OAKLAND -- About 100 people gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday in protest of the proposed Nortenos gang injunction that has sparked controversy in Oakland, from its neighborhoods to its courtrooms and political debates.
The proposed injunction, raised by City Attorney John Russo and targeting 40 suspected gang members in the Fruitvale district, is argued by proponents as an unused tool in combating the city's struggle with violent crime. They say 13 of the named defendants have already been arrested for crimes the injunction could have helped prevent.
Opponents, however, say the injunction will further strain community relations with the police, giving officers too much power, putting residents in fear and raising the specter of racial profiling.
At Wednesday afternoon's rally -- organized by several groups, including Youth Together and the newly formed Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice -- speakers called for more youth and re-entry programs rather than more enforcement strategies.
"There's been a lack of community voice in the process," said organizer Sagnicthe Salazar, 23. "Russo just up and announced he was doing this."
Russo has been hearing such arguments since the announcement: Many residents cheered the idea, but those opposed to it were angry and insulted at feeling left out. Russo's spokesman, Alex Katz, said he's tried to allay those worries by attending numerous community meetings in the past several weeks, listening to concerns and clearing up some common misconceptions.
However, in addition to feeling left out of the process, many residents are upset that the injunction is being proposed as social services are being slashed. At Wednesday's rally, Oakland's largest anti-injunction event to this point, many attendees were youths who have seen their favorite programs cut, Salazar said.
Russo announced the injunction plans in October, originally targeting 42 people but dropping two from the list when those defendants' objections prompted more investigation and convinced Russo to leave them out of the suit. Russo has said several times he agrees the city should have a comprehensive anti-violence strategy including more employment, youth and re-entry programs, but that the injunction could prove an effective technique alongside those programs in preventing violence.
For example, Katz pointed out, there was a drive-by shooting Jan. 20 in the 9400 block of E Street, an area police say is claimed as turf by the Border Brothers gang, a main Norteno rival.
Arrested in that shooting was Vincent Delgudice, a 21-year-old parolee named in the injunction who police say is a leader and "shot-caller" in the Norteno gang. He was charged with four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a firearm and enhancements that it was a gang-related shooting.
Sgt. Randy Wingate said Delgudice and another suspect were driving in the area "hunting someone to shoot."
"Ask the guy who got shot if he'd rather have the police arrest someone after the fact, or not get shot in the first place," Katz said. "If the injunction were in place and this guy was obeying its orders, he wouldn't have had a gun at all."
Delgudice is one of 13 people named in the injunction who have been arrested since October, and several of them are now in jail.
Meanwhile, the legal battle continues, as attorneys working for one of the groups fighting the injunction may be disqualified from working on the case. Michael Siegel and Jose Luis Fuentes both began working on the case with their employer, law firm Siegel & Yee. That firm is co-owned by Dan Siegel, an adviser to Mayor Jean Quan, and also employs Councilmember Jane Brunner, which Russo argues is a conflict of interest that should bar the attorneys from arguing the case.
Siegel and Fuentes are countering by asking the court to dismiss the outside attorneys Russo contracted to put together the injunction. They are also asking that the state waive the defendants' filing fees, which come to almost $1,000 per person, and appoint attorneys to each of the defendants, almost none of whom have any real legal representation.
A judge is expected to weigh in on all those issues Feb. 2.
Also at issue are about 20 defendants who are in default, meaning they never responded to the lawsuit and so, after 30 days, were subject to losing their right to defend themselves. Fuentes has said this is partially his fault, having told the people now in default to hold off: he wanted to help them file but was unsure if he could proceed before the conflict of interest issue was ironed out.
"It was damned if you do, damned if you don't," Fuentes said.
If the judge moves the case forward after the Feb. 2 hearing, the whole case could be decided after evidence is presented in a hearing scheduled for Feb. 16. Councilmember Pat Kernighan, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, has also responded to community concerns by calling for reports from Russo's office and the police answering detailed questions about the injunction proposal.
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.