Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By Robyn Gee and Denise Tejada
OAKLAND--In a surprise move this week, the Oakland Education Association in Oakland, California announced their opposition to a proposed gang injunction. This new law would restrict 40 members of the Norteño gang in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland from associating with one another within the 450 square block radius known as "the safety zone." The injunction would only apply to those on the list whose gang-affiliation and criminal record are proven in court.
The teacher's union announcement is good news for Oakland’s City Attorney’s Office, which has struggled to assure community members that the law won’t target young people.
The proposed injunction has divided the city’s residents for months, as well as the city’s leadership. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Attorney John Russo are are locked in disagreement over the issue and Russo is considering leaving his Oakland post, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
There is no one under the age of 18 on the injunction list. Russo said in an interview with Youth Radio, “If you’re under 18 years old you’ll never be subject to the injunction. If you are over 18 years old and you’re not a member of a gang, you have nothing to worry about from the injunction.”
Cesar Cruz, Director of Homies Empowerment, an organization that helps rival gang members resolve their differences, is worried that young people will be targeted sooner or later. He said the youth at Homies Empowerment are afraid of being targeted by accident, and points to specific language in the injunction about their online activity. “If you’re on MySpace or Facebook and you are proud of your neighborhood and you call it the murder dubs or the thirties, somehow now that’s gang symbols and gang affiliation,” said Cruz.
Once that digital fingerprint is there, it's hard to tell how law enforcement might use that information later.
Russo insists his office went to great lengths to protect civil liberties when drafting the proposed law. He calls it the most civil rights oriented injunction that exists because instead of naming entire gangs, it's a very specific list of names, which is different from other cities. “The law says that a city can go and get these gang injunctions just by proving the existence of the gang. Police decide on the fly who is and who is not member of the gang. That’s not how we wanted to do it in Oakland because you can quickly get into racial profiling,” said Russo.
The City of Oakland has to prove to a court that every individual on the list is a Norteño gang member who has committed gang-related crimes. This means young people shouldn't be singled out on street corners because of the colors they wear.
Russo said police officers in the Fruitvale area will even have photos of named gang members to reduce the risk of harassing the wrong people.
Jory Steele of the ACLU predicts that once youth turn 18, they will immediately be targets of the injunction and said the ACLU has opposed injunctions since their inception. “Certainly there are public safety concerns in Oakland and everyone should live in a safe community, everyone should feel free to go outside in their neighborhood and feel safe at night. But, we seriously question whether gang injunctions are the way to go,” she said.
Italia Barron agrees. She’s a senior at Fremont High School, inside the injunction’s safety zone, and several of her classmates identify as Norteños. Barron said police don’t treat youth with enough respect, and she sees the injunction as a slippery slope. “Right now it’s from the dubs to high street. Next thing you know it’s gonna be from high street to the sixties. After that, from the sixties to the deep. They just taking one step at a time right now and then that’s why a lot of people are just getting angry.”
Barron said she would like to see more money put into prevention programs and education. However, Ignacio De La Fuente, Oakland’s City Council Member who represents the Fruitvale district, is in favor of trying new strategies. “We have for years worked in interventions programs and allocated resources, but I think it comes to a point where residents and children get caught in the crossfire of the war between Norteños and Sureños and gangs, we must use every tool available for us to protect the people that live in the city of Oakland,” he said.
On the other hand, Cesar Cruz at Homies Empowerment argues that youth in Oakland are constantly caught in the crossfire between things like inadequate schools and zero resources. In order to really protect the people of Oakland, he says the city needs to redefine crime. “In Oakland it’s easier for kids to buy cocaine, a gun, pills or weed than it is to get a Raza history book…So we do want to have an injunction on liquor stores, we want to have an injunction on false history, we want to have an injunction against cocaine and guns in our neighborhood,” said Cruz.
Like many who oppose the injunctions, Cruz wants new opportunities for young people, not more punishments. The City Attorney’s office insists that the argument is not an either / or issue – and Oakland needs both - more youth resources and new strategic law enforcement policies.
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