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Proposed Gang Injunction Divides Silver Lake

Tasbeeh Herwees |
September 11, 2013 | 5:13 p.m. PDT

Senior Staff Reporter

Gang Injunction Protest, photo via Creative Commons
Gang Injunction Protest, photo via Creative Commons
A proposed gang injunction that would cover parts of Echo Park and Silver Lake has sparked heated discussion about issues of gentrification and racial profiling in the communities. 

Last week, a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council meeting ended in disorder when a motion to oppose the gang injunction was defeated in a 9-8 vote. 

Opponents of the injunction stood up and began chanting “we want freedom!” and “shut it down!” Their anger was exacerbated by the fact that the council chair had decided to forgo public comment on the injunction and tallied the vote of a councilmember who arrived to the proceedings after the fact.

Dorit Dowler-Guerrero, a representative on the council who voted for the motion, said she understands why meeting attendees were so angry. 

“It was just handled so terribly, poorly. It looked like things were dishonest,” she said. “After all that, the meeting went to hell, and the cops came and declared it an unlawful assembly.”

The injunction, which targets six gangs and covers an area known as the Glendale Boulevard Corridor, is a project of the city attorney’s office. 

“A gang injunction is a variation of a restraining order, explained Curtis Davis, an LAPD officer who worked in the gang division covering the Echo Park and Silver Lake areas from 2007 to 2009. “It restrains the activities of gang members.”

The gang injunction uses gang tattoos, insignia, certain attire, and relationships with other known gang members to identify gang members. People who fit their profile as gang members become subject to a wide range of restrictions that range from early curfews to regulated groups of people with whom they can associate. 

If suspected gang members are seen violating any of these restrictions, they could face arrest. 

“The goal of the gang injunction is to basically curb this activity and reduce some of its violent effects,” said Officer Davis.

SEE ALSO: City Attorney Announces Injunction Against Columbus Street Gang 

The communities that the proposed injunction targets, however, have been critical of the proposal. Like its neighbors in Silver Lake, the Echo Park Neighborhood Council also met last month and successfully passed a motion to oppose the injunction. 

According to Dowler-Guerrero, many community members claim that gang violence has not been a significant problem since the 1980s and 1990s. 

“People were telling me—with the exception of two people—they didn't understand why the heck we were doing this,” she said. “There wasn't a gang problem. [They said], fix the potholes. More people complained about coyotes than gang members.”

Another Silver Lake Neighborhood Council member, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, also opposed the injunction, believing that it was a disproportionate response to the problem.  

“I think that hyper-policing our young people is creating tension in our community that is unnecessary,” explained Herman-Wurmfeld. 

Herman-Wurmfeld wrote two opinion pieces for the Echo Park Patch website expressing his disapproval of the way in which the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council handled the motion and criticizing the council chair’s decision to close off public comment. 

“All parties in this debate are asking for safety on our streets – and when we’re feeling unsafe, we are always within boundaries to call out-loud for help and be heard,” he wrote. “The key here will be finding solutions that serve to help everyone feeling threatened – not only those with connection to power, privilege or money.”

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An underlying theme of the discussions transpiring in these meetings has been the relatively recent real estate developments of the Echo Park and Silver Lake areas being targeted. 

Herman-Wurmfeld believes that there is a connection between the timing of the gang injunction and the gentrification of the areas it targets. 

“When you overlay the gang injunction with Glendale Boulevard/Carter redevelopment projects and see that it's nearly the same parameters, [you] realize that there's tremendous money to be made by disenfranchising people and driving them from their homes,” he said. 

Residents in the affected community have confided in Herman-Wurmfeld that they fear the gang injunction might drive them from their homes. 

“The folks that I'm listening to are the ones that are saying that this injunction is threatening my life and limb and security and property,” he said. “I'm listening to that and thinking, is this really the tool that we want to use to reach out to our young people?”

Antonio Cezarez, a youth organizer of the Youth Justice Coalition, one of the major groups represented at the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council meeting last week, said the injunction is a “tool of gentrification”. 

“They served me with the gang injunction in the Culver City Projects... in 1997,” he said, “I've been living there my whole life. I'm 21, and since I can remember, there's talk about UCLA trying to buy out the projects and make it housing for college students.”

Cezarez said he was 18 when he was placed under the injunction. The restrictions of the injunction have prevented him from even speaking to his neighbor and best friend.

“It changed me a lot. I had to start dressing different. I had to live with not being able to talk to my best friend, knowing that if I did, then I could possibly go to jail,” he said. 

Like many people who oppose the notion of gang injunctions as a whole, Cezarez says that it allows police officers to racially profile suspected gang members. Many who spoke up at the neighborhood council meetings were concerned that it would disproportionately target minorities and people of color. 

Officer Davis, however, rejects this argument. 

“It's not a matter of racial profiling. It's a matter of the individual profile of the street gangs that occupy a certain area,” he said. “Sometimes those gangs themselves choose to align with a particular ethnic group.”

Officer Davis said the LAPD’s relationship with gang members is not always adversarial; officers are encouraged to have conversations with gang members and lead them a way from a criminal life.  He said the LAPD has seen a significant decrease in gang activity in the areas where injunctions have been imposed. 

“I’ve seen gang members not congregate together because they're concerned about the injunction,” he said,. “So it is something that affects their behavior. We want them to choose not to commit [to a gang].”  

Cezarez believes the injunction creates a culture of fear in underprivileged communities and mishandles the problem of gang violence. 

“Gang injunctions are violent, but it's a different type of violence. It's psychological abuse,” he said. 


Reach Senior Staff Reporter Tasbeeh Herwees here



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