Herrera’s gang injunction becomes part of D. 10 dialogue

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As stated in this week’s article about City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s Viz Valley gang injunction, Herrera’s move gives D. 10 candidates an opportunity to show they are tracking all the issues in a district that is home to the city’s largest public housing site.

As C.L.A.E.R. Project director Sharen Hewitt put it at a debriefing session about the injunction, “D. 10 has been reduced to the Lennar issue, and that’s what’s criminal.”

And the injunction is becoming part of the dialogue in the D. 10 race, with eleven candidates in that race sounding off on the injunction, many of them critiquing Dennis Herrera's approach and/or advocating for legal representation for those named in the suit, and more services in this historically neglected district.

Candidates Isaac Bowers, Kristine Enea, Chris Jackson, Nyese Joshua, Steve Moss and Marlene Tran attended Hewitt’s August 12 gang injunction debriefing.

And 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.

Enea said she was glad that City Attorney Yvonne Mere clarified at the debriefing that the 41 young men named in Herrera's filing could not be included in the actual injunction until they have been served.

“It was important to clarify the notice process,” Enea said.

Jackson said he’s committed to helping these men access job and education opportunities.
“If you i.d. folks as low-income gang members, there is a lot more you can do than simply hand over their names to law enforcement,” Jackson said.
“Before the City Attorney puts in a gang injunction, that office should talk about it with the community.” Jackson continued. “Ultimately this is about land use.”

“For the City Attorney to have a top down approach to gang injunctions is unfortunate,” Jackson said, noting that Herrera’s injunctions have been in predominantly
African American and Latino neighborhoods.

“And in terms of taking away people’s civil rights, it’s unacceptable, “ Jackson added, noting that the City Attorney’s list of targeted individuals is public information.

Reached by phone, Moss says he’d like to see a time limit imposed on gang injunctions. Currently, injunctions are indefinite, once they have been granted.

“I haven’t studied the precise details,” Moss said, noting that he went to Hewitt’s debriefing and has leaved through materials the City Attorney’s Office provided.
“Generally, no one likes gang injunctions because they potentially threaten civil liberties and sometimes the city gets it wrong,” Moss said, referring to cases where folks have been wrongly named in previous injunctions. “But in places where injunctions have been brought, they do seem to have reduced the violence and calmed down the district. I’d like there to be a time limit, a sunset clause.”

D. 10 candidate Marlene Tran said she thinks the injunction could help reduce violence in the neighborhood.
“I was trying to listen to the different input at the debriefing session,” Tran said. “But on TV, I heard that when Herrera talked to the Chinese press, he cited some 200 incidents in the proposed safety zone. About 100 of those incidents involved guns, and there have been ten homicides in three years. Those are really glaring statistics. And this morning I read that there is another injunction in Oakland, and they talked about success with gang injunctions in Salinas, where the homicide rate dropped from 50 to 5, compared to 2008/2009.”

Tran, who sits on the Community Advisory Board for the Police Department’s Ingleside Station, said she heard from Ingleside Captain Louis Cassenego that he wants to serve all 41 respondents named in the injunction peacefully.
“If this is done without any casualties to the district and the community, and if it prevents any further violence, then this is the way to go,” Tran said.

Tran expressed some due process concerns.
“If they spend that much personnel and time [on putting the injunction together], it should be done with due process,” Tran said.

But she feels the current level of violence in Viz Valley is unacceptable.
“I’ve lived here for twenty something years, and if you talk to residents and children, who wants to hear gun fire,” Tran said. “So I think we have to work for a peaceful community to prevent these problems. That’s why we call ourselves the emergent district.”

D. 10 candidate Ed Donaldson believes the injunctions are a product of neglect.
“It comes back to a question of overall neglect in the district,” Donaldson explained.  When you have that level of social and economic neglect, gang injunctions become “necessary’. But when you look at the resources coming into the district through local non-profits, which comes, I believe to $110 million a year, 80 percent of which is city money, paid mostly to non-profits that may not be based in the district, you have to ask, Are we getting what we paid for? And do these non-profits have enough integrity to make sure there is a level of impact to transform people’s lives? “

Donaldson says that, given the overall level of neglect in public housing, it’s not surprising the district has challenges.

“So, are we willing to invest in the neighborhood in a very transformative way, or are we going to continue to give money to police and prisons?” Donaldson asked.
He notes that every year, 1,600 men and women return to the southeast side of San Francisco, and there is a 71 percent recidivism rate among these folks.

“Why is this rate so high in a progressive city like San Francisco?” Donaldson said. “Part of the answer lies with our public housing policy: if you can’t get public housing, you can’t apply for a job, you can’t go to school to better yourself.”

Donaldson says there is a direct connection between the district’s homicide rate and the people getting out of prison, returning to the district and re-offending.
“So, what’s so hard about getting our arms around 1,600 people a year and stabilizing them? Because then a lot of stuff about public safety will go away.”

D. 10 candidate Tony Kelly believes that if there were gangs in Viz Valley, then 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 said. “ 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.”

Kelly notes that the City Attorney claims that most of the individuals named in the Viz Valley injunction don’t live in the proposed safety zone.
“But according to what I’m hearing on the ground, a bunch of them do live here and/or grew up here,” Kelly said. “So, we want their families to get involved. They need safe havens. But combined with last year’s budget cuts, all this does is criminalize young people and pushes the problem around. As long as we have 40-50 percent unemployment, we are not going to solve our crime problem.”

DeWitt Lacy, also a D. 10 candidate, said he is 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,” Lacy said.

Lacy worries that gang injunctions lend themselves to racial profiling.
“Folks have to stay in their house or quickly go to and fro because they can’t hang out in the neighborhood,” Lacy said. “A smarter approach would be to do community policy that Sup. Ross Mirkarimi introduced in the Western Addition. It’s been shown to have a positive impact on criminal activity. We should have officers walking around in troubled areas. The more we change a foot patrol pilot into citywide policy, the more we actually address serious issues and problems. Everyone understands the value that police bring and everyone wants to be able to rely on them. When we only use police to bring a punitive action it reinforces the notion that they are evil enforcers.”

D. 10 candidate Malia Cohen said she was concerned by Herrera’s approach.
“I think we need a more comprehensive approach, otherwise, we’ll simply be moving crime two blocks over,” Cohen said. “We need long-term, not short-term solutions.”

Cohen noted that there are Chinese and Russian gangs in town, as well as African American ones, and Latino gangs like the Nortenos and Sudenos.
“But the style of how each gang manifests is different, which makes African Americans an easy target. We need to have a uniform approach to how we deal with this.”

The 41 men identified in Herrera’s latest injunction all appear to be African American, and many have family ties and roots in Sunnydale, meaning the injunction impacts a much larger circle of folks than those simply named in Herrera’s filings.
“The impact on families caught up in this can’t be overstated,” Cohen said.  “Either they’ll have to take bus down to court, or drag down and pay hella money for parking, and for food, and even take a day off from work if they are employed. And then there’s the emotional effect. We could be using our resources in a more productive way. I understand that Dennis Herrera is ambitious, but this is playing on people’s racism. It’s tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Maybe Herrera wants to be seen as tough on crime, but ut how about being seen as big on compassion? Or big on fair? This is not going to help people get jobs and housing. And it prevents American citizens from being able to travel.”

Eric Smith, also a D. 10 candidate, says it’s right to question the injunctions.
“David Campos and Eric Quezada both expressed concerns about Herrera’s injunction against the Nortenos, when they were running in the 2008 race for D. 9,” Smith observed.
“They talked about the unintended consequences of that injunction in terms of deporting folks who then train the next generation in the ways of gangs.”

Smith questions how effective gang injunctions are in the long-term.
“They are a band-aid,” Smith said. “This is like putting a finger in the dike, or using a hammer to kill a flea. Because the root causes are not addressed. If you don’t deal with young people’s lack of education and joblessness, their hopelessness, their choicelessness, the gang becomes their family. So, if the city did community policing and had great youth programs, it would help."

Smith, who is a professional jazz musician, wants to see more music, poetry and spoken word programs and activities in the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of untapped talent,” he said. “When you have arts, music and theater, those are life-saving opportunities.”

Also a bio-diesel advocate, Smith wants to see people who are returning to the community after a stint inside, being able to access green jobs, instead of doing more of the same stuff, only better, than the activities that landed them inside in the first place.

“I care about everyone in the district, but most of all about those who have been kicked to the curb and end up in gangs, on drugs, or dead.”

And D. 10 candidate Diane Wesley Smith believes there are better solutions than gang injunctions

“African American culture is almost opposite in terms of physical mannerisms and gestures and tone of voice, and that can be scary to someone who is used to being conservative,” Wesley Smith said, speaking to the rising tensions between some black and Asian residents in the district.

“I believe these things could be solved with town hall meetings, where there is food and translators so folks could talk things out, “ she said. “It’s never going to be worked out through the police. Only law enforcement benefits from these kinds of proceedings. We need to reach out and touch each other, so that the Chinese community knows that the black community has the same goals as they do, which are employment, housing and safety.”

“When we talk about violating people’s civil rights, posting people’s pictures on websites, preying on people’s fears, well, that’s how we got into the war,” Wesley-Smith said. “Unemployment. Lack of access to opportunity. Lack of education. No money for our schools, but an increase in spending on our jails. These all send the same message: You are not wanted.”

Wesley Smith is concerned that the gang injunctions will accelerate the mass exodus of blacks and people of color from San Francisco.
“We all want a safe San Francisco,” she observed. “The solution is more jobs, not war. People are just going to go more underground in face of these injunctions. Meanwhile, the kids in my district don’t have toilet paper or computer paper in their schools.”

“I understand that Dennis Herrera is a career politician, and time will tell what his true aspirations are, but this is not legislation we propose in a caring society,” Wesley-Smith concluded. “We’re not showing any of these kids any love. All we need to do is partner with business and government and work this out. Te thought that four men standing on a corner drinking an energy drink could be considered gang members is shocking. That’s how they perpetuated slavery, and that’s why blacks have problems today. All my nephews dress similarly. So, are we going to consider them gang members? The good and the bad kids dress the same. We need people and parents to understand that none of us can be safe, until we take care of those who have the least in our community. I’d venture that everyone who is a safety concern has not pursued their education, has not been assisted in pursuing education, and has not been assisted in pursuing employment.”

D. 10 candidate Lynette Sweet promised to call me back to talk about the gang injunction, and if and when she does, I'll be sure to include her comments here. The same goes for Nyese Joshua, Geoffrea Morris and Steve Weber  who had not returned my calls as of blog time, and for any other D. 10 candidates that I was unable to reach for this article. So, stay tuned...