The ACLU of Southern California has filed a federal complaint against the city of Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, and LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, alleging “unconstitutional enforcement” of gang injunctions against thousands of city residents.
Gang injunctions work like restraining orders, and are meant to keep groups of people from going certain places and participating in specific activities. If someone named in an injunction violates any of the restrictions that the injunction enforces, that person can end up in jail. (For WLA’s previous reporting on gang injunctions, go here and here.)
According to the complaint, the city’s 46 injunctions naming more than 9,000 individuals are “based on a unilateral and behind-closed-doors determination by police and city attorneys that [those included in the injunctions] are active participants in a street gang.”
Those named in injunctions are not given the chance to contest the city’s gang member label.
While gang injunctions can sometimes be useful tools to reduce gang violence in communities in crisis, when they are used carelessly or excessively, the human costs can outweigh the advantages.
Inclusion in an injunction can mean that being seen in public with family and friends, gathering on street corners, working with other residents from their neighborhood, possessing felt tip markers, or wearing certain clothes can result in an arrest.
“The city’s use of gang injunctions criminalizes young people of color, as evidenced by the fact that all 46 injunctions target black or brown communities,” said Kim McGill, organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “The police label people as gang members and strip them of their basic Constitutional and human rights, severely limiting their access to employment, education, housing and other essential services.”
The complaint was filed on behalf of the Youth Justice Coalition and two men who were included in gang injunctions.
Twenty-one-year-old Peter Arellano is listed in an Echo Park injunction that was put in place in 2013. Arellano’s father, brother, uncle, cousin, and some of his childhood friends are also reportedly part of the injunction. Arellano’s home, where he lives with his parents is within the “Safety Zone” of the injunction. This means that Arellano could get arrested even for being seen in his own front yard or porch with his dad, whom he lives with, because they would be associating within “public view.”
“Mr. Arellano has suffered and continues to suffer great harm as a result of being subject to the Echo Park injunction,” the complaint reads. “He feels that he is under house arrest.”
When Arellano was served with the injunction last year, it went into effect immediately, and he had no way of fighting his inclusion.
For the second plaintiff, 39-year-old Jose Reza, a gang injunction barring him from the Ramona Gardens neighborhood of Los Angeles has prevented him from picking up his son, who sometimes stays with family members there. It has also prevented him from taking union jobs with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to remodel housing projects because the jobs were located within the injunction’s “Safety Zone.” Reza, like Arellano, was not afforded a hearing to contest his designation by the city as a gang member.
“The LAPD and City Attorney’s office use gang injunctions to flaunt one of the most basic principles of fairness in American law,” said Carmen Iguina, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “Police and prosecutors shouldn’t be able to decide to arrest a person for ordinary activity like walking down the street with a friend or drinking a beer in a restaurant, just because they think someone is a gang member. Due process means that the government can’t restrict a person’s freedom without a hearing or other opportunity to be heard.”
This isn’t the first time LA has run into legal trouble over gang injunctions.
Back in March, the LA City Council approved a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit accusing the LAPD of enforcing old gang injunction 10:00p.m. curfews that had been struck down years earlier, in 2007.
According to the terms of the settlement, over the next four years (and depending on how many of the thousands affected by the bogus curfew eforcement come forward) at least $4.5 million and as much as $30 million will go to job training, tattoo removal, and other programs to help people designated as gang members by LA injunctions.