The Oxnard Civil Gang Injunctions: The Fight Continues

 

 

By Armando Vazquez, Founding member of CORE  & the Acuna Art Gallery and Community Collective                                       

CORE historical fight against Oxnard’s Civil Gang Injunctions

In 2004 our group, Chiques Organizing for Rights & Equality (CORE) mobilized in community solidarity to fight the introduction of the first Civil Gang Injunction that was to be imposed on the Colonia Chiques gang. The group was comprised of activists, lawyers, educators, artists, youth, parents and other community residents of the Colonia barrio, greater Oxnard and Ventura County. Some of us were witnesses to previous Civil Gang Injunctions that had been imposed in other Southern California communities of color. All of us had thoroughly read the proposed Oxnard Civil Gang Injunctions language, policies, conditions and restrictions that were to be imposed on the Colonia barrio. The conditions we felt were draconian, racist, hastily conceived, and unconstitutional. After a historic, protracted and hard fought court battle, we lost our legal challenge and the first of two civil gang injunctions were imposed on the Colonia Chiques gang in 2005. One year later the second injunction was imposed on the Southside Chiques gang.  Here is the first article on what will be a series of contemporary and timely analyses and commentary on the draconian, ill-conceived and unconstitutional history of Civil Gang injunctions in Southern California, with specific attention paid to the two Oxnard Civil Gang Injunctions that are currently being seriously challenged as unconstitutional in the local courts of Ventura County.

What are Civil Gang Injunctions?

Gang injunctions are the modern manifestation of the civil nuisance laws: Mass social control of “undesirables” have existed in America since the end of the Civil War, circa 1866. It seems that the good white people of a community did not know what to do with the newly liberated black slaves.  More than one hundred years later, the nuisance laws then gave birth to the civil “gang” injunction in the early 1990’s. The city of Chicago passed one of the first national mass control loitering laws; a policing tool to control unruly drunken baseball mobs at Wrigley Field. The Supreme Court would eventually rule this Wrigley Field mob control injunction to be unconstitutional; but the genie was let out of the bottle. Since the late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s cities throughout the United States have now passed civil injunctions against gangs; most have now been designed to pass constitutional muster. It is safe to say that with the makeup of the ultra-conservative Supreme Court the constitutionality of the civil “gang” injunction would be upheld. It appeared that civil injunctions as a “policing tool for mass control” were here to stay, despite the fact that civil injunctions, in most instances have proven to be a dismal three decade long law enforcement failure in reducing gang related crime. By the end of 2010 the state of California had imposed hundreds of Civil “Gang” Injunctions and enjoined thousands, predominantly youth of color. 

Witness to the genesis and deployment of the Civil Gang Injunctions as a Policing Tool:

I have had the historical misfortune of having lived in, experienced and witnessed the full destructive effects of civil gang injunctions in four locations in the San Fernando Valley. The first civil injunction I witnessed took place in the city of San Fernando in the late 1990’s; the civil gang injunction covered a very small park, named Las Palmas in the San Fer barrio. The second gang injunction I witnessed occurred in the public housing projects of Pacoima and Hubert H. Humphrey Park, against the Pacas Flats gang in the early 2000’s. The third civil gang injunction I observed was imposed on the Blythe Street Gang in the Van Nuys barrio of Blythe Street in the early 2000’s. The fourth civil injunction I witnessed occurred in the barrio of Langdon Street in the city of Los Angeles in early 2000’s. According to all available records, testimony and first hand observation, the four aforementioned areas where civil injunctions were instituted, alleged gang related crimes immediately went up and spread out beyond the gang injunction area; property value was decimated, and the quality of life and perceptions of safety markedly deteriorated.

With respect to the dismal failure of the Civil Gang Injunction on the Blythe Street Gang, the ACLU, states in part, in their scathing conclusion of the horrific failure of the Blythe Street Civil Gang Injunction, the following: “The Blythe Street gang injunction failed to achieve its stated objective—immediate reduction in violent crime and drug trafficking and an immediate increase in community safety. This failure can be clearly observed at both micro and macro levels. The failure fundamentally calls into question the appropriateness and effectiveness of gang injunctions. The abridgement of some fundamental civil liberties have continually been justified by the supposed certainty of reduction in violent crime and enhancement of public safety. This has proven false”.

Oxnard’s Civil Gang Injunctions:

I have now had the continued misfortune to witness the imposition of the two Civil Gang Injunctions in Oxnard on the Colonia and Southside Chiques gangs in 2005 and 2006.

Fast forward to 2015 and the according to Sean Garcia-Leys, an attorney with the Urban Peace Institute, “The ground has shifted considerably underneath this whole (civil gang injunction) process” and radically shift away from gang injunctions enforcement. The question is why?  In a lawsuit filed against the City of Los Angeles by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2016, the ACLU argued that as written and enforced the current Civil Gang Injunction policies deny due process rights to alleged gang members and as such are unconstitutional. In 2017 Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the city of Los Angles, the city with the most injunctions in the nation had violated the civil rights of accused gang members who were targeted without being given a chance to challenge their gang affiliation status in court.  After Judge Phillip’s decision, in rapid succession, various counties, including Ventura County in the state of California, decided to review, modify or outright suspend their gang injunction polices and enforcement.

In the city of Oxnard the Oxnard Police Department decided to stop enforcing injunctions conditions and stipulations against 368 suspected gang members in late 2017 or early 2018.The decision to suspend gang injunction enforcement has been a tightly kept secret by the OPD. In July of 2018 it is reported that the OPD will report to the City Council on the two current civil gang injunctions in the city, the current constitutional concerns.  The OPD will apparently make recommended changes, corrections or modifications to the current civil gang injunction polices that were originally ill-conceived and currently constitutionally suspect. Which, simply put, means that the Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney have since 2005 illegally enjoined hundreds of Latino and Black youth throughout the greater Oxnard area and violated their constitutional due process right. The OPD is furiously backtracking to legally comply with recent court ruling but enormous damage has been done to three generations of Latino and black youth in Oxnard. There is something terribly evil and wrong with this horrifically flawed legal process that sends alleged gang youth to jail for injunction violations and does absolutely nothing punitive to police departments and district attorneys throughout California and Oxnard that have violated the constitutional due process rights of thousands of youth of color for over three decades. Why?

The Historic Fatal Legal Flaw in the Oxnard Civil Gang Injunction:

CORE and it supporters argued from the beginning in 2004 that the proposed Oxnard Civil Gang Injunction has serious constitutional flaws.  The original version did not have an “opt-out” clause, which meant, simply, that OPD cops could “tag” a youth a gang member and that illegal branding of the youth followed him to his grave, he had absolutely no legal recourse to challenge his lifetime gang affiliation. The most immediate, egregious and insidious aspect about the Oxnard Civil Gang Injunction was that in most instances, one cop, the so-called designated Oxnard Civil Gang Injunction Expert, could and did identify gang members in Oxnard. Again the Oxnard Injunction did not, and presently does not have a legal provision for the alleged gang member to challenge in court the OPD assertion that he was a gang member.  That is why the recent decision in 2017 by Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips’ ruling in the city of Los Angles is so important. In her legal decision Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips held that the city of Los Angeles, with the most injunctions in the nation, had violated the civil rights of accused gang members who were targeted without being given a chance to challenge their gang affiliation status in court. The Due Process Clause in almost all the Civil Gang Injunctions imposed in California counties and municipalities, that included the Oxnard Injunction, had been conspicuously and summarily omitted. Why?

What is Next?

It is our duty to fight against the ongoing evil, racist and hypocritical war on crime and all of its ill-conceived manifestations that have been leveled on the communities of color throughout this nation. Civil Gang Injunctions are one of the most draconian and unconstitutional weapons that have ever been devised by the government to keep large segments of communities of color in continuous, premeditated and perpetual law enforcement control and supervision. The United State has systemically profiled and enslaved more people of color in jail, probation, parole and law enforcement supervision than any other country in the world. It is a national shame and disgrace. Civil Gang Injunctions are premeditated, illegally-conceived and some of the most punitive policing tools ever deployed in communities of color throughout this nation. After more than three decades of Civil Gang Injunction deployment police departments throughout the United States, which includes Oxnard OPD, are under scathing judicial admonishment and legal reversals. The racist 40 year war on crime in the United States has squandered billions of tax dollars, and incarcerates more humans than any other country in the world. And in this current Trumpian country gone completely crazy, the nation’s police departments, including Oxnard, have little to nothing in the way of qualitative or quantitative statistical documentation to scientifically substantiate or validate that the civil gang injunctions anywhere in the United Stated have been efficacious constitutional law enforcement tools.  Why?

Armando Vazquez

Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition


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One Response to The Oxnard Civil Gang Injunctions: The Fight Continues

  1. Timothy Bond July 18, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    There are some merits to this piece, however the exceesive use of descriptitve language displays a high degree of bias and prejudice. In particular Armando’s use of the prefix “civil” for gangs.

    A “gang”, by common definition and common parlance is criminial, NOT civil.

    I would earnestly like his examples which demonstrate the “civil” nature of the gangs with injunctions filed against them? How do they help or serve civility in the communities he mentioned? Charity works, helping the elderly, teaching kids to read and men how to be law abidin, hard working providers for the children they father. Many other ways…

    Definition of civil

    Full Definition
    1 a : of or relating to citizens
    b : of or relating to the state or its citizenry
    2 a : civilized
    b : adequate in courtesy and politeness : mannerly
    3 a : of, relating to, or based on civil law
    b : relating to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings
    c : established by law
    4 : of, relating to, or involving the general public, their activities, needs, or ways, or civic affairs as distinguished from special (as military or religious) affairs
    5 of time : based on the mean sun and legally recognized for use in ordinary affairs

    Reply

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