LAPD Gang Injunctions Gave Cops a License to Harass and Control Black and Latino Residents

Peter Arellano’s life changed when a Los Angeles Police Department officer handed him a piece of paper informing him that he was now subject to a “gang injunction.” He could no longer visit his neighbors in their homes, drive to church with his family, ride his bike through the local park, or even stand in his own front yard with his father or brother. If he violated these terms, he could be arrested and jailed. Arellano, who has never been convicted of any crime, had effectively been placed on house arrest.

Gang injunctions are ineffective policing tools that primarily serve to criminalize young Black and Latino men. Nonetheless, Los Angeles has been operating a massive gang injunction program for decades. Like nearly 9,000 other Angelenos, Arellano was subjected to an injunction solely based on an LAPD officer’s opinion, a whim that was approved by a city attorney, that he was a gang member. He never got to challenge the allegation or even know what evidence was used against him. This decision to radically limit his freedom didn’t involve a court.

Gang injunctions represent a radical departure from constitutional due process. To obtain a gang injunction, a prosecutor files a civil “nuisance abatement” lawsuit against a particular gang, claiming that its conduct harms the community. The gang, which is not a formal organization and has no legal representation, does not appear at trial. With no one to argue against the need for an injunction, it is granted by default.

The police then serve people they claim are the gang’s members with copies of the injunction days, or years, later, asserting that they are now bound by its terms. While people could challenge after being served, it required proving they were not gang members without knowing why the city claimed they were. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of people were successful in getting freed from injunctions.

Gang injunctions turn common behavior into crimes, such as possessing everyday items like cell phones, drinking alcohol on your own front porch or in a restaurant, and associating with people the police also claim are gang members — even your own family. Officers’ gang designations are drawn from stereotypes and preconceptions based on clothing—anything from plaid shirts to basketball shorts to khakis—that they deem “gang attire,” associates, and if someone lives or socializes in alleged “gang areas”—which can include an entire community.

Officers use injunctions to circumvent the protections afforded by a criminal prosecution, which is exactly why gang injunctions have been a significant tool in the LAPD’s arsenal despite no evidence they create a significant or sustained crime reduction. What they provide is the justification to stop, harass, and arrest Black and Latino community members.

Critics of injunctions — such as the Youth Justice Coalition, an organization that has been fighting against their use for years — have observed that injunctions recently have been used more as a tool to push Black and Latino residents out of popular neighborhoods than to fight crime. Indeed, the gang injunction enforced against Peter was obtained in 2013 in Echo Park — a gentrifying neighborhood where crime was at an historic low.

But the tide is turning. The ACLU of Southern California just won a major victory against the city of Los Angeles’ use of these restrictive gang injunctions — effectively ending the city’s practice. In a class action lawsuit, which included Peter Arellano and Youth Justice Coalition, the ACLU and co-counsel Urban Peace Institute and Munger Tolles and Olson challenged the city’s enforcement of injunctions without first providing a hearing on active gang membership, claiming this practice violated their constitutionally protected due process rights.

A federal court agreed, finding that the process was prone to error and granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing its injunctions against anyone who has not had the opportunity to challenge the designation in court before they were made subject to the injunction.

This is one of many recent victories both recognizing that police-imposed gang labels are often inaccurate yet carry serious criminal and immigration consequences, and creating a process to challenge these designations before they take effect.

Gang injunctions restrict people’s freedom, often without a shred of due process, on questionable “evidence,” and with no significant public safety benefit. The costs far outweigh even the alleged benefits and the ACLU and others will continue to fight to ensure that police don’t continue to destroy people’s lives by unilaterally imposing gang labels.

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Anonymous

So, they argue that they can't cooperate with ICE because it would hurt the communties trust in them but they do things like this to citizens!?!! Doesn't this program foster distrust and make people reluctant to contact the police?

Maurice

This is one of the many reasons why the people doesn't trust the govt and also doesn't trust or respect the police

Anonymous

Part of it

Anonymous

Have you ever been victimized by gang members, bullied beaten raped or robbed by one or many? How can you say gang members are victims themselves of “the system”? You are the reason why California is a downward spiraling lawn dart and why crime continues to rise and criminals are free to walk the streets and continue to rape and pillage like modern day pirates. Your influence on local politicians and high ranking police officials has destroyed Los Angeles and California. You are fighting the wrong fight for the wrong people. This is not the world Mr Martin Luther King Jr envisioned for America. Stop spreading lies and propaganda and actually do something for our communities, you’ve created a crutch and have disabled all people of color.

Anonymous

The police and politicians make themselves look bad. Have you ever been a victim of gang violence? No, that's why you say what you do. Have you ever been a victim of stereotypes, police brutality?

Anonymous

Exactly. I worked in gang territories in the Bay area. Law abiding citizens in those neighborhoods are living a nightmare. If one is not breakibg the law, why fear law enforcement.

Anonymous

Echo Park is a 'living nightmare'?

GJ Bowman

This is a myopic viewpoint. Many people (arguably most people) impacted by gang injunctions are NOT criminals - or even gang members. The police were given the power to decide who is or isn’t a gang member. That doesn’t work.

Don’t hide behind the argument that crime justifies sacrificing our human rights. Crime is at historic lows in California. Your argument fails.

You are a cop trolling on here...aren’t you?

Anonymousgloria...

Have u ever been a victim of family member of police violence or inaction? Let’s look at the ALL problems affecting our neighborhoods. Cops are too busy being a militarized force on our street than try solving crimes by building relationships with us read the article again. Many of these youth are not gang members until the cops labeled them so. That is not the solution

Anonymous

Americans are becoming hostages of their government!

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