PODER Santa Barbara held a forum at La Casa de la Raza last Thursday night called “How Will a Gang Injunction Affect Your Community?” Billed as a chance for community members to learn about the city’s proposed lawsuit against 30 alleged gang members, PODER reiterated its reasons for opposing it, took barely any questions, and instead hosted an evening of passionate speakers with at times bombastic rhetoric.
As proposed, the complex litigation and civil action intends to restrict 30 individuals from specific areas of the city and from congregating with each other. If caught doing so, the people affected would face a fine and/or jail time for the violation. A judge has not yet decided on whether to even allow the injunction.
But to PODER, the anti-gang lawsuit reeks of social injustice, and the suggestion that some of the city’s parks and schools be deemed “safety zones” free of gang activity is in fact a calculated attempt to criminalize the entire Latino community. “Gang injunctions are a manifestation of racism, oppression, and police brutality,” opined one.
“Chumash were wiped out here because of strategies like the gang injunction,” said a visiting member of Todo Poder al Pueblo, an Oxnard group that shares PODER’s view. He added that the injunction would amount to a “suspension of civil and human rights in target zones.” Thomas Carrasco, a professor of Chicano Studies at SBCC, declared it an attempt at “controlling brown bodies in Santa Barbara. … It’s unethical craziness,” he added.
PODER believes that to lower crime, more counseling, job training, and funds for schools and activities are needed rather than an injunction, which they claim promotes incarceration and racial profiling. They also repeated that they feel the city should have consulted the community.
And in an attempt to predict how Santa Barbara’s proposed action isn’t necessary and won’t work, PODER shared some crime statistics from cities like Los Angeles and New York. Oakland, which currently has groups including the ACLU challenging the East Bay city’s injunction, was also mentioned as proof that criminal activity would not be reduced with the legal filing.
During the same slide show, PODER also shared figures showing a downward trend in local crime while spending for law enforcement has increased. “Crime rates have decreased, so why are they spending more on police?” one speaker asked.
To be fair, PODER event organizers did say that they were not lawyers. In fact the only trained lawyer who spoke was Rachel Solomon from the city’s Public Defender Office. Solomon explained that as it’s been written, whatever the proposed injunction dictates has to be approved by Judge Colleen Stern, who will hear the case sometime in March.
Solomon explained that, as of now, the injunction is still only a proposal. “[Judge Stern] could grant it, disallow it, or change it,” said Solomon. “But if the judge finds in favor, it will become an order.”
Also, she addressed the city’s selection of the 30 defendants. “They didn’t have to,” she said about the specific individuals named. “They could’ve just left it at Eastside and Westside,” referring to the two gangs operating in Santa Barbara and also mentioned in the complaint.
She also said that “for whatever reason,” the city went with 300 additional spaces for as-yet-unnamed people, but that including additional unnamed parties at the time of filing was routine. “There’s nothing nasty or evil about it,” she said.
Solomon also touched on whether or not juveniles would be affected. As of now, all of the individuals named are adults, albeit some have criminal records going back to pre-adult days. But “unless the judge says ‘this injunction can’t be used against juveniles,’ then it could be,” she said.
And that’s seen as big concern by PODER and a key reason they stand against it. The injunction, they say, would allow for rampant racial profiling and that those 300 John Does will be used to continually add new names and further what they say is already widespread police harassment of Latino youth. Some teens who spoke at the event said that they’re already been stopped and questioned simply for being Latino and dressing a certain way.
Although no one from the city who helped draft the injunction appeared at the event, City Attorney Steve Wiley and Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer spoke to The Santa Barbara Independent by phone Friday.
“It’s not about creating a panic,” said Wiley. Wiley said the city can only put a case together and argue it before a judge who, ultimately, will make the call on how the injunction is defined, where it’s enforced, and who will be named. “We have no intention of having or adding juveniles” he said.
Wiley pointed out that at the time the complaint was filed, his office didn’t know if they had enough evidence on other people to add them, but that they wanted space available just in case. “It’s how lawyers do things,” he said.
In a separate conversation, Dozer also addressed the claims being made against the injunction. “There are no juveniles named, so the misinformation being spread is just that, misinformation,” he said. As for adding anyone else known by law enforcement to have a gang-related criminal history, Dozer said that at this time, no new defendants have been proposed.
“There could be a hearing to add an individual,” he said, but as of now, the city isn’t contemplating that, and no juveniles are even being considered. “No names in the hopper, so to speak,” Dozer explained.
Dozer then spoke a bit more about what the proposed measure, if allowed by the judge in its current form, would do. “All we can discuss is what the gang injunction does have,” he began. “Namely certain requests including an establishment of a safety zone and how only certain behavior of the 30 named will be prohibited within them.”
And the safety zones would not interfere with the day-to-day parental duties of even a convicted felon, Dozer said. “It would not preclude an individual from dropping their children off at school, participating in a child’s education, or attending classes,” he said.
As for Wiley, he said city officials felt the safety zones were “appropriate,” but that they expect Judge Stern to scrutinize their scope. “She’s going to be skeptical,” he said, adding, “She might not necessarily even give us the safety zones.”
Dozer concurred. “How it’s enforced depends on how the judge defines its elements,” he said. “Until Sterne defines it, we won’t know.”
After the Thursday night meeting ended and people made their way to the door, someone shouted from the back of the room that PODER invited all the members of the City Council and school board to the event, but that only Cathy Murillo showed up. And although she was in fact the only elected person there, Murillo remained silent the entire night.
Then a young rapper was introduced to the hangers-on. He performed a rhyme called “Gang Injunction, What’s Your Function?”