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An uneasy trio: A community activist, the city attorney and the media

July 25, 2007

by Chris Brizzard

Daniel Landry
Daniel Landry
When Daniel Landry attended the City Attorney’s latest gang injunction press conference on June 21, little did he know how it would turn out. As a local who grew up in the Fillmore (aka Western Addition), Landry wanted to ensure that some community representation took place. “Someone needed to be there to give it some balance,” said Landry. “When the gang injunction came down on Oakdale, I wasn’t able to be there. This time I wanted to be way ahead in terms of addressing the issue.”

After declaring the Oakdale Mob injunction a success, and then detailing his plans to expand the gang injunctions to the Mission and the Western Addition, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera opened up the floor to some Q&A. Landry was the fourth person to speak.

“Mr. Herrera, you might not know me. My name is Daniel Landry and I’m a member of the African American Community Police Relations Board, but I’m also the founder of KOP,” he said. KOP is one of the gangs being targeted by the civil gang injunctions. “This is serious. When you’re talking about banning them from an area that you already know is struggling, I’m saying that this conversation should have happened with the community before …”

“Let me tell you, we have been talking to the community,” Herrera interrupted.

“Well, you haven’t talked to our organization. Our org-,” began Landry.

“You gonna let me finish?” quipped Herrera.

Fillmore in ‘50s – before it was bulldozed by the Redevelopment Agency – was Black and thriving and known worldwide as Harlem of the West. Here are John Handy, Pony Poindexter, John Coltrane and Frank Fischer at Bop City.
Fillmore in ‘50s – before it was bulldozed by the Redevelopment Agency – was Black and thriving and known worldwide as Harlem of the West. Here are John Handy, Pony Poindexter, John Coltrane and Frank Fischer at Bop City.
“Well, let me finish. Our organization is grass-rooted in the Western Addition community. You have not talked to me, an actual member of the African American Community Police Relations Board in the Western Addition. So you have not talked to the community …”

“Well, I’m happy to talk to you, but we have talked to the community,” said Herrera. “And you know what, there’s a lot of different facets of the community. You’re not the only individual of the community that someone speaks to,” he said, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah, but I founded the KOP,” said Landry, voice rising. “So when you say ‘KOP,’ you’ve gotta get your facts together. KOP doesn’t stand for ‘Knock Out Posse.’ It stands for ‘Kings Original.’ So let’s be clear. You need to talk to the community! This is grandstanding.”

“OK, next,” replied Herrera, and moved on.

I spoke with Daniel recently at the Fillmore Street Cafe, across from the soon-to-open Yoshi’s number two. (The Bay Area already has another Yoshi’s, located in Oakland’s Jack London Square.) Murals and photos of all the well-known jazz artists decorate the cafe’s walls, and it seemed as though almost every other customer knew Landry, greeting him as they walked in to get some coffee or grab a bite to eat.

Dressed in a business suit and carrying a well-worn leather briefcase, Landry started by commenting on what happened at the press conference. “[Herrera] would have been best prepared if he would have talked to people like myself and other individuals who grew up in this area so we won’t just paint a picture of a whole area as these gang criminals,” he said.

We then began talking about his past. “I used to participate in gang activity. It was part of our upbringing. It was part of being bound together and protecting each other. It’s like our own street family,” Landry said.

I then asked about gangs, and the cycle that leads to them. It starts, Landry said, with a loss of faith in the system.

“[A gang] is just a bunch of young people just like any other area that have come together because most of them have been pushed out of education, and the first place you go is to the corners and you meet other young people who are having problems in school and you stick together,” he said. “You form a group that is really a form of protest to the system because it has failed you.”

The cycle continues: “So now if you’re not being educated, you’re definitely not employed. That block really becomes all you live for. And there’s an old saying in the streets, ‘I pledge allegiance to the block,’ meaning that you will give your life for that family you have created outside of your home because sometimes, when you’re young, it seems like your parents just don’t understand.”

The next obstacles are group rivalry and lack of role models. “You take two areas or groups, and there’s a dispute, and then there’s no resolution because you’re young and very ignorant. And then you take out the older generation, what we used to call the OGs, because maybe they’re on drugs, or they’re in and out of jail, and then that produces a vacuum where young people are trying to lead themselves without the education.”

Then add on the criminal elements. “It’s obvious that guns and drugs didn’t get here by themselves,” Landry said. “Eventually what was originally a good thing becomes a negative thing, and it’s not a club or group anymore. Now it’s a criminal gang where more of your activity is leaning towards violating the laws, and that’s what happened.”

Thus gangs are formed, and the cycle perpetuates itself, generation after generation.

But Landry broke the cycle. In October of 1993, a year after being released from state prison, he attended an annual convention of the Nation of Islam in Los Angeles. Their leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, spoke to the Crips and Bloods and asked them to come to a truce. He asked them to heal their wounds and to become responsible men.

“I was awakened spiritually,” said Landry. “One of the main points of Minister Farrakhan’s lecture is speaking to the heart and pain of young Black men who don’t have knowledge of themselves, of their conditions and their history. Once you are given that, it stirs up that part of you that’s been lying dormant. Now I believe that everyone has the potential to change and be an outstanding human being.”

Since that time, Landry has become increasingly involved in his community. In 2000, he ran for Supervisor of District 5. He has been a member of the African American Community Police Relations Board for the past three years. And he works directly with Brothers for Change, a community organization that helps guide young men to make the right choices in life.

He is also working on an autobiography. “Somehow, someway, the message has got to be told,” said Landry. “I’m from that area [being targeted by the gang injunctions], but I’m also willing to put my life out there and show how I changed my life. So is there any hope over there? Of course there’s hope.”

Landry lives in the Martin Luther King-Marcus Garvey housing cooperative, located inside one of the areas being targeted by the recent gang injunctions. In fact, he has lived there for almost 30 years, and during that time, he has seen a lot of change. “Now you look around the whole area, everything has changed. This was once predominantly African-American, but now it’s multi-cultural,” he said.

“All low-income housing in the Western Addition has been squeezed and surrounded. And there is where the gang injunction plays a role, because Mr. Herrera and the city understand that most of the old people who stay in King-Garvey, within 15 to 20 years, will have passed on. And who are they passing this property on to? It’s the young people that are being targeted for the gang injunction,” said Landry.

This raises concerns about an unstated purpose of the gang injunctions. “If you connect the dots, it would seem quite funny that a gang injunction would be targeted towards areas like Oakdale (in Bayview Hunters Point) when you have next door a major development going on by Lennar Corp. Plaza East (another Fillmore housing project located in an injunction zone) is being surrounded with condominiums,” said Landry. “Obviously there is a push now to remove low-income housing and to have the market value go even higher.”

In the rush to push the gang injunctions through, there has been little critical examination of their effectiveness. However, a recent study by the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., based think-tank focused on alternatives to incarceration, shows that “the current preoccupation with gangs is a distraction from very real problems of crime and violence that afflict too many communities,” said the report’s co-author Kevin Pranis.

“Gangs do not drive crime rates, and aggressive suppression tactics simply make the situation worse by alienating local residents and trapping youth in the criminal justice system. Our review of the research found no evidence that gang enforcement strategies have achieved meaningful reductions in violence.”

This suggests that more emphasis should be placed on preventing the causes of gangs rather than slapping money and resources onto the law enforcement side of the equation. Organizations like Brothers for Change provide a case in point.

But there is a silver lining here. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, speaking at a recent community rally, pledged his support for those targeted by the gang injunctions. Also, two attorneys have stepped up to offer their services, and a bilingual gang injunction hotline has been established (see sidebar for details).

After the City Attorney’s press conference on June 21, I was curious to see if it would receive any coverage on the local evening news. KRON, KPIX and KTVU did not mention it. But KGO-TV, Channel 7, did. Their three minute story began: “A former San Francisco gang member interrupts a news conference today, as the city goes to court to halt gang violence.” (See the story online at http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=local&id=5410966).

That former gang member they spoke of was Daniel Landry, and seeing their portrayal of the facts, I too lost a little faith in the system. In a matter of seconds, ABC 7 news – whose current slogan is “Start Here” – was able to snub the credibility of a man who has turned his life around and is working hard to give back to the community. Where is the justice in that?

If you listen closely to this uneasy trio, which actually sounds more like a duo, there is some serious dissonance, for the players are out of tune with one another. What will it take for the duo to tone down its rhetoric so that others can be heard?

Daniel Landry is available for consulting and/or public speaking events. His focus is helping young men see beyond their immediate situation and aiding them in making the right choices in life. Call him at (415) 573-7691. Chris Brizzard is a graduate student in media studies at New College and an intern at the Bay View. Email him at cepheus_1@msn.com.

Weighing the Evidence: Gang Injunctions and Police Declarations

In making his court case for the gang injunctions in Oakdale, the Mission and the Western Addition/ Fillmore, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera relied on the declarations of several police officers. But the amount of evidence presented for each case varies drastically:

Gang Injunction Area
Gang Injunction Area

 Gang Injunction Area Number of officers giving declarations Total number of pages of declarations

Oakdale 2 under 20

Western Addition/Fillmore 2 1,105

The Mission 2 1,712

 (source: www.sfgov.org/site/cityattorney_index.asp)

 

Gang Injunction Update: Resources for the Community

 Are you or is someone you know being targeted by a gang injunction? If so, legal help is available:

The Lawyer’s Guild has set up an English-Spanish hotline for those who need legal assistance. Leave your name and phone number, and someone from the guild will contact you shortly. Call (415) 824-3717.

Lawyers Rob Amparan and Eric Safire have volunteered to represent persons in the Western Addition and Mission:

Rob Amparan, Pier 5 Law Offices, 506 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133, (415) 986-5591, robamparan@hotmail.com

Eric Safire, 2431 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115-1814, (415) 292-1940, eric@safirelaw.com

The Office of the Public Defender, Jeff Adachi, plans to represent any persons criminally charged with violating the gang injunctions: Jeff Adachi, Office of the Public Defender, 555 Seventh St., San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 553-1671, jeffadachi@yahoo.com.

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