OAKLAND — An Alameda County judge today will weigh the merits of Oakland's proposed civil injunction against a street gang the city says is responsible for killings, drug dealing and other criminal activity in a 100-block area of North Oakland.
The city's goal is to keep 15 individuals police say are part of the North Side Oakland gang from possessing firearms, intimidating witnesses, recruiting gang members, trespassing and, with certain exceptions, associating with each other publicly within the 100-block area that stretches to the city's borders with Berkeley and Emeryville. The city is also seeking a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
The legal maneuver also has a political side, and the battle pits City Attorney John Russo, Police Chief Anthony Batts and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils against civil liberties groups and other activist organizations which claim an injunction would lead to racial profiling and be an ineffective crime-fighting tool.
For his part, Russo has compared it to a restraining order with the community, "the battered party." Larry Benson, chair of the Golden Gate Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, who lives in an area of North Oakland wedged between Berkeley and Emeryville, used the same analogy, saying it would amount to a "stay-away order" against the 15 individuals.
"The neighbors are really tired of all the things that have been happening," Benson said. "We hear shots everyday. We don't know where they're coming from; we just know they're there."
On the flip side, opponents argue the injunction would not only infringe on individuals' rights, but would do nothing to solve the problems at the root of criminal activity. Lisa Nowlain, who lives in the 100-block area and is involved in a coalition aimed at stopping injunctions in Oakland, noted that while the injunction may only apply to 15 people initially, the city's court filings were written to include up to 70.
"Putting this injunction down is not going solve (crime) issues at all," she said. "Maybe those 15 or those 70 people will be locked up, but the conditions that created this violence will not go away."
The city filed for the injunction Feb. 18. Today's hearing is set for 2 p.m. at the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St. Judge Robert Freedman will preside.
Russo's office made a handful of key changes to its initial complaint. Perhaps most important, the city's legal team named each of the 15 alleged gang members as individual defendants. Initially, the complaint named only the gang itself as a defendant. Also, four people were taken off the city's request for an injunction because they are in custody.
Russo has said repeatedly the injunction is narrowly crafted to enhance public safety, but protect individual liberties. There are opt-out clauses for those who can show they're no longer in the gang, he said, and the city will return to court if it wants to add individuals to the injunction.
"This is an injunction that has been designed to meet and satisfy any legitimate concerns about due process," Russo said.
Russo said he plans to file for six to 12 more injunctions throughout Oakland in the next couple of years.
The American Civil Liberties Union appreciated the city's decision to name each of the 15 as individual defendants, ensuring they will have the chance to appear in court. The ACLU and other organizations still oppose the city's tactic, however, saying criminal activity should be dealt with in criminal courts, not through a civil process.
"I certainly am concerned about crime and violence," said Diana Tate Vermeire, the ACLU of Northern California's Racial Justice Project director, who also lives in North Oakland. "But I think the criminal justice system is where you address crime and violence."
At least one of the defendants, Yancie Young, will be represented in court. Young's attorneys said in court papers the city's evidence of Young's gang membership consists of "a Christmas stocking, a hat, T-shirts and a funeral memorial taken from Mr. Young's bedroom."
The city responded with a court filing saying Young has a pattern of criminal gang activity, including past misdemeanor convictions and five pending cases involving 14 felony and three misdemeanor charges.