What Gang Injunctions Look Like: Police Repression of Individuals, Communities, and Neighborhoods

To date, grassroots organizing and legal defense has successfully held at bay another harmful California gang injunction from being enacted below the radar of intense public scrutiny in Oakland. Despite being incredibly out-funded by the once-powerful City Attorney and the Oakland Police Department, community-based opposition has already won several key victories: waiving fees of close to $1000 that defendants would have had to pay to appear in court, forcing the OPD and City Attorney’s office to report to the City Council on the costs of gang injunctions (close to $1 million spent so far), and winning the right for each named individual to defend themselves in court. Six months after its initial filing, the proposed Fruitvale/San Antonio injunction, which was expected to pass quickly and quietly like the North Oakland injunction, has not been approved.

Unsurprisingly, the strength of community opposition has been met by the City Attorney and OPD with escalated repression tactics aimed at discouraging named individuals from defending themselves in court or on the streets. Of the two defendants who have testified so far in the case, Abel Manzo lost his job after his coworkers were harassed with repeated police visits and subpoenas. The other, Javier Quintero, is currently locked up in San Quentin prison on a “parole violation” related to meeting with a co-defendant and their lawyer.

If the Oakland gang injunction case has anything to teach us, it is as a fairly predictable case study on the design, intentions, and impacts of police suppression tactics. Gang injunctions are part of a long history of racialized and violent policing that regularly claims the lives of poor people and people of color in Oakland. In the face of this daily reality, the City Attorney’s office mounted an aggressive public relations campaign claiming that Oakland’s gang injunction is somehow different from the rest and that gang injunctions do not lead to racial profiling. We know from our own experiences that this is a clear and dangerous lie. Despite the fact that the City Attorney claims that the power to determine who is enjoined or not rests in the hands of the courts, enforcement of these gang injunctions (stopping, detaining and arresting individuals) relies on the police visually identifying young men of color. This guarantees, and provides legal justification for, a dramatic increase in police harassment of young men of color in the so-called “safety zones.”  In the case of Javier’s arrest—the car he was riding in was pulled over for playing loud music at 6pm on a Friday night.  One wonders if young white men in the affluent Rockridge neighborhood would be subject to the same kind of policing.

As with gang injunctions in other cities, Oakland’s two injunctions were filed in low-income neighborhoods that border higher-income neighborhoods with higher property rates.  As has been seen in other highly policed “border” areas, we can expect these tactics to raise the profile of the police and push criminalized communities off the street—paving the way for gentrification. Indeed, cover for the Oakland police department and city attorney’s office—both vying for financial and political power when the city is facing a $26 million budget shortfall and is spending 40% of its 2011 budget on OPD and the City Attorney’s office when Parks and Rec and Libraries only get 4% respectively—was provided by business and property owners who would financially benefit from the gentrification of nearby streets through increased policing (mainly through the power they exert in Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils).

The individuals named on the North Oakland and Fruitvale injunctions are subject to restrictions similar to parole conditions that are responsible for sending approximately 50,000 people to prison in California on technical violations every year.  These same conditions, combined with targeted political repression, have sent Javier to jail for a minimum of 30 days and maybe up to a year, for sitting in a car with a friend and co-defendant. Others, such as Yancey Young, an individual named in the North Oakland injunction have been subject to similar repression. These repression tactics have been used in the cases of individuals who have taken up a more active role in the movement against gang injunctions in Oakland through speaking to the press, attending events and becoming more public figures. This is testimony to the fact that our grassroots efforts are winning; putting the City Attorney, OPD, and pro-gentrification forces on the defensive (albeit with violent consequences for those targeted by repression). With a third, as yet unspecified injunction on the horizon, it is paramount that we keep up the fight.

Winning the fight against gang injunctions depends on the participation of people who are named on the injunction and their families.  The state is doing everything it can to prohibit this participation.  We must meet them, and beat them, at every step. Here is how you can support Javier, Abel, Yancey and the rest of the gang injunction defendants:

1. Pack City Hall! Tuesday May 3rd, 5pm, 14th and Broadway. Show City Council that you oppose the Oakland Gang Injunctions!

2. Pack the Courtroom! Friday May 6th, 1pm Press Conference, 2pm Final Arguments in Phase 1 of court hearings on the Fruitvale injunction, 1225 Fallon, Dept

3. Free Javier! Call Inspector General Bruce Montross at 800-700-5952 to demand an investigation into the arrest and detention of Javier Quintero.