ACLU/SC Opposes Troubling Provisions of L.A. District Attorney's Proposed Gang Injunction in South Los Angeles

January 14, 2009 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A gang injunction that would cover a 10-square-mile, unincorporated area of South Los Angeles and could prohibit even nongang members from taking part in everyday activities is overly broad and unconstitutional, the ACLU of Southern California argued today in an amicus brief filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s injunction targets members of the Florencia 13 gang, but certain provisions are written so vaguely that they enable the recommendations of individual enforcing deputies to wrongly include siblings on the gang injunction, prohibiting them from activities as innocuous as riding together in the family car.

“This injunction allows police officers to impose parole-like restrictions on people with little or no investigation. That gives enormous discretion to police officers and carries huge potential for abuse, whether malicious or not,” said Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “We already see police in other injunction areas placing people under an injunction for little more than being related to someone in a gang.”

Individuals under the proposed injunction would be subject to strict curfews, prohibited from associating with certain people, banned from the area’s largest park and prevented from wearing “gang apparel,” although the injunction never specifies what that is. The rules are so restrictive and cover such a large area — encompassing schools, churches and the homes of family members — that it would be nearly impossible for someone to comply without moving out of the area.

The ACLU/SC is asking the District Attorney’s Office to amend these and other provisions of the injunction that criminalize legal everyday behavior of gang and nongang members alike, and create burdens of proof that are virtually impossible to meet.

Certain provisions of the injunction are so broad that a youth buying milk for his or her gang member sibling could be construed as a gang associate “acting …for the benefit” of a gang member, Bibring pointed out.

In creating this and similar, far-reaching injunctions, law enforcement agencies have developed a double system of justice in which a single deputy can unjustifiably and tragically ensnare a nongang member in the criminal justice system. With little or no investigation, individual deputies need only suspect someone is a gang member before serving him or her with the injunction and placing them under its restrictive provisions. The result is a person who is bound by the rules of the injunction and subject to arrest before he or she is even given a hearing in court.

Equally troubling is an opt-out provision in the proposed injunction that is written so broadly that someone who is unemployed, not in school or who has committed a minor nongang offense in the last five years wouldn’t qualify to be removed from the injunction’s provisions.

Touted as a tough and necessary crime-fighting tool, aggressive injunctions have been widely used in Los Angeles County and across the state in poor and minority neighborhoods to crack down on gang activities. But in doing so, law enforcement’s drive to impose injunctions has eroded community trust, separated childhood friends and endangered the basic rights of nongang members to move freely and associate with whom they like.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe is expected to hear the case Jan. 16.

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