Injunction dysfunction

City attorney uses controversial tool against gang violence, a move critics and gang members say may do more harm than good
Rev. Reynaldo Woods and Michael Green of Up from Darkness
Photo by Nathan Weyland

When seven people were shot in the span of 12 hours in June at the Friendship Village and Yerba Buena Plaza East housing complexes in the Western Addition, city and community leaders decided immediate action was necessary to remedy the increasing level of gang violence.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the area, demanded 24-hour police patrols as a temporary measure. Rev. Regnaldo Woods of Bethel AME had a broader vision — get the gangs to call a truce. But City Attorney Dennis Herrera already had his own plan well in the works, a controversial approach that has nonetheless been embraced at City Hall by leaders desperate for solutions to the intractable and escautf8g problem of gun violence.

Herrera and his staff in July announced they were seeking civil gang injunctions in the Western Addition and the Mission District modeled on a similar effort last year against the Oakdale Mob in Bayview–Hunters Point. He went after alleged members of the Norteña gang in the Mission and targeted three gangs in the Western Addition, all centered on Eddy Street and the public housing complexes that stretch from Gough to Divisadero: Eddy Rock, Chopper City, and Knock Out Posse.

Two Superior Court judges, Patrick Mahoney and Peter Busch, heard arguments for and against the injunctions Sept. 18 and are expected to issue rulings at any time. The injunctions would prevent the alleged gang members they name from associating with one another within a prescribed area, among other restrictions.

The injunctions have pitted Herrera and his allies against Public Defender Jeff Adachi, civil liberties advocates, and some community groups, who have rallied to stop the injunctions and criticize them as a "criminalization of people of color," a charge Herrera stridently rejects and has publicly condemned as "race-baiting."

But beyond the emotional politics of this controversial tactic, there are some practical problems with the injunctions, particularly in the Western Addition, where they may stifle community-based solutions to the problem of gang violence.

"[The injunctions] slowed us down considerably," Woods, a life-long Fillmore resident, told the Guardian. "It's going to impact the movement if it stays as it is. I think there needs to be changes."

Woods and other leaders from Bethel and from his nonprofit, Up from Darkness, met with the gang members a total of 43 times throughout the summer. When word of the injunctions spread, Woods said he had to restart from square one. Rather than bring people together for a dialogue, he had to explain why this was happening, what the injunctions meant, and how the injunctions would affect those included.

Woods planned to hold a summit, which "shot callers" from each of the gangs would attend and at which they would call a truce as well as receive access to employment guidance and mental health services. The summit never happened, but gang violence in the Western Addition nevertheless decreased rapidly in the following months. Northern Police District Capt. Croce Casciato said there hasn't been a gang-related homicide in the district since May.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the injunctions will strip alleged gang members of due-process rights and give police a roving warrant to harass whomever they deem a gang member. Adachi and Kendra Fox-Davis, of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, said their offices have received numerous complaints from youths in the Mission and the Western Addition that police are already using the injunctions to hassle people even before they've been approved.

"There's been a tremendous amount of misinformation about the injunctions," Adachi said. He questions the effectiveness of injunctions and said these give police carte blanche to harass anyone they suspect of being affiliated with gangs.

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