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ACLU Deems Proposed Gang Injunction Unconstitutional

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief against the proposed Santa Barbara City gang injunction last week, deeming it unconstitutional.

The brief was developed in light of the Santa Barbara District and City Attorney offices’ attempts at creating a temporary and preliminary injunction to be implemented while the official gang injunction awaits trial. The official injunction, originally filed in 2011, calls for immediate relief of gangs as “public nuisance” and would limit the activity of alleged Eastside and Westside gang members in “safe zones,” a 5.71 square mile area of Santa Barbara that stretches across downtown and the surrounding areas.

Also in the brief, ACLU senior staff attorney Peter Bibring wrote that gang injunctions warrant careful scrutiny because “they prohibit everyday, commonplace and perfectly lawful activities” and can consequently have a “pervasive impact on the day-to-day lives of those bound and on their families, especially for those who live and work within the area covered by the injunction.”

The limitations include no selling or using of alcohol in public, no carrying of weapons, no trespassing of school grounds and city parks and no wearing of “gang attire” in public settings. The list of defendants currently consists of 30 names from Eastside and Westside gangs. However, the injunction can be enforced against other people, who can be arrested for term violations without receiving a court hearing to gauge their gang affiliation, according to Bibring.

Bibring said the major issue with this preliminary injunction is that it fails to meet the standards for a gang injunction due to the large size of the “safe zones.” He also said the provisions, such as the alcohol possession provision, are marked with “unconstitutional vagueness” and improper justification.

The ACLU is not allowed to participate in court, as it is not a party in the lawsuit and does not represent any defendants. However, the organization asked the court to take the civil rights violations and objections with this preliminary injunction into consideration during the upcoming hearing, according to Bibring in the brief.

“While Amicus most certainly understands that the California Supreme Court has authorized civil gang injunctions, this Court must carefully scrutinize the bulky evidence submitted by Plaintiff to insure that there are no injunction issues, unless Plaintiff has met its clear and convincing standard of proof, and that all provisions, including enforcement of the injunction if issued, meet constitutional scrutiny,” Bibring said.

Nayra Pacheco, representative for local grassroots organization People Organizing for the Defense and Equal Rights of Santa Barbara Youth, said she applauds the ACLU’s efforts to take a public stance against the gang injunction, saying the brief is a “step in the right direction” since the ACLU has been fighting the unconstitutionality of gang injunctions for many years now.

In light of this, Pacheco said she is glad that other groups are beginning to express their opposition against gang injunctions. PODER, for example, seeks to make a point in creating a public space for opposition against the injunction and come up with better solutions, according to Pacheco.

“Our goal is to make sure that it doesn’t pass,” Pacheco said. “Either our public officials ask the District Attorney and City Attorney to dismiss the case or to convince the judge who’s hearing the case — Colleen Sterne — to dismiss the case and not pass it.”

According to Pacheco, the amount of time it took for the city to request a preliminary gang injunction is unusual, since normally when cities file injunction suits, Pacheco said they will file for a preliminary injunction right away within the month they file.

“It’s supposed to declare that we’re in an emergency situation where we need preliminary temporary injunction in place, while the final position is heard,” Pacheco said. “The city has taken a while to file the preliminary injunction, as opposed to other cities, and we feel that it really speaks to the low amount of gang violence that really occurs in our city.”

Additionally, Pacheco said that there are better alternatives to gang injunctions.

“Beyond whether the injunction is passed or not, our goal is to really focus on what solutions are already in place in Santa Barbara — which are many — that need more support and could really just use a lot more resources that are being invested in gang injunctions,” Pacheco said. “Our goal is to not give up on the youth in our community.”

Maria Vasquez, a third-year sociology major, said she feels injunctions are not a proper solution for gangs and added that there is actually a relatively low level of crime and violence in Santa Barbara.

“Personally, I never hear about much gang violence in this area,” Vasquez said. “Compared to more urban places in California, it is relatively peaceful.”

 

A version of this story appeared on page 4 of Wednesday, January 29, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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