Saturday, July 07, 2007

A "gang safety" zone?

Two weeks spent out of town and look what I return to find hanging from the phone poles on my block: apparently my 'hood is the target of an injunction against Norteno gang members, bangers wearing red who deal drugs, commit crimes and too often get into shootouts on the street.

Dennis Herrera, the local city attorney, seeks court orders that

would bar suspected members from associating with each other in public in the safety zones. In the Mission, the city attorney is also seeking to ban suspected Nortenos from wearing red and wants to bar gang members from being out after 10 p.m. -- with exceptions for those going to church, a job or a medical appointment.

SF Chronicle
June 22, 2007

The ACLU says they are watching developments closely; courts have upheld anti-gang injunctions, but sometimes have overturned orders that didn't name particular individuals.

Law enforcement has been using an anti-gang order to try to keep the peace in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood for nearly a year. According to the Chron, "Unlike in some other cities, [that order] did not allow police officers to add names to the list while on patrol." The Chronicle stories don't make it clear whether the order sought in the Mission [area indicated below] contains that limitation.


So what do I think? I'm torn. This is hard stuff.

The anti-gang orders have a lot of justified neighborhood juice behind them. One gang shooter was convicted this week of blowing away a member of another gang in front to the victim's 6 year old son on a corner not far from where I lived for years. Three weeks ago a 15 year old, not a gang member but a bystander caught in crossfire, was gunned down on 24th Street a few blocks away.

I see the gang guys on the street when I go east of the BART station on 24th Street. (The
crowd on the west end of 24th is composed more of drunks and heroin addicts.) I've seen a succession of young guys hanging on those corners for most of the 30 plus years I've lived here. Neighbors say the violence is greater now; more money, more guns, more gang rivalries. I guess they know.

Folks like me, the white oddballs who have so far not completely gentrified the 'hood, are like ghosts that pass by unmarked. The street life of my kind (no longer a rarity as we once were) drifts between stores, little restaurants, coffee shops. We don't intersect with the street life of the gangs. We act like we don't see each other.

But nobody likes the violence, most especially the families who fear their children will get involved. Our reliably progressive local supervisor, Tom Ammiano, has signed on with the push for the anti-gang orders:

"The Mission is a wonderful area, full of life and families and politics and art, but there is a blight," Ammiano said.

Law enforcement efforts must be combined with services to help young people stay out of gangs in the first place, he said.

"I look at this as a Hail Mary. We need a collaborative effort here." SF Chronicle

Okay, I'm well aware I'm not the one whose life is daily on the line because of the gang violence, so I'm ready to hope that giving law enforcement new tools might help us all.

But these measures will not turn the tide unless the other part of Ammiano's equation is also implemented. One of my friends, another of the neighborhood's white ghosts who raised a child here in the 70s, reminds me that there used to be art classes, basketball leagues, a boxing gym -- many programs to grab the interest and talents of local youth. These seem to have withered under incessant budget cuts.

And then there is the seemingly permanent tension between the neighborhood and the cops. Many times I've had perfectly civil interactions with San Francisco police officers -- but we have a department that seems permanently unable or unwilling to rein in its rogue officers. Every few years, the Chronicle prints another expose of outrageous police conduct -- here's the most recent. The SFPD shoots people at a lower rate than many departments -- but last year it killed 6 individuals and paid out millions in lawsuits. If some members of the SFPD take an anti-gang order as a license to harass young men on the street without cause, neighborhood enthusiasm for this measure could dry up quickly. Parents would find themselves wondering -- not for the first time around here -- whether the cops or the bangers were more dangerous to their kids.

We unaffiliated ghosts might be able to wander by obliviously (though sometimes when the cops get going they turn on us too.)

But our neighborhood deserves better than either the cops or the gangs offer!

Like the ACLU, the neighborhood will be watching closely what law enforcement does with its injunction.


Rona Fernandez said...

I really like this post Jan. Thanks for keeping it real and admitting that this is a complicated situation. So many of the situations we deal with that are life-and-death situations are too complex for simple policy answers.

Kay Dennison said...

I agree, Jan! My little city has a serious gang problem, too, and there are, at this point, no easy answers. Those of us in our city who have taken the initiative to form neighborhood associations also have started prgrams to involve our children in promote unity in our neighborhoods in addition to the city. Our citywide neighborhood leadership council's motto is: "You don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood." Our mission is working better some places than others but it is working albeit slowly.

I'd like to find a way to get parents more interested in combating this.

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