Los Angeles' controversial gang injunction has been dropped against thousands of primarily Black and Latino youth and adults in a move that advocates are claiming is a victory for poor and working-class communities who have long sought an end to a policy analysts claim was a violation of subjects' constitutional rights.
Those who faced the injunction were forced to contend with tight restrictions on their movements, freedom of expression, clothing, and relationships – including close family relations – as a result of the once-popular policy that authorities claimed was meant to address the proliferation of street gangs.
The move came as a result of a joint audit of the gang injunction database conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department and LA city attorney's office last year, who defended the inclusion of people on the gang injunction while claiming that these were "once active" members of criminal sets.
“These individuals, while once active gang members, no longer pose a threat to the community. Many have steered away from gang life, having grown older and more responsible … while others have left the neighborhood and no longer frequent the limited geographical area that the relevant injunction covers,” city attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox told the Los Angeles Times. “Still others are in prison, while some have passed away.”
About 7,300 letters were sent to Angelenos this year informing subjects that they no longer faced gang injunctions, which are civil court orders served to those who lived in neighborhoods considered to be havens for certain street gangs. A violation of the order could lead to arrest while those charged with crimes often faced “gang enhancements,” or vastly increased penalties.
While 8,900 have been served with injunctions since 2000, those released from the injunction comprise 82% of injuncted subjects.
“It shows how bad the process has been in deciding who to put on the injunctions and how many people were swept up who never should have been on injunctions,” said Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney at ACLU SoCal.
“These are 7,300 people who have been subjected to indefinite, parole-like restrictions based on the untested decisions of police officers and city attorneys.”
In many cases, the dragnet definition used by police agencies fond of using the gang injunction tool targeted “wannabes” not considered members of gang sets, casual associates of gang members, and others who had vague relationships with other alleged “associates.”
Individual officers were granted significant leeway in tagging individuals as gang associates based on criteria like possessing gang clothing – clothing bearing the insignia of sports teams favored by one or another gang, for example – or through testimonies provided by “reliable informants.”
“Self-admission” has also been cited as a reason for adding people to gang injunction rolls. In some cases, the admission took the form of an officer asking a subject where they resided. If a subject gave an answer like “Crenshaw” or “Compton,” officers would note the “admission” as evidence of membership in the “Crenshaw Mafia” or “Compton Crips,” as examples.
Many who were served with injunctions had never been convicted of a crime but were served because they “associated” with one-time gang members, including siblings, cousins, and even parents. Echo Park resident Peter Arellano told the LA Times that he was never involved with a gang, but was served with an injunction along with his father in 2013. Thanks to the injunction, Arellano couldn't even dine out with some of his relatives or go to family gatherings.
“It’s pretty cruel. I don’t see how the LAPD can enforce the law saying that you can’t be with your family,” he said. “I think it’s like inhumane. It’s like when a dog has puppies, and you take the puppies away from the dog. It’s just sad.”
In September, a U.S. court found in September found that Arellano's constitutional rights to due process had been violated due to the injunction.
Commenting at the time, organizer Kim McGill from the Youth Justice Coalition blasted what amount to a blanket denial of the rights of people of color.
"For decades, the city of Los Angeles has used the same unconstitutional process to place thousands of young people of color under what amounts to permanent probation, without proving to a court that they committed any crime or are even in a gang."