As expected, and despite opposition from a number of community leaders, a gang injunction against the San Fer gang has been imposed by the courts on a nine-and-a-half square mile area of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, encompassing most of Sylmar, a northwest portion of Pacoima and all of San Fernando City (most of the rest of Pacoima has already been under a gang injunction for years against the Pacoima Flats, Projects Boys, and other Pacoima gangs).
This is reportedly the largest gang injunction area in Los Angeles
Already, young Latino men I know — not in gangs — have been stopped, arrested, and in one case almost photographed (to be part of a statewide gang data base). This last case was stopped when the young man’s parents became involved and demanded their son not be photographed or placed on this data base. Finding that this young man had no gang ties, he was eventually released.
As I predicted, many youth not in San Fer, but also alleged San Fer members not involved in crimes, will be harassed and even arrested. Our juvenile facilities, jails and prisons are teeming with youth who shouldn’t be there — a gang injunction makes illegal what is otherwise legal activity: association, using a cell phone, or having tattoos. Now alleged gang members will find themselves going to jail for things that are not criminal.
If you make more laws, you make more lawless.
My work, and the work of many gang intervention workers, is to keep these young people out of the criminal justice system. Our work now has become twice as hard as these injunctions — and other laws down the pike like the Runner Initiative slated for vote in November — end up placing poor and often neglected youth behind bars faster and longer.
It’s easy now to end up in jail — it’s harder to find treatment, help, jobs, schooling, viable alternatives to street life.
The sad thing was that at the Sylmar Neighborhood Council’s Town Hall Meeting where I was on a panel opposing the proposed gang injunction, the majority of the people in attendance seemed to be older white residents. This community is mostly Latino with many recent immigrants. Sylmar High School is 95 percent Latino. Yet this community was hardly represented although it’s their kids that will be most affected. There didn’t seem to be any Spanish-language meetings or even translations considered to include them. Most of the whites in the audience appeared to be for the gang injunction (not all since I talked to some who opposed the injunction, and, of course, there were a number of Latinos for the injunction).
Still the racist nature of these laws is a thick as the smog in LA.
We need to keep our kids out of the juvenile lockups, jails and prisons. The way to do this is to provide jobs, training, meaningful education, creative/artistic opportunities, spiritual connections, and real caring community. Instead gang injunctions under the guise of “safety” fill our communities, even one like where I live, the so-called Huntington Estates, a nice, quiet, tree-lined section of San Fernando that is now under the San Fer gang injunction.
Once gang injunctions were allowed, they spread and even well-off mostly non-gang communities are included.
The city has promised prevention and intervention programs for youth. These are few and minimal (and the biggest chuck, about $30 million, must be decided by voters in November) while the police get billions of dollars. We’ve become a closed and scared society.
I know we can turn these youth around. I know we can get most of them out of the line of fire. I know we can find more meaningful and healthy alternatives to gangs. But these ideas, programs, and strategies are discarded for the ones that should be of last resort, like a gang injunction.
Just like we go to war and spend close to $10 billion a day in Iraq and Afghanistan to “stop terror” (creating more terror and better-organized “terrorists” in the process), we are going to war with our youth–usually the poorest, most pushed out, and in this case, mostly immigrant Latino youth.
I will be working with other community groups to track the effects of this injunction, which has no end date nor any exit plan for those caught under its net. Hopefully we can find a way to defeat this injunction, but also for other cities to learn not go to this way. In other communities where gang injunctions have been approved, gangs don’t die or stop. They actually get squeezed out at so that we see them in other parts of the county, state, country, and even other countries (LA-based gangs have now become a big problem throughout the US, in Mexico, Central America, and even far-flung places like Cambodia and Armenia). Also these so-called gang members get better organized — in juvenile lockup and prisons they go through “GANG 101” training. They return back to their communities, or even other communities, better organized, armed, and deadly.
You can’t stop gang warfare with gang warfare.
We keep making the same mistakes and falling for the same traps. Even a local newspaper in San Fernando declared that a judge “puts halt to violent gang activity with injunction.” This is simply a lie. Gang injunctions don’t stop violent gang activity–they just spread it around.
I’ll keep my readers posted from time to time on the outcomes from this gang injunction. One telling sign tonight–a police helicopter shining their lights a couple of streets from my house. Oh, yes, LA pioneered the “Ghetto Bird.” But this part of San Fernando has had little or no crime for decades. Now, as part of the gang injunction “safety” zone, we’re being treated like any other poor ghetto or barrio community (which shouldn’t happen there neither).
Like I said, once you let this monster in, it keeps growing.
LUIS RODRIGUEZ is a co-founder of Rock A Mole Productions and a contributing editor at Rock & Rap Confidential . He is the author of several books, including Always Running: Mi Vida Loca–Gang Days in LA, The Republic of East LA and the novel Music of the Mill published by Rayo/Harper Collins. For more information about his cultural center in LA, visit tiachucha.com. For more on his writing and activism, visit his blog.