I am a former gang member, juvenile felon from Oakland, California. I now have a Ph.D. from Berkeley and am a Professor of Sociology who studies youth-police relations. Based on my studies with hundreds of gang associated youths I can tell you that gang injunctions are a failed attempt at addressing youth violence. Gang injunctions cannot guarantee gang violence reductions. Sociologists like Cheryl Maxson, in Los Angeles and Irvine have found that years of gang injunctions in Southern California have not produced results. Instead, youth crime and violence has increased in communities where injunctions have been implemented. The problem is that gang injunctions create two conditions that do guarantee further crime and violence: isolation and detachment. When young people feel isolated and detached from their community, school, and the labor market, their chances of committing crime drastically increase. Gang injunctions limit positive mobility for young people, many who have arbitrarily been labeled gang members by police. Blocking young people from believing that they can attend school without being marked as a criminal or walk in their neighborhood without feeling the wrath of an entire community only breeds resentment and hopelessness. This is when you can expect to see an increase in crime, not a decrease. Community members must pressure the district attorney to develop a better plan for dealing with youth violence. Law enforcement must do their job and find ways to deal with individuals that commit violence without demonizing an entire generation of innocent youths whose only crime is living in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time.’ Gang injunctions are not the answer. Restorative justice and positive police-community relations have been the only approaches found to help law enforcement find the small number of offenders who are responsible for most of the violence committed in a particular neighborhood and avoid criminalizing an entire generation.
Dr. Victor M. Rios
Dr. Rios is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His book, Punished: The Criminalization of Inner City Boys, is forthcoming with New York University Press.