By NATHAN SOLIS
HIGHLAND PARK— The definition of a gang injunction ranged from a tool against crime to a violation of civil rights according to a six-person panel that met last week to discuss the impact of gang injunctions in Highland Park.
The discussion took place in the wake of at least 19 shootings since February that police have blamed primarily on the Avenues and Highland Park gangs. Meanwhile, the Highland Park Neighborhood Council is contemplating whether to continue supporting the three gang injunctions now in place.
City Attorney Arturo Martinez began his presentation last week by reading the boilerplate definition of a gang injunction: a civil lawsuit filed against a gang, restricting it and its member from congregating or committing any illegal acts in gang territory.
The first gang injunction in Highland Park was filed against the Avenues gang in 2003. The six-page court order lists a number of restrictions, including associating with other gang members, drinking in public and a 10 p.m. curfew. Other more obvious restrictions include tagging, selling drugs and possession and use of deadly weapons. In 2006, two more injunctions were filed against the Highland Park and Dogtown gangs.
Despite the recent shootings, Capt. Jeff Bert of the LAPD Northeast Division, which patrols Highland Park, credits the injunctions for a long-term decrease in crimes committed by gangs. The reports of gang crimes fell from 443 in 2003 to 130 in last year, according to LAPD.
But Catherine Wagner of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said that violent crimes might have fallen because of an increase in police presence. While the injunction may have played a role in the decline in crime, Wagner said that the ACLU is concerned with the process.
“The person doesn’t have a chance to go before a judge and argue that he should not be included on the injunction until after he’s arrested and charged with the misdemeanor of violating the injunction,” said Wagner.
Robert Cristo, a member of the Youth Justice Coalition, said that an injunctions criminalize youths for living in a poor neighborhood or just speaking to the wrong people.
“These kids are at the mercy of police, and they’re on the fence about gangs,” said Christo, who is named in an injunction. “But if they’re treated like criminals, they’ll assume that they’re already criminals in the eyes of the law.”
Cristo is in the process of removing himself from the injunctions, a lengthy process that involves character recommendations, references and a meeting with a meeting with representatives of City Attorney.
“It puts the burden on the individual to prove that he or she is not a gang member, when typically the government bears the burden of proving that they have a good reason for curtailing your rights,” said Wagner.
But Lt. John Cook with the Northeast Detectives said that while gang injunctions may not be popular, they do work.
“You can see, statistically, there is a decrease in crime,” Cook said. “I’m not just saying that because I live in Highland Park, but also because I work here.”
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.
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