That’s the good news.
The bad news is, a month later, Rocky and his attorneys have yet to make good on their promise. They still have no ETA for their promised application process that will let people free themselves from constant threat of wrongful arrest.
Yes, I know this is an issue that isn’t exactly on most people’s radar. So let me explain.
More than 25 years ago, Los Angeles became the first city to use civil injunctions as a tool to fight gang violence. The injunctions function something like a restraining order except on a mass scale. Instead of a single person being named, a whole gang is named on the injunction, along with every person who is perceived to be part of the gang.
Injunctions are controversial (for reasons I’ll detail in a minute), but most research indicates that they’re a useful tool to have at one’s disposal—if used wisely.
The “used wisely” part is where it gets a little more complicated.
Gang injunctions allow law enforcement to lock up gang members for non-criminal actions, like gathering in groups of more than two people, talking to someone else on the list, dressing a certain way, being out after curfew….and the like. If there’s an awful rash of violence between two gangs, the injunctions can allow for an often much-needed legal intervention when cops are having trouble making conventional criminal arrests.
Yet, because the injunctions are civil orders, those named and/or arrested have no right to legal representation, and few poor kids and young adults can afford to fight the things privately.
Here’s the worst of it. Local law enforcement (here in LA and in the other US city’s that have embraced injunctions) have the right to add people to the injunction without any kind of legal review or fail-safe legal recourse for those named. And, in California, the bar that must be cleared to designate someone a “gang member” is set so low that virtually anyone could be put on the official CAL/GANG list on the say-so of a single police officer.
I’ve personally known of multiple instances of at-risk 13 or 14-year-olds who are doing their damnedest to stay out of gangs, who are put on the list by overzealous officers who simply assume the kid is gang member because of where he lives or, say, who his older brother or father or uncle happens to be.
As Connie Rice once put it, “Anybody who’s ever said hello to anybody in a gang is [considered] ‘affiliated.’ “ She’s drawing the picture in the extreme to make a point. But, sadly, she isn’t far over the mark.
In the past two and a half decades, more than 10,000 Los Angeles residents have been named in gang injunctions. But in all that time, there’s been no way to get off the list. In fact, in the state of California, no one has ever successfully gotten his or her name removed from a gang injunction. Not the gang intervention worker who was put on the list for trying to break up the fight, or the college bound 17-year old with the 3.25 grade point average and no previous record. Honestly, the horror stories of people wrongly arrested, or fearful of arrest are many and varied. (There are dead people still on the injunction list.)
Community activist groups, like the Youth Justice Coalition and the Watts Gang Task Force, have been pressing for a policy change for years, without success . Then finally, a breakthrough. The offices of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced that they were introducing new injunction procedures: 72-page list of gang injunction guidelines that, for the first time, includes a way off the injunction list for individuals who never belonged there in the first place.
The idea is that, if a young man or woman can petition to be taken off the list if they can show “good cause”-–for instance, if they can, say, demonstrate they are not and never were a gang member, or if they were once a member of the gang but clearly aren’t any more.
Seems reasonable, right?
It is except for that one tiny fact I mentioned earlier: Although it was announced a month ago, Rocky’s office has still not come up with a specific application for the process. And the spokesperson I talked to in his office says they have no clear timetable as to when one will be offered.
A week? a month? A year? I asked. They didn’t know, they said.
Bottom line? No one can apply.
Come on, Rocky. We applauded you when you offered the much-needed EXIT ramp for those wrongly listed. So now please produce the bloody thing!
Do we honestly believe that if a similar injunction was wrongly affecting teenagers and young men on, say, LA’s Westside that we’d see the same inaction?
No, frankly, we don’t.
PS: On a different but related subject, there’s a nice article in this morning’s LA Times about gang members who make a new life for themselves after being hired for union jobs.
As it happens, I’ve been to several graduations for an organization called PV Jobs that hires and trains former gang members to work union jobs on city construction projects. They’re very cool events that never fail to raise my hope and inspiration quotient.