Crackdown on gangs -- or civil liberties? - Page 3

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?

"It's an option for people to say, 'No, you are wrong,'<0x2009>" Mere said. "They can submit letters from pastors and friends, and we'll consider that between now and Sept. 30."

But Burch challenged some of the evidence posted at the City Attorney's wesbite, including photographs of people sporting alleged gang tattoos and clothing.

"Take the T sign," Burch explained "The city attorney says it represents the Towerside. But I had a nephew who was murdered. His name was Trayon, and some people wear the letter T in remembrance of him. I was in court with a nephew who was trying to explain that he is not a gang member just because he's wearing a hat with a T on it."

Hewitt noted that the injunction follows budget cuts that decimated local nonprofits and that funding is desperately needed for programs that provide young men with jobs and other alternatives to crime.

Hewitt also noted that the injunction gives District 10 candidates an opportunity to show the community that they are tracking all the issues in this pivotal race. "D-10 has been reduced to the Lennar issue, and that's what's criminal," Hewitt said, adding that coverage of the race has so far largely excluded Viz Valley, even though it's home to the city's largest public housing site.

Indeed, the injunction is becoming part of the dialogue in the District 10 supervisor campaign. Candidates Isaac Bowers, Kristine Enea, Chris Jackson, Nyese Joshua, Steve Moss, and Marlene Tran attended Sharen Hewitt's Aug. 12 gang injunction debriefing. By meeting's end, Bowers and Enea said they would help community members get legal representation. "A lot of people being served don't know what an injunction is or don't show up at the hearing, and then they become subject to the injunction," Bowers said.

Jackson said he's committed to helping these men get access to job and education opportunities.

Candidate Tony Kelly said if there are gangs in Viz Valley, Herrera's injunction would be valid. "There is gang-like activity, but it's small-scale turf wars, shootings. and retaliations. And it's not organized," Kelly claimed. "Instead, you've got unorganized young black men with no other options doing whatever it takes to get ahead. But instead of doing something constructive, the city attorney calls them gangs."

DeWitt Lacy, also a candidate, said he remains concerned that gang injunctions are circumventing people's due process rights. "In a criminal case, you have the right to an attorney — but that's not so in a civil action."