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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

West Sacramento Community Members Rally Against Gang Injunction

Yesterday afternoon at the courtyard in front of the Yolo County Courthouse in Woodland there was a rally of approximately 20 homeowners and community members from West Sacramento.

The defense was set to submit around 100 affidavits from various residents of West Sacramento that there is no need for the gang injunction. The District Attorney would counter that these affidavits have no bearing on the legal case.

The protesters were there to show their opposition to the police injunction that Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig wants to impose upon the citizens of Broderick and Bryte. Community activists had gathered over 100 declarations from those areas that was due to be presented as part of their evidence for their hearing. They were hoping the injunction will not go further and that testimony from those individuals would allowed.

One of the organizers Julian Perez of the group Citizens Empowering Citizens told the crowd and gathered media:
"Now these gentlemen that have been placed in this action so far, they have their right to due process. However, the District Attorney has named up to four hundred John and Jane Doe's. Subsequent to this action if someone is placed on the gang injunction after it is imposed, they do not get a day in court."
Phil Barrows, retired law enforcement officer responded to a question from Davis Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene on the impact of the gang injunction on the community as a whole:
"Many of the family members, guys who are associated with people identified as gang members can't have their loved ones come over to the house because there may be one or two who are identified as gang members. Consequently if they're together, they violate the gang ordinance which then puts them in jeopardy of being arrested, which in fact they can be arrested at that time."
However, Mr. Barrows argued that the gang injunction really went beyond family impact to the impact on the community and the neighborhoods.
"The other type of impact on the community is what you see on the sign, gentrification. What's happening with West Sacramento, it's not only about a gang injunction. The way we see it, it's about development."
He goes on to argue that the gang injunction and fear of gang violence is used by some to seize land and declare eminent domain.

They have been fighting this gang injunction for three years.
"The reason we are fighting [the gang injunction] is that number one, the District Attorney came out and said that there was so much crime going on in West Sacramento and that because of the injunction that they have control of the crime. Crime was going down."
However as Mr. Barrows points out, crime had been going down three years ago nationally as well as locally. So it is not clear that the gang injunction was the cause of the decrease in crime in West Sacramento.
"In 2006, with this gang injunction still in place, crime went up in West Sacramento. Their not talking about that. What we've been telling them for days now is that the injunction will not have any effect on crime one way or another. It never has in all of the injunctions through out the state."
Mr. Barrows also addressed the issue of the 400 plus John and Jane Does.
"We don't know who those people are and neither does the District Attorney. For three years now they've only been able to serve 23 individuals. So that's a far cry from 400. Because there aren't 400."
One the issues that has been raised repeatedly by those against the gang injunction is that there is no Broderick Boys gang. Phil Barrows explained that at the rally yesterday.
"As a law enforcement officer, I'm hear to tell you that there isn't a Broderick Boys gang. That's not to say that there isn't gang members in West Sacramento, Woodland. The gang they're really looking at is the Norteno Gang, and now they're using the term Norteno. But there's never been a Broderick Boys Gang. That's what we're trying to prove, that there isn't, and because there isn't, and because this injunction has no effect on crime, then we don't need to have an injunction."

While the law is indeed independent of public opinion for the most part, it would be very interesting to get a true gauge of public opinion in West Sacramento about the gang injunction. Both sides assert that they have public support for their positions.

Many who oppose the gang injunction have argued in essence that the police have used it as a tool to harass Latinos in the area regardless of gang affiliation.

On the other hand, proponents have argued that the gang injunction is a valuable tool needed by law enforcement to counter gang activity.

Personally I have always been suspicious of measures that seek to prevent the normal activities that people are allowed to engage in without the due process of law.

The first gang injunction noticed one individual and at least according to Rick Gore, it was intentional by the District Attorney as a means to impose the gang injunction without the ability of those accused of gang members to challenge it.

This was a little better, but still you have 400 John and Jane Doe's who have no change to challenge the injunction once it gets implemented. Furthermore they are using civil law to deprive individuals of liberty.

From a constitutional and a civil liberty standpoint this is simply intolerable regardless of one's position of the merits of a gang injunction in general.

We understand that gang members do very bad things in a community and we wish to punish criminal activity, but we wish to do so within the confines of due process and actual proof in a court of law that individuals have engaged in unlawful gang activities.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting