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Gang Injunctions: Are They Working? If So, At What Cost?

Host: Joseph Pace

Producer: Yumi Wilson

In its latest attempt to stem violence and drive down its crime rate, the city of Oakland has turned to civil gang injunctions. A tool that has been used throughout California since the 1980's, civil gang injunctions seek to disrupt a gang's activities by prohibiting its members from congregating within a specified target area. Some have likened it to a sort of restraining order that law enforcement officials say is a necessary, evidence-based maneuver to bring peace and tranquility to neighborhoods that they say have long been terrorized by gang related crime.

While the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of gang injunctions back in 1997, controversy about not only their legality but their effectiveness remains strong. Opponents of gang injunctions say that they not only infringe on the civil rights of those named but that there is no evidence that gang injunctions really work. They argue that what's needed instead are more robust social service based prevention and intervention measures that aim to divert people from gangs in the first place or help those in gangs find a viable exit strategy.

So it's no surprise then that Oakland's recent efforts to institute gang injunctions under city attorney John Russo have sparked long standing arguments on both sides of the issue.

Oakland is just the latest of a growing list of California cities employing or planning to employ gang injunctions including Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Jose, Modesto, Hayward and San Francisco where city attorney Dennis Herrera has secured injunctions against five gangs over the last 5 years.

At what point does a community's desire for safety outweigh individuals' rights to gather?

And what might be other strategies to tackle gang violence look like?


Alex Katzn, spokesman for Oakland City Attorney John Russo.

Vylma Ortiz, a former public defender who is now a civil rights attorney with Segal and Yee, which has been working extensively on the issue of gang injunctions.

Leslie Denise Santiago, a youth organizer and student at San Francisco State University.