Crackdown on gangs -- or civil liberties? - Page 2

Herrera's gang injunction becomes political issue in District 10

The City Attorney's Office has pictures of people allegedly in gangs. But do all of them really belong on the list?

He notes that only a few people came forward to challenge past injunctions. "But in at least four cases, people were found not to be gang members," he said.

At the time of those injunctions, there was no way to get off the list. "So we worked with the ACLU to demand one and the City Attorney's Office agreed," Adachi said. "But I don't know how many people have since filed paperwork."

Ingleside police station Capt. Louis Cassenego told us that as of Aug. 20, 12 men had been served with the injunction — six allegedly from DBG, six from Ingleside.

"We had signage posted on utility poles, and no signs have been torn down," Cassenego said. "And so far, the folks served have taken it in a matter-of fact fashion."

But Sharen Hewitt, executive director of the C.L.A.E.R. Project, a community empowerment and violence prevention nonprofit, said she worries that people don't understand the implications of being served and won't take the trouble to opt out. "I talked to a young man after he got served and he tore up his notice," Hewitt said.

Hewitt invited representatives from the City Attorney's Office, Police Department, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Bay Area Legal Aid, and residents of the area to an Aug. 12 emergency debriefing. "We are sitting in the middle of a major war zone," Hewitt said, referring to the meeting's location at Britton Courts, a public housing project that Herrera claims is on DBG turf. "Although this situation threatens the community, it has also brought us together. And now we are trying to pull together a legal team."

Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere explained that the suit seeks to ban criminal and nuisance conduct by creating a proposed safety zone that covers two-tenths of a square mile and encompasses both gangs' alleged turf plus a buffer zone.

The injunction would impose a 10 p.m. curfew on the 41 men listed, who are a barred from trespassing, selling drugs, and illegally possessing firearms, loitering, displaying gang signs, and associating in public in neighborhoods surrounding the Sunnydale, Heritage Homes, and Britton Courts developments.

Some of this conduct is already against the law, but other activities, including assembling in groups, is typically protected by the Constitution, Mere explained.

Lt. Mikail Ali of the Ingleside station said many youngsters don't want to be in a gang. "This is an out," Ali said.

But some residents questioned whether some men on Herrera's list are in a gang. "Who are you to say who is a gang member?" asked Sheila Hill, who was concerned that her son, the victim of a shooting a couple of years ago, was on the list. "Yes, they might have done something three or five years ago, but many of them have moved on, got married, and got a job. I don't believe you guys are really checking your records."

Mere disagreed (later clarifying that Hill's son isn't named by the injunction). "We looked at criminal records within the last five years, including shootings, shots fired, and weapons possessed, and it's a pretty violent zone down here," Mere said. Mere claims the war between DBG and the Towerside caused 10 murders in the last three years.

Leslie Burch, president of the Britton Courts Neighborhood Association and cofounder of the Visitacion Valley Peacekeepers, said a lot of the men named grew up together, playing sports, staying at each other's houses overnight, and making affiliations.

"So I wouldn't necessarily classify them as gangs," Burch said. "They are just a bunch of friends who have common interests like music, sports, and hanging out together."

Mere pointed to the opt-out option, part of a 2008 agreement between the city attorney, ACLU, and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.