Anytime after 10 p.m., 18-year old Mike gets a little scared to be in his neighborhood. Not because he might get robbed or anything like that, but he doesn’t want get stop by the police on my way home.
“It’s hard living in Westside Long Beach,” Mike said with a little smile, but it wasn’t a laughing matter. Mike, who is a young black man attending Long Beach Community College, lives in a gang injuction zone.
A gang injunction is a court-issued restraining order against a gang or group of named persons. It is a geographically-based “safety zone” that can place a person named on the list in a criminal court, even if their infraction is civil. It restricts restricts freedom of association without affording alleged gang members due process rights.
Long Beach has been enforcing injunctions since 1992, but have recently been more aggressively enforced. From 2009 to 2011, arrests have jumped from 35 to 180—five times as much in two years, according to PoliceMag.com. As of September 2012, 188 arrests have been made for violation of the city’s gang injunctions.
The newest gang injunction was implemented in 2010, covering over 7 miles in North Long Beach, from 72 Street to Del Amo Boulevard and from the Long Beach freeway to the Lakewood border.
While getting exact numbers of youth arrests from the Long Beach Police Department has proved difficult, many agree that gang injunctions disproportionately affect youth.
Ana Muniz, who has partnered with the Youth Justice Coalition in Inglewood to examine the effects of gang injunctions in LA neighborhoods, believes injunctions limits opportunities for youth in that community and makes the scope of thier world really narrow, as it could be hard to talk to the people you grow up with.
“It does the opposite of what it’s suppose to do, which is to push people out of gangs, and it pulls them even more into illegal activities,” Muniz said. “When your listed on a gang injunction list it is shared with employers and schools. Youth can have problems with just going to the store.”
Law enforcement argues that gang injunctions lessen the amount of gang-related homicides in any area, but many argue that the policy allows for extra profiling against Latino, Asian and black young men.
In enforcement of gang injunction policies young men are targeted specify for hanging out in their neighborhood in clumps, or for wearing certain colors on thier way to a school that may require a uniform. Opponents of gang injunctions policies argue that when residents see their family and friends being locked up or pulled over by the cops because they look like they might be in a gang, it also instills fear within them and encourages distrust and resentment towards police.
“It instills fear in our young men of color,” said Chris Covington, a 21-year old youth organizer in Long Beach.
Long Beach was named one of the top five cities in the nation with the worst gang violence, according to a report released in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report states that homicides account for 69 percent of homicides among persons aged 15 to 24.
“Most violent crimes are gang related and gang injunctions help solve crimes,” said Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert.
While there is no argument that gang violence is a major problem in Long Beach, there is much debate on how to deal with the issue. Many opponents argue that gang injunctions actually worsen conditions for young men of color, who are the most targeted in enforcement policies.
“It’s kind of a failed system, but also a good system all at the same time,” Covington said. “It’s a fail system because it can target the wrong people like youth who aren’t in a gang but live in the community, and it’s done its job because alot of the gang members especially the lead gang members are off the streets.”
Once one is placed on an injunction list, many are unaware of steps to take to get off it.
“I’m going to be on the gang Injunction for the rest of my life,” said the gang member. “How can i get a full-time job if no one will hire me because on a gang injunction, gang injunction should have a time limit just like probation, I’m going to be 45 years old with children and not be able to be outside past 10 p.m. or wear what I want to all because of dumb stuff I did when I was 17.”
To get off the list, one much complete a four-step op-out program. One of the steps is having a full-time job or being a full-time student, which is a major problem many of the youth struggle with.
It’s no secret that gang injunctions are most present in low-income communities: Districts One, Two, Six and Nine all have them. But it is somewhat of a secret many who are unaware they are put on an injunction list compiled by the police. They don’t get sent a ticket or letter informing them that they were added.
“I do feel it can be abuse in the wrong way sometimes and it isn’t fair for our community to live in fear of our police department because they are afraid they are going to be on the gang injunction list,” Covington said. “It’s sad some people don’t find out they are on a gang injunction list until they try to go into the military or travel out of country.”
Opponents argue that injunctions are more destructive than helpful and that other options like more youth development programs and Centro Cha’s Summer Night Lights are more long-term.
Understanding the core factors of gang violence and attacking those areas, is another meaningful investment. Lack of jobs for youth and poverty compounded by social isolation are the top two factors of gang violence, according to a report by Urban Peace, a Los Angeles public policy change organization that has helped the city develop strategies that has decreased violence by 13 percent.
“If I had more stuff to go to like that, I probably wouldn’t be in a gang as we speak,” said a young Long Beach gang member who refuse to be named. “People and the police look at me like in a super bad person, and I’m trying to change, but what’s the point if no one sees it?”
Perhaps the only way to truly end gang violence is to directly ask the community its plaguing what its needs are and what it wants.
“You don’t really know the difference between a gang injunction zone and the rest of the city if you grew up in the area, you just think the police are being a-holes,” said Jesus Hernandez, 22-year old Long Beach resident living in a gang injunction zone. “The worst part about it though is that it feels like it’s okay to be profiled based on a thing you have no control over, like your gender or skin color.”
To look at a custom map created for VoiceWaves of current gang injunctions in Long Beach (not including the newest addition), go here.