”

    I think he was in a fist fight and they put a gang enhancement on it. The parents did not have the resources to fight it and he was sent to CYA for a year.

    “Hmmm…now, why would attorneys tell the Vanguard one thing and refuse to provide the same information under oath in a case as important as this one? Hmmm. “

    As I just explained to Elaine above, the defense attorneys did not necessarily tell me anything, it came from the Memorial Park Incident where on the record that was the offer but none of the attorneys were willing to testify that they got this kind of offer in the gang injunction trial.

    Also last year we did a public records request for all gang cases over a period of time and we could see a number of cases where they plead to 186.22(A) which is the stand alone gang enhancement and they got probation. But no one was willing to come forward and testify to it in court from what the defense attorneys told me in the gang injunction case.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    To dmg: You mistakenly conflated comments of Musser w E Roberts Musser. Understandable mistake!

    erm: “So what are you saying here, this kid should have been allowed to commit a crime w no consequences, bc to put him in jail will make him a hardened criminal? “

    dmg: “Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying… I think he was in a fist fight”

    Hmmmmmmm – no consequences if a youth slugs someone? How’s that going to work for society? If a young person gets away hitting anyone s/he feels like, eventually one of his/her victims is bound to be seriously hurt. We cannot afford to let kids go around slugging other kids… and it almost always escalates into something more dangerous… my son was the victim of such nonsense, so I know how it works…

    Now if you are arguing that it would be better to have diversion programs, that is all well and good – if they exist and are successful. Do any exist in Yolo County and if so, are they effective? Because from where I sit, I haven’t seen any such programs around here…

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Oh I did, I’m sorry David and Elaine.

    We actually do have a diversion program in Yolo. My memory is foggy right now, but I believe without the gang enhancement the punishment would have been some sort of juvenile probation. I’m not one who believe that our only alternatives are no punishment and incarceration. But it’s a fine line, putting a kid who doesn’t need incarceration into detention often turns them into a real criminal. Doing nothing as you note, is problematic as well. That tells me that there needs to be a better third option.

  9. Superfluous Man

    I do not doubt that there are many “innocent” looking kids who are involved in “gangs” and commit serious and/or violent offenses. However, I think it’s difficult for one to grasp what David’s saying without having interacted directly with some of these kids who, by their own admission in many cases, are associate and involved with gangs. It’s hard to connect a lot of these kids with the often terrifying descriptions of “criminal street gang activity” and the people involved in. Just my anecdote.

  10. Roger Rabbit

    [quote]What does a “criminal” look like to you?[/quote]

    lol, if you asked Reisig this question he would probably say Hispanic, tattoos, living in West Sac.

    If you ask me, I would say, Short, muscle head, steroid user, wearing a suit and works in the DA’s office. 🙂

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