An activist group that is opposed to a proposed Echo Park area gang injunction says the legal action has more to do with boosting property values than public safety.
Kim McGill, an organizer for the Los Angeles advocacy group Youth Justice Coalition, said most of the city’s gang injunctions are enacted to hasten gentrification after the most brutal periods of street violence have ended. McGill referenced recent LAPD statistics showing some of the lowest crime figures in the Northeast and Rampart divisions, which include Echo Park, since the 1967. Census data has also shown increases in the number of white people living in 90026 Zip Code, which contains the neighborhood. One of the surveyed areas saw an increase of 17 percent from 1990 to 2011.
“There’s no evidence” that crime has been on the increase, said McGill, whose group has been holding meetings at the Echo Park Lake.
The injunction would apply to more than 300 members of six rival gangs in an approximately four-square-mile area that includes Echo Park, Elysian Valley and portions of Silver Lake. The injunction would prohibit members of active gangs from associating in public and impose heavier penalties for gang-related crimes committed in the neighborhood. The city claims gang graffiti, spent shell casings and criminals congregating on sidewalks, stoops and parks create an intimidating atmosphere, which infringes on residents’ right to feel free from harm.
The gang injunction, which was was proposed in mid June by former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, has the backing of newly elected 13th District Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. “I’m supportive of it,” said O’Farrell during a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum. Similar gang injunctions in Atwater and Glassell Park “have saved lives,” he said.
(First District Councilman Gil Cedillo, who also represent portions of Echo Park, did not respond to requests for comment.)
O’Farrell echoed comments by City Attorney Mike Feuer that the gang injunction needs to be crafted so it won’t infringe on civil liberties and used in combination with gang intervention programs.
“The City Attorney believes that the successful implementation of prevention and intervention efforts could preclude the need for gang injunctions in the future,” according to a statement issued by Feuer’s office. ” He also is strongly committed that any gang injunction must satisfy all legal requirements and protect every individual’s civil liberties.”
An August 21 court hearing has been scheduled for the injunction.
But McGill said that her group and others believe that preventing gang members from gathering in public, as called for in the injunction, could be used to justify racial profiling. Alleged racial profiling in gang injunction areas, the activist groups claims, scares non-white residents into staying indoors because they fear police harassment, which is the opposite of the intended effect.
“The police presence is so high, people not named in injunction feel unsafe going outside,” she said. “In the middle of a sunny day, parks and playgrounds are empty.”
McKill also countered the city’s notion that Echo Park’s residents feel under threat. She noted that groups of all races and ethnicities hang out at Echo Park Lake, where the Youth Justice Coalition has held meetings on weekends.
“Every Saturday the park is full,” she said. “No one is being intimidated.”
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.