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Anti-Gang Injunction Polarizes West Sacramento

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I recently read an article in the Nov. 26, 2006 paper of the San Francisco Chronicle about how police in West Sacramento are serving gang members and alleged gang members with injunctions that impose travel restrictions and curfews. Many of these, if not all, people being served with these injunctions are Latino youth from a lower class area in West Sacramento.

West Sacramento, Yolo County — A police officer stopped Robert Sanchez one night in April as he walked near his home in this blue-collar city, though Sanchez wasn’t suspected of committing a crime.

Sanchez, 18, admitted he was a member of the Norteño gang, the officer said. He also wore a gang tattoo and was with another Norteño, his sister’s fiance.

“You are being served with a permanent gang injunction,” the officer told him.

With that, Sanchez lost the right to move freely in his neighborhood. He’s now prohibited indefinitely from hanging out with more than 125 other alleged Norteños, some of them relatives, in a wide swath of the city. He must also obey other restrictions, including a 10 p.m. curfew.

The court injunction against the Norteño “Broderick Boys,” named for the neighborhood where many of them live, has stirred controversy since a judge issued it nearly two years ago, dividing residents who feel safer because of it from those who see it as racial profiling.

West Sacramento’s experience may be a lesson for San Francisco, where City Attorney Dennis Herrera secured the city’s first anti-gang injunction last month and is preparing to ask for more.

So while Sanchez was a member of the gang he wasn’t prosecuted with a crime or even charged with a crime, just through affiliation he was presumed guilty. While these injunctions are legal the way they are used are normally contested in courts around the country. Essentially Latino youth are being targeted because of their socio-economic status and the color of their skin. While crime has presumably gone down (I won’t against the effectiveness of injunctions since draconian measures tend to work in deterring crime) what is going on in West Sacramento is racial profiling. The thing one has to remember is that racial profiling isn’t racism in the classical sense of the word but it’s racism in a contemporary sense, which is just as powerful and harmful as the former. Frank H. Wu in his book Yellow, if I remember correctly, Wu states that racial profiling, for many, is racism that “makes sense.” It’s not the racism of old and the Jim Crow era, it’s racism that essentially “makes sense.” Think of the classical SAT example (only slightly modified for this blog): Police have caught many Latinos committing crimes in West Sacramento: Latinos are committing crime in Wes Sacramento: Therefore all Latinos in West Sacramento are committing crime. The answer to the SAT question similar to that would have been false, yet that is what Wu states is racism that “makes sense.” But just because it “makes sense” to many doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. Wu states that socially conscious people and activists must attack racial profiling just as much as they would have attacked segregation since it is a wrong that must be corrected and is racism no matter if it is in the classical or contemporary sense. The article goes on to make a few good points:

Some residents, like Ray Martinez, are excited about the growth. “Cleaning up the neighborhood is good,” said Martinez, 48, a floor designer who lives in Broderick. “If it wasn’t for the real estate market, I don’t think the police would be doing this.”

Others think gentrification is harming longtime residents and refer to a wall that separates Broderick from a housing development called the Rivers as the “Great Wall of Divide.”

“What we’ve learned is you follow the money,” said Rebecca Sandoval, a Sacramento activist who has organized injunction opponents. “Wherever the developers go, up comes an injunction.”

Reisig, the county prosecutor, said development had nothing to do with the suit he filed in December 2004. It called the Broderick Boys the city’s “most powerful criminal street gang,” with 350 members acting in packs to deal drugs, rob and assault.

While Jeff Reisig, a Yolo County prosecutor, denies that this is the case (and in his mind it may not have been a factor in his conscious thinking when he was filing these injunctions) most of the time the communities that are effected by such police actions and “innovative” crime deterrents are communities that have a low socio-economic status and are communities that are predominately made up of people of color.

“It’s absolutely worked,” said Jeff Reisig, the Yolo County prosecutor who sought the injunction before his successful run this year to become district attorney. “The fact that San Francisco has decided to pursue a gang injunction is telling. This works, and it’s legal.”

Taking a break from his custodial job at a West Sacramento elementary school, Danny Velez, 56, said the injunction hurt his son, even though the 15-year-old has nothing to do with the Norteños.

“Ever since this injunction, it’s been pure hell to raise a son. They’ve been profiled and segregated,” Velez said of young Latinos. “He’s constantly harassed about whether he’s in a gang, by teachers and by police.”

Danny Velez’s son is being targeted because he is Latino and because he is young. While these injunctions may “work” they are adversely effecting young people of color. All one needs to do is put one’s self in another one’s shoes. How would you feel if you were constantly profiled everyday by people around you and people in authority just because of the color of your skin? Also, one has to ask: Why are so many young Latinos being caught up in gangs? Why are many of the crimes in West Sacramento and other lower class areas being perpetrated by people of color? Why is there so much violence in communities that are of low socio-economic status? Etc. Also, while these injunctions may work the Chronicle writes:

Whether the injunction has made the community safer is difficult to determine. Yolo County Public Defender Barry Melton said the strategy has worked “to some degree. But if I imposed a curfew in the Tenderloin, crime would go down there, too. It’s been used more than anything else for monitoring, to stop folks and control them.”

Farmer said crime is down in Broderick but said he could not give statistics. Reisig said violent crime prosecutions of Broderick Norteños dropped 80 percent in the year after the injunction.

Reisig said he has prosecuted more than 75 violations of the injunction; one person served 90 days. Melton said two fathers were detained for attending the same youth baseball game, an account Farmer called inaccurate.

I view this as targeting people of color and just another way the government (city, county, state, or federal) targets people of low income and people of color. The Chronicle ends its story with this:

Police and opponents disagree on whether officers are honoring the injunction’s exceptions for school and church, or traveling to legitimate business and entertainment activities at night.

Standing outside his apartment with family members on a recent afternoon, Sanchez said the injunction was not reforming Norteños. He suggested, though, that it might have some benefit for West Sacramento.

“Hell no, people are just getting smarter,” he said. “They’re taking it to Sacramento.”

His 17-year-old brother, Angel — who sipped from a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor — and his sister’s fiance, Jesse Contreras Jr., 20, each said they had been served with papers.

“How can I provide for my family?” asked Contreras, a warehouseman whose fiancee is seven months pregnant. “What if we run out of diapers at 11 at night and I have to go to the store?”

Each said it was hard for young men to avoid Norteño membership when, in Contreras’ words, “it’s all around you. It’s never OK to bang, but you grow up in it.”

By continuing to identify themselves as Norteños, they said, they were not admitting to being involved in crime.

“You’re still where you’re from,” said Contreras, who wore a striped red polo shirt common among Norteños, “but you’re not acting stupid anymore.”

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Hispanic Muslim

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