The People’s Voice is a new weekly column appearing in The Santa Barbara Independent addressing the issues and concerns of PODER (People Organized for the Defense and Equal Rights of Santa Barbara). The column will be written by a variety of members in our organization and will deal with subjects of social justice, civil rights, and more.

Here, three PODER members speak about why they formed the grassroots organization and its significance.

Gaby Hernandez

I got involved with the gang injunction (GI) fight in March of 2012 shortly after the passing of my beloved mentor Babatunde Folayemi, a former city councilmember and personal service provider for at-risk youth. At the time, he was one of few people bringing awareness to the issue of the GI, and he said it best when he declared, “Gang injunctions are modern day apartheid.”

At his candlelight vigil, a few of his mentees started talking about the GI and agreed to continue his legacy.

We initially joined organizations that already opposed the GI, but we decided to branch off so we could operate freely. PODER grew out of those early efforts of love for the community carried out by Babatunde’s mentees, residents, students, service providers, and parents. Our love for the truth and our community kept us fighting for two years straight to defeat the GI.

My commitment to defeating the GI was based on firsthand experience with the youth criminal justice system in Santa Barbara.

I grew up on the Eastside neighborhood of the city, where I was raised in poverty by a single mother of three. At the young age of twelve, I got involved with gangs and the juvenile criminal justice system, and began a cycle of self-destructive behaviors.

With the support of my family, mentors, social workers, probation officers, educators and effective community-based programs, I was able to transition from offender to student. I received my bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Long Beach State University and my master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California. I now work as a therapist/social worker with Orange County’s most vulnerable youth and their families. I advocate for community-based programs that are effective and I oppose punitive measures that only limit the possibilities for youth of color.

GIs are present in communities that have a record of sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system. Minorities are more likely to be arrested, charged, and sentenced for longer periods of time than Caucasians arrested for the same crime. Santa Barbara is notorious for unequal sentencing based on race and class demographics.

My cousin was one of the defendants listed on the Santa Barbara GI. Many of the young men I grew up with were also listed on it. I feared for my nephews, my nieces, and the impact a GI would have on their future and the future of all the youth of our city. I know that if a GI were to have been proposed when I was a kid, the majority of my friends and I would have probably ended up on it. Many of us changed our behaviors. Some became business owners, nurses, an attorney, a teacher — one even became a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office.

GIs take away second chances. They rip away hope. And without hope, there is little incentive to change. Hope defeated the gang injunction, the community as a whole defeated the gang injunction, and the truth defeated the gang injunction!

Cindy Gonzalez

My name is Cindy Gonzalez. I am a mother who was raising a child on the Westside in an area where the proposed gang injunction would have affected my son. As a single mother, I couldn’t afford to live in a more affluent area of Santa Barbara. My neighbors were mostly immigrants and working class folks.

In 2012, I was wrapping up my last year at Santa Barbara City College and preparing to apply to a university. When I learned about the effects of gang injunctions through Gaby and Nayra, I felt that the gang injunction was sending a message of despair, instead of hope with alternative solutions.

That is because whenever I see the young people of Santa Barbara, I see my son Josiah. I learned that the gang injunction would have affected his freedom of assembly, his daily movements, and even his manner of dress. It was clear to me that my son’s civil liberties would have been violated by the gang injunction.

Whether we fear them or understand them, I believe that our children are the future leaders of this nation. I recognize that we must empower our youth and provide alternative solutions so that they can discover their true potential. We must not poison their development by imposing draconian laws that will target them for simply fitting “suspect” race and class profiles.

Nayra Pacheco

While I could never deny that I’ve lived in a city with landscapes that liken to snapshots of paradise, I can easily say I’ve never felt a sense of being wealthy. My growth and empowerment in my journey as a young, undocumented, woman of color living in Santa Barbara has allowed me to understand the important, resilient power of family and community in a city founded on historical injustices and institutional inequalities.

Our Vision: PODER was founded on the belief that all people deserve love, respect, and justice. We believe that laws, practices, and policies that seek to violate any of these values have no place in dictating the lives of a people who have limited power to influence those institutional structures that work against them. Our organization was founded to give a voice to those who are historically criminalized, marginalized, and misunderstood.

Our Mission: PODER seeks to develop alliances within the community that can advocate for the provision of resources and programs to generate pro-youth alternatives, increase public awareness and action on social justice issues, and create a space for community empowerment.

Youth CineMedia, which teaches filmmaking skills to at-risk youth, will screen a documentary during The Santa Barbara Film Festival on February 7 at 10 a.m. in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.


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