Gang Injunctions Take Root in San Francisco

According to the “People of California,” as represented by San Francisco
City Attorney Dennis Herrer, “The Oakdale Mob, by virtue of its criminal
and nuisance activities, threatens the freedom of the peaceful citizens
who live and work in the neighborhood. These citizens have the right to
live without fear. They have the right to have the peaceful and quiet enjoyment
of their community. Their children have the right to play in their own
front yards and to ride their bikes down the sidewalk in front of their
own homes without fear of harm from gang violence. As such, the Oakdale
Mob’s public nuisance behavior must be enjoined to restore and protect
this community.” 

Apparently, Herrera was just the right person to give the people what they
needed in order to live peaceful and harmonious lives, even if it was done
largely behind their backs. For the Oakdale Mob gang injunction, only six
months in its infancy, has been officially declared a success. 

“I will say that this has been tremendously effective over the course of
the last several months. In fact, there have only been three arrests in
that area and that’s mostly because most of the activity that was there
previously has disappeared and you’ve seen a tremendous reduction in the
number of police calls and the like,” said Herrera at a recent press conference.

The city attorney continued: “Unfortunately, we have seen a migration of
the violence to other parts of the city and county of San Francisco, more
specifically the Western Addition neighborhoods and the Mission district.” 

Thus the need for more gang injunctions. The epidemic of violence must
be targeted and brought under control. 

Indeed. Gang injunctions leave communities targeted—not by gang violence,
but by a system with vested interests, for gang injunctions are but one
of the many chokeholds being applied to select neighborhoods across the

“It’s important to look at the socio-economic profile of gang injunctions
nationwide. They are only applied in poor neighborhoods of color in metropolitan
areas that are targeted for gentrification,” says Mesha Monge-Irizarry,
director of San Francisco’s only organization that holds police accountable
and supports the families of victims of police misconduct. A Bayview/Hunter’s
Point resident for the past 10 years, her son was shot to death 6 years
ago by the San Francisco police—48 shots, 9 officers, no chance. 

“If you look at San Francisco, there are dangerous, violent, homicidal
gangs in many neighborhoods. You have Armenian and Russian gangs in the
Richmond and in the Sunset. There are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese gangs
in the Fillmore, in Japantown, and in Chinatown. There are Italian gangs
in Northbeach,” says Mesha. And yet those are not the areas being targeted
by the recent gang injunctions. Los Angeles provides a case in point. “There
are a lot more injunctions in the LA area than in northern California.
Injunctions do not exist in the most violent neighborhoods, which is where
you would expect them, but they exist in neighborhoods that border white
or gentrifying neighborhoods,” says ACLU attorney Juniper Lesnik. “It makes
it look as if the government is taking action to make those neighborhoods
safer, which gives people more confidence about living nearby.” 

In San Francisco, along 3rd Street, there is a new Muni T-line, the old
warehouses are being torn down, and new condominiums are popping up. “It
is very obvious that in a couple of years you’re going to have spas and
Starbucks out here. Those palm trees here on 3rd Street, they cost $16,000
a piece. They were not put there for us. It’s for the next population that
is going to move in,” says Monge-Irizarry. (According to Kristen Holland,
Public Relations Officer at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency,
the trees cost between $2,300 and $2,512 each.) 

In his court case, the city attorney paints a foreboding picture of the
Oakdale Mob, describing it as a “violent, turf-based, predominantly African
American, criminal street gang that claims turf located within the Bayview/Hunter’s
Point area…whose purpose is to commit criminal acts for financial and
other gain.” As a result, people in the community are “forced to live with
daily acts of violence, drug-dealing, thefts, vandalism, loitering, harassment,
physical intimidation and threats of retaliation.” 

But members of the community paint a different picture. Jim Queen, an activist
in the area for 39 years, says that he has “not experienced gang violence,
harassment, or intimidation.” He continues by saying, “I firmly believe
that the gang injunction is not the right answer for violence in the community”

and “will negatively impact families in the area.” Betty Higgins, a retired
Muni driver who has lived in the area for 50 years says that she does “not
believe that a gang injunction is the solution to the problems in our community.” 

Shanteak Harris was one of three people served in the Oakdale Mob injunction.
According to the evidence presented by the city attorney (consisting entirely
of police declarations and records), Harris is a “member and leader” of
the Oakdale Mob who “has contributed to the creation of this nuisance.” 

Again, people from the community paint a different picture. Reverend Ernest
L. Jackson, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church on Oakdale Ave., says he
has worked with Harris to create a community center for the area. Officer
Leonard Broberg stated that Harris “was instrumental in brokering the ceasefire
agreement that has been the most effective remedy for gang violence initiated
by the community.” Harris himself has stated in court documents that “there
is not a public nuisance, that he is not a member of the Oakdale Mob and
that there is not a gang called the Oakdale Mob.” 

Others in the community question the existence of the Oakdale Mob as well.
Monge-Irizarry, who also runs SF Village Voice Community Radio, was curious
about what young people in the community had to say about the gang. “We
interviewed about 30 kids altogether. None of them have heard of the Oakdale
Mob,” she said. Damone Hale, the attorney who represented Shanteak Harris
in court, concurs. “Where is this gang?” he asks. “It’s not because they’ve
done anything. It’s because they’ve been labeled and tagged a member of
a gang that doesn’t exist.” 

So where did the Oakdale Mob come from? One problem with gang injunctions
is that they can target groups that are not necessarily gangs. “The danger
is that loose neighborhood affiliations get called gangs when they don’t
really view themselves that way and aren’t organized the way a street gang
typically is,” says Lesnik of the ACLU. “So it’s dangerous, especially
for young people, when they’re stopped by the police and asked, ‘Where
are you from?’ and the young person might say, ‘Oakdale,’ and the police
officer might write down, ‘Admitted being a member of the Oakdale Mob.’”


People who are served a gang injunction are prohibited from engaging in
a long list of activities, including no intimidation, no graffiti, no trespassing,
and no loitering. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the “Do Not Associate”
ban. Suppose that “John Doe” and “Mike Smith” are under a gang injunction.
One day, they meet while applying for a job in their neighborhood. While
waiting for everyone to finish, they catch up on what’s going on. A police
officer drives by, sees them, and promptly arrests them for violating the
injunction. Shortly after their arrest, the employer calls their names.
But they don’t get the job because they’ve been taken to jail. Seem unlikely?
It happened last month in Bayview to James Powell and Ellis McGhee. 

“This is exactly what we feared,” says attorney Damone Hale. “Programs
that are focused on trying to help these young men with opportunities so
they don’t have to make bad choices are being frustrated by cops, not because
they did anything wrong, but because of a civil injunction” that “allows
an officer who sees someone who hasn’t done anything to arrest them.” 

Or what about when alleged gang members attend community meetings? Several
“Oakdale Mob” members have attended such meetings in the past, but are
now prohibited from doing so. As a result, the “injunction is destroying
some of the very people who are trying to make positive changes,” says
community activist Jim Queen. 

Then there is the impact on families. Once an injunction becomes permanent,
it causes people to live under probation-like restrictions for as long
as they live in the area. Effect? “People leave,” says Lesnik. “People
won’t want to live in these neighborhoods anymore if their son, brother,
husband, grandchild, has to live under [these conditions] indefinitely,”

thus contributing to the further displacement of the African American community
that has taken place over the past several decades in San Francisco. 

A dark picture is emerging here, one far more disturbing than that painted
by Herrera in his branding of the Oakdale Mob. “Before you know it, we’re
going to have a city blanketed [with injunctions],” says attorney Damone
Hale. “You’re going to have young men who are going to have to prove that
they have a legitimate reason to be in a particular area in San Francisco.
What we’re going to have is comparable to South Africa’s pass laws.” 

It is now time to seriously reflect on Herrera’s earlier statements. Do
gang injunctions cause the violence to go elsewhere or do they cause people
to disappear? Combined with a lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of
protection from toxic redevelopment projects, and lack of adequate health
care, gang injunctions are but one piece of a much larger noose that is
choking the community. 


Chris Brizzard is an intern at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.