Gang Injunctions Are Ineffective and Criminalize Youth of Color

Gang-Stock-newby Caitlin Sanderson

With all we now know about unrelenting bias and systemic racism in our criminal justice system, do we really want to let gang cops and prosecutors decide whose rights will be permanently restricted?

That is exactly what happens with civil gang injunctions. They never end. They are blunt instruments, too often wielded indiscriminately with their prohibitions against even innocuous, daily behavior.

While gang injunctions have been found to be constitutional, they nonetheless severely restrict civil liberties without adequate due process. Once someone is on an injunction, activities such as hanging out in public with friends or relatives (if police think they are gang members too), wearing certain colors, or being out at night violates the injunction and subjects them to arrest for violating a court order.

And those who are enjoined are rarely given the opportunity to challenge their inclusion under the injunction beforehand. There is no right to appointed counsel in civil proceedings, meaning those who want to fight these injunctions must either represent themselves in court or hire a private attorney.

Most often, however, an injunction is obtained against the gang itself, and then the police and district attorney or city attorney—without court oversight—decide against whom they will enforce it.

But the injunctions are ineffective in curbing gang violence. Instead they become a ticket to the prison pipeline for some young people who have never committed a single crime, and they shred relations between the police and communities of color.

An uglier consequence of these injunctions comes from studies showing that police in gang units have a greater bias against youth of color than other police officers. Gang officers see indicators of gang membership everywhere and are unable to distinguish between youth growing up in neighborhoods where gangs exist and those who are actually involved in gang crime.

These officers are more likely to label individuals as gang members, arrest them for alleged gang activity and use violence in the process. Recent studies suggest that gang injunctions actually increase the use of excessive force by police officers.

Gang crime and gang violence is a very real problem for many communities in our country. But the question we should ask is how we want to spend limited public resources to combat this problem.

A better approach would use after-school programs, job training and early intervention—strategies proven to be effective at addressing the root causes of gangs and gang violence.

Constitutionally problematic gang injunctions with little data to support their justification, while increasing the risk of police violence and criminalizing youth are not the answer.

Caitlin Sanderson is staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. 

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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15 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I think that there are some very interesting points raised by this piece.

    1)Many posters here place blame on the breakdown of “the family” for lack of achievement within our traditional ( legal) economic system and for criminality. But here, we have one of those many interlocking pieces of a spiral. When a child is growing up without adequate parental support because of abandonment or drugs or incarceration or death or …. there may be no on the home front to provide the necessary parenting and the gang provides the only “structure” and sense of belonging for this individual. Can this be one possible point for intervention and prevention ?  I would say yes, but only if we are willing to put our resources into the primary prevention of crime as opposed to just catching and incarcerating criminals.

    2. By their own definition, in their own words, the police consider themselves “the good guys” in a “good guy vs bad guy “scenario. When the DA and the police have so defined themselves, are they really the best individuals to decide on whom “gang sanctions” should be enforced when they include being able to socialize with family members and friends or will their personal biases be a wedge which itself further destroys family and community ?

    3. Do these policies promote or hinder reintegration into society when an individual has been incarcerated and now is prevented from associating not only with prior gang members, but from other members of his/her community because of the judgements of those who are clearly biased.

    4. One last observation from Citizens Academy.

    One session of the Citizens Academy is devoted to providing information about gangs. This information was provided by a number of uniformed police officers from the surrounding cities and county. By their definition a gang was a group of individuals who:

    1. Were closely knit with group loyalty-viewed others as “outsiders”

    2. Were hierarchical

    3. Spoke a common jargon

    4. Wore identifying colors or uniform

    5. Used intimidation as a means of promoting their groups goals

    6. Were armed

    In looking around the room that evening, I made the realization that there was one group present that fit all of their criteria…..the police themselves.

    Now of course, there is one criteria that I left out. That is that a gang is defined as being involved in criminal activity while the police are charged with preventing such activity.

    But does that mean that every one who by birth or location has fallen into this defined group is also guilty of criminal behavior ?  I would argue that this is not necessarily the case. I would further argue that allowing the legal “gang” by their own definition to define whose activity is “illegal” and whose is merely conformity with the only support system available to them is in and of itself a potential injustice.

     

    1. Topcat

      When a child is growing up without adequate parental support because of abandonment or drugs or incarceration or death or …. there may be no on the home front to provide the necessary parenting and the gang provides the only “structure” and sense of belonging for this individual. Can this be one possible point for intervention and prevention ?

      Yes, this is the situation as I see it too.  That’s why I am a big supporter of programs like Head Start that help provide guidance and support in the early years of childhood.

    2. theotherside

      “In looking around the room that evening, I made the realization that there was one group present that fit all of their criteria…..the police themselves.”

      Yes, you left out a major criteria, being involved in organized criminal activity, that is not a small detail.  Gangs are involved in drug trafficking and distribution, violent assaults, violent robberies, home invasions, home burglaries, vehicle theft.  All the plagues on the community and law abiding citizens.  That is a very insulting and frankly ill-informed and insulting statement.

      Do you think maybe West Sacramento does not have the violent crime and homicide rate that Stockton has might have something to do with the gang injunction?  And speaking of West Sacramento, a little girl is currently lying in a hospital fighting for her life as a result of gang violence (police “gangs” do not do drive by’s and shoot up houses for your info).  And we should do less?  That suspect by the way, was from Stockton and has a long gang affiliated criminal history.  He is an adult and we cannot send him to an after school program as a deterrence to a gang life.

  2. zaqzaq

    Once again the Vanguard becomes the propaganda mouthpiece for the ACLU.

    “do we really want to let gang cops and prosecutors decide whose rights will be permanently restricted?”  Does she not understand the role of the judge in both civil and criminal cases.  In the W. Sac injunction there was a trial with attorneys representing gang members, an appeal with attorneys representing gang members and then another trial with attorneys representing gang members.  A judge ruled in favor of the DA and granted the injunction.  The author then goes on to make a number of assertions about studies and then does not cite a single one.  Pure ACLU propaganda.  

     

     

  3. Tia Will

    zaqzaq

    “do we really want to let gang cops and prosecutors decide whose rights will be permanently restricted?”  Does she not understand the role of the judge in both civil and criminal cases.”

    Do you not understand that:

    1. I do not speak for “the Vanguard”.

    2. The police and the DA work hand in hand in law enforcement, evidence sharing and the charging of cases. The defense ….. not so much so, and is reliant on the defendant’s  ability to pay which is certainly not true for the prosecution.

    1. zaqzaq

      Tia,

      My point was that a judge heard the evidence that was presented by both the DA and a number of attorneys representing the gang members in the civil case concerning the W. Sac gang injunction.  The judge ruled in favor of the DA in granting the gang injunction in W. Sac. after hearing the evidence and hearing argument by both sides on the meaning of the evidence and the law.  The DA also has to prove that a person is a gang member in any criminal case.  I am all for crushing criminal street gangs to avoid the out of control gang activity that we are witnessing in Mexico and central america.

      You seem to forget that the indigent defendant’s in criminal cases are represented by the public defender’s office which also have investigators to assist them.  David included a recent piece by the SF public defender on how great those attorneys are.

      The DA and police agencies also have limited budgets and have to use them wisely.  You seem to think that their resources are unlimited.

      As a member of the Vanguard’s Editorial Board I think it is comical that you would claim that you do not speak for the Vanguard. Who does speak for the Vanguard or is the Vanguard really only another name for David?

      1. Davis Progressive

        a few points in response.

        the judge granted the injunction, i think it would be interesting if david posts the data he has to show whether that injunction is being utilized.  also that injunction is being challenged at the appellate levels – i was never really impressed with the da’s evidence of gang activity which looked less like some organized criminal street organization and more like a loose band of criminals and juvenile delinquents who did acts of nuisance.  remember that big raid – operation red sash – it ended up being a bunch of people on drugs and selling drugs, who weren’t actually gang members and it fizzled.

        the da has to prove a person is a gang member?  the gang laws are very absurd in that way and proof of gang membership is thin at best.

  4. Tia Will

    zaqzaq

    As a member of the Vanguard’s Editorial Board I think it is comical that you would claim that you do not speak for the Vanguard. Who does speak for the Vanguard or is the Vanguard really only another name for David?”

    This is a fair question. David’s answer might be a little different from mine, but this is how I see it.

    David, other members of the editorial board, Don as mediator, and I frequently have differing points of view which should be readily verifiable.

    When I write an article or a post, I am speaking only for myself. When a question or procedure regarding the Vanguard arises which I can answer, and neither David nor anyone else from the editorial board  has addressed it, I will clarity to the best of my ability. When I have done so in the past, I have pointed out that I am speaking as a member of the editorial board.

    I really do not see this as being any different than my statement that when I write, even though I am a TPMG physician, my views do not represent those of my medical group or Kaiser Permanente, but are mine and mine alone.

     

     

  5. tribeUSA

    Rather than eliminating gang injunctions, how about  simply reforming them?

    Of course the best way to reform them is likely not easy to figure out in most cases.

    Would be interesting to read anecdotes wherein gang injunctions have been effective, and anecdotes where they have been ineffective or harmful. Including viewpoints from law-abiding mature (say, over 40 to be certain) members of the community where gang injunctions have been instituted. Are they considered oppressive by all who live in these areas; or do many residents feel safer?

  6. Kristin

    A gang enhancement makes any crime a “serious” offense and can attach to each charge against a defendant. I personally watched a 40 year old man, father of 5 kids, an ex wife he had to support a girlfriend he was supporting who had priors for a burglary when he was 17 where nobody was home and he used a key, a fist fight when he was a kid where several people were involved and he personally had no weapon whose current crimes were for possession of 1.4 ounces of dope and an inactive boxed lab, $600 in his pocket get a sentence of 84 years (more than the standard 25 to life that we give murderers) because of a gang enhancement attached to each charge which were Manufacturing Controlled Substance Sales of Controlled Substance and Transportation of controlled substance and another Manufacturing because he had just enough left overs from when he did cook the dope that it was said he could have made more so 2 manufacturing charges. This in turn triggered the three strike law because of the gang enhancement making each charge a serious offense which makes each one a strike. The other person involved wasn’t charged with a gang enhancement had priors for Manufacturing was given an offer of 8 years. How does this make sense? How does this qualify as a gang crime for one participant but not the other? Why is somebody who takes a life given 25 to life and a man who hasn’t taken a life 84 years? Why would making drugs be worse than killing a 5 year old when ultimately the end result of the crime is people choosing to ingest it because they choose to nobody forces the dope into anybody’s pipe and at that its only a midemeanor to have drugs now so providing that option is worse than killing someone and deserves essentially a death sentence because 84 years is a death sentence versus 25 to life a murderer gets. So are we as a society really saying touching a child is better than making drugs that people choose to consume? Really? How many fathers with 5 kids and ex-wife and a current girlfriend is going to be able to do any crime to benefit a gang the 5 kids and ex wife wouldn’t let that happen lets be real.

    As to this comment:

    n looking around the room that evening, I made the realization that there was one group present that fit all of their criteria…..the police themselves.
    Now of course, there is one criteria that I left out. That is that a gang is defined as being involved in criminal activity while the police are charged with preventing such activity.
    All I have to say is they actually meet the involved in criminal activity part as well if you watch the news there are several different cases involving rape sexually oriented types of crimes as well as domestic assaults being committed by law enforcement which are worse morally than the kinds of crimes that gangs commit.

  7. Tia Will

    Kristin

    if you watch the news there are several different cases involving rape sexually oriented types of crimes as well as domestic assaults being committed by law enforcement which are worse morally than the kinds of crimes that gangs commit.”

    I do not watch the news, but have through links in articles I read have encountered several instances of “internal searches” performed on the street, in full public view, for reasons which would seem to be unrelated to the stated reason for the stop. I find it difficult to believe that these searches conducted in public serve any legitimate police function, are meant to be humiliating and intimidating, and are likely illegal which would support your statement of illegal activity benefiting the police “gang” ( by their own definition).

  8. theotherside

    I take exception to several broad, vague, and generalized statements made by the author of this piece.  I will take them one at a time as they reflect upon the local W Sacramento gang injunction against norteno gang members.

    “With all we now know about unrelenting bias and systemic racism in our criminal justice system”

    I find this offensive.  What we know is that the vast majority of Law Enforcement Officers go to work everyday to protect the community to which they serve legally and morally.  There are cases of bias and racism in police agencies but are rare and dealt with swiftly.  Departments around the country are embracing community outreach and the goals of the  president’s task force on 21st century policing.

    “That is exactly what happens with civil gang injunctions. They never end.”

    Simply untrue.  civil gang injunctions, if approved, have a sunset (usually 5 years) and are revisited by the courts.  The DA’s Office has the burden of proof if it is to continue and in what manner.

    “While gang injunctions have been found to be constitutional, they nonetheless severely restrict civil liberties without adequate due process. Once someone is on an injunction, activities such as hanging out in public with friends or relatives (if police think they are gang members too), wearing certain colors, or being out at night violates the injunction and subjects them to arrest for violating a court order.”

    Also untrue.  Each individual served with an injunction is allowed due process and are allowed to have a court hearing to argue they do not belong on the injunction and are afforded the opportunity to be removed.  Several individuals have been removed from the injunction through this process.

    “And those who are enjoined are rarely given the opportunity to challenge their inclusion under the injunction beforehand. There is no right to appointed counsel in civil proceedings, meaning those who want to fight these injunctions must either represent themselves in court or hire a private attorney.”

    False.  The current W Sac injunction had a 9 month trial before it was granted.  One Deputy District Attorney conducted the trial against 9 defense attorneys and the 9 members that fought the injunction.  A majority of the 9 defense attorneys were from the Public Defender’s Office or indigent defense panel.

    “Most often, however, an injunction is obtained against the gang itself, and then the police and district attorney or city attorney—without court oversight—decide against whom they will enforce it.”

    Misleading, see above.

    “But the injunctions are ineffective in curbing gang violence. Instead they become a ticket to the prison pipeline for some young people who have never committed a single crime, and they shred relations between the police and communities of color.”

    The violation of the injunction is a misdemeanor charge of violation of a civil order, no prison.  The “prison pipeline” is solely traveled by those that commit dangerous and violent felonies.  It is very difficult to make it to prison these days … 47 (impossible if you haven’t committed a crime).  Relations are built through social events and community meetings to which many just choose not to attend.

    “These officers are more likely to label individuals as gang members, arrest them for alleged gang activity and use violence in the process. Recent studies suggest that gang injunctions actually increase the use of excessive force by police officers.”

    Please cite or hyperlink your study.  Huge pet peeve, randomly referring to studies but not quoting them.  Arrests have to be backed up by facts and evidence, closely scrutinized by the DA’s Office.  A lot of work goes into a gang enhancement case .. facts and circumstances and they are not filed without cause.

    “A better approach would use after-school programs, job training and early intervention—strategies proven to be effective at addressing the root causes of gangs and gang violence.”

    I agree with this one … but in conjunction with the injunction, not in lieu of.

    “Constitutionally problematic gang injunctions with little data to support their justification, while increasing the risk of police violence and criminalizing youth are not the answer.”

    There is actually a plethora of data to support … all came out in that 9 month long court trial

  9. Tia Will

    theotherside

    There are cases of bias and racism in police agencies but are rare and dealt with swiftly.  Departments around the country are embracing community outreach and the goals of the  president’s task force on 21st century policing.”

    I would say that simply by Googling police bias one would encounter a number of cases in which there was confirmed bias on the part of the individual or group of police officers so charged. This would tend to refute your claim that this is a rare event and handled swiftly. I would further assert that part of the reason departments around the country are now embracing community outreach is because of the previous perceived lack of this approach and because of the increasing public awareness of bias.

    Simply untrue.  civil gang injunctions, if approved, have a sunset (usually 5 years) and are revisited by the courts”

    While it is true that “never end” is literally incorrect, in the impact on the life of an individual trying to improve their life, the 5 years between 15 and 20, or 18 and 23 may well have an impact on the rest of their life ( their chances of getting a good education, their chances of getting a good job, their chances of building a military, or financial, or academic, or scientific career) may be severely restricted by this kind of labeling. Thus the consequences if not the injunction itself may indeed be never ending.

     It is very difficult to make it to prison these days … 47 (impossible if you haven’t committed a crime)”

    Unless of course you are falsely convicted which may be more likely if the DA and prosecutorial staff decide to play up the gang affiliation angle.

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