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The Security State and the Gang Injunction

Does Santa Barbara Want to Be Split into ‘Security Zones’?


What do Deltopia, the Bundy ranch, and the gang injunction have in common? Each represents a crackdown by state and federal authorities on local communities for the ostensible purpose of upholding law and order.

In the case of Deltopia, police officers prepped their confrontation with student party-goers by installing CamGuard towers, enforcing noise ordinances and public intoxication penalites, and, in the end, meeting students with a barrage of rubber bullets, flash grenades, tear gas, and sound cannons. In the case of the Bundy ranch, federal authorities from the Bureau of Land Management squared off with local ranchers in a dispute over cattle grazing rights on government land that rallied hundreds of armed supporters to the Bundy family. In the case of the gang injunction, city officials seek to impose a measure that will violate the civil rights of the citizens of the Eastside and Westside of Santa Barbara for the ostensible purpose of abating the “public nuisance” posed by Latino youth.

In his discussion of the national security state at the Lobero Theatre this past February, Noam Chomsky pointed out that the government definition of security is one that seems more concerned with eschewing public scrutiny than protecting public welfare. “Those who have worked through the huge mass of declassified documents … can hardly fail to notice how frequently it is security of state power from the domestic public that is a prime concern, not national security in any meaningful sense.” This is evident from the spate of legislation this past decade that has seen the implementation of the PATRIOT Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the Military Commissions Act, and, more recently, the adjudication of the National Defense Authorization Act. Such legislation has steadily chipped away at the guarantee of due process of the law once enshrined in the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance powers of the National Security Agency has exposed the reality of intelligence agencies in locked goosestep with ever-expanding executive police powers. Anybody who is concerned with the rising security state should similarly be concerned with the growing powers of local law enforcement agencies: for example, the use of drones and stingray surveillance technology by police departments across the country. The former was employed against a rancher in North Dakota who was found and arrested by federal authorities after refusing to surrender over a stray cattle dispute (a precursor to Cliven Bundy), and the latter has been employed against Latinos in Santa Barbara to monitor and target the cell phone conversations of alleged gang members from the Eastside and the Westside. When we consider the fact that the Department of Homeland Security decreed the repressive police tactics used to disperse the Occupy movement, we should be very concerned about the coordination of federal agencies with local police departments for purposes of quelling free speech and assembly.

So, for instance, the official report describes Deltopia as an “unlawful assembly” and an instance of “civil unrest.” To use terms that suggest that Deltopia was an insurrection seems more than a little ridiculous unless authoritarian antipathy to Isla Vista’s history of civil disobedience is taken into account. University and local officials failed to consult with students on plans to monitor and control Deltopia ahead of time, and this lack of communication no doubt contributed to the ugliness of the confrontation between students and police.

Likewise with the gang injunction; City Hall has failed to consult with the Latino citizens of Santa Barbara who will similarly find an armed, hostile police presence in their neighborhoods under the terms of the injunction. As has already been seen in Oxnard, Anaheim, and other cities around California, a gang injunction actually increases police violence toward Latino communities under the banner of “law and order.” A Latino youth residing in Santa Barbara will have his or her right to peaceful assembly greatly curtailed since the injunction stipulates that for gang members and their associates (and this includes family members, neighbors, and friends), the areas they once frequented are now off-limits. Normal activities like visiting a neighbor, going to school, picking up a spouse from work, or being out too late after the curfew are illegal for “gang members” and their associates. They are subject to routine police stops and arrest for “violating” the terms of the injunction.

What’s worse, the injunction grants full discretionary power to the police to determine who is and who isn’t a gang member. This means that racial profiling becomes the default setting of law enforcement officials since they often have no means to identify a gang member other than cultural markers such as place of residence, style of clothing, tattoos, and mannerisms. Youthful misbehavior like public intoxication and spray-painting graffiti become evidence of gang membership in the eyes of the police, and the unlucky youth so designated will end up in the Cal Gang Database whether or not he or she is actually a gang member. Moreover, gang enhancement policies kick into effect when sentencing Latinos, which means that Latino teenagers can face an additional two to 10 years more than their white counterparts for the same transgression.

Taken all together, the gang injunction effectively criminalizes the entire Eastside and Westside of Santa Barbara and thereby preps the Latino community for the same violent police repression tactics witnessed during the Anaheim uprising two summers ago. We the people of Santa Barbara need to seriously consider whether dividing up our city into “safety zones” under what amounts to little more than martial law is really in the best interest of our youth and our community.

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