by Chris Brizzard
San Francisco – On Sept. 18, at the Civic Center Courthouse, two judges presided over hearings to determine if gang injunctions proposed earlier this summer by City Attorney Dennis Herrera would go into effect. The injunctions target two communities of color – the Mission and Fillmore districts – where, according to city officials, gang activity has created such a public nuisance that implementing injunctions has become necessary to restore the peace.
But opposition to the proposed injunctions was high, both among attorneys representing individuals targeted by the injunctions and among community members affected by them.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who represents 22-year-old Antonio Buitrago of the Mission district, raised concerns about the broadness of the injunctions. “We’ve identified a number of people on the list who are either former gang members who are no longer involved in gang activities or people who are not gang members at all and who have never been,” said Adachi. “We want to make sure that if we’re talking about our constitutional rights, that it’s being applied to the right people.”
“The crazy thing about the case that we’re representing is that [Antonio] is accused of rapping about gangs, so-called gangster rap. If we’re going to start prosecuting people because they sing about gang life, what about Eminem, what about 50 Cent? We’re going to start putting everybody under gang injunctions?” asked Adachi.
Rob Amparan, who represents four other youths from the Mission, connected the injunctions to the political aspirations of the city attorney. “Why do we have this lawsuit in the Mission, when all reports, even by the Mission [Police] Station is that gang violence is down, gang crime is down, gang homicide is down, all of these things are down in the Mission?” asked Amparan.
“The explanation is that Dennis Herrera is trying to avoid the perception that’s he only going after African American gangs. I also think it’s the start of his campaign for mayor in four years so that he can say he’s tough on crime and do so on the backs of young Black and Latino men,” said Amparan.
People from the community were also present to voice their opposition to the injunctions.
Tracy Brown works at the Mission Neighborhood Center, (415) 206-7756, an organization that provides a variety of community services, including GED classes, job counseling and work referrals for youth. “We’re in the injunction zone and we’re scared of how this will impact our ability to provide that service,” said Brown.
Instead of gang injunctions, Brown says that prevention programs are a more effective way of addressing violence. “Suppression tactics are not something that is going to change a person. When you lock them up and throw away the key, that just turns them into someone else that they wouldn’t have been if they had had intervention programs. We’re pushing for prevention programs and programs that change lives, and that’s what we’re here for,” Brown said.
Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam was perhaps the most direct of all. “The gang injunctions are just a way to further ethnically cleanse this city of people of color. Why? On the one hand they say the right things, they say this is a sanctuary city, but when it comes to African Americans, Latinos and Pacific Islanders, everything that they do says, ‘We don’t want you here.’ And that’s really the message that they’re sending with these injunctions.”
This raises a serious issue that is little talked about at the official level – the connection between gang injunctions and gentrification. In San Francisco, that precedent was set in Bayview Hunters Point.
“The gang injunctions began on Oakdale Avenue with the ‘Oakdale Mob.’ Why? Because the Oakdale housing project is right across the street from Lennar development,” said Minister Christopher.
There are gangs located throughout San Francisco that are not being targeted by the recent injunctions, which raises a simple question – why?
Many of those communities are “politically connected and there’s no virgin territory that you can develop out there. But it’s when you get to the Mission, to South of Market, to Bayview Hunters Point and to parts of the Western Addition that the developers have set their sights,” said Minister Christopher.
In order to turn the tide, the Minister said that “we need bold lawyers and bold advocates that are willing to put it all on the line to really help these underrepresented communities.”
The judges did not issue a ruling on the injunctions today. Instead, attorneys submitted their cases and the judges will review them again before making a final decision. In the meantime, as the war on the poor and communities of color rages on like never before, the fate of the Mission and Fillmore districts hangs in the air. Why, city attorney … why?
Chris Brizzard is a graduate student in media studies and an intern at the Bay View. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black-Brown unity meeting Friday
Opponents of gang injunctions and other schemes to drive Black and Brown people out of San Francisco will join forces Friday, Sept. 21, from noon to 2 p.m. To discuss increasing the power of Black-Brown unity, activists from the Mission and the Fillmore will come to Hunters Point for the meeting, at Grace Tabernacle Community Church, 1121 Oakdale Ave., San Francisco. Minister Christopher Muhammad will be there, as will Alicia Schwartz of POWER. The community is welcome to attend.