Hard in Da Norteño Safety Zone

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Oh, the things you learn from rap videos.

Innocently watching “Hard in Da Paint,” I was absolutely mystified by what happens at 2:43:

Due to the Los Angeles Gang Injunction, this production unit was shut down.

Yes, Waka Flocka Flame introduced me to the experiment in civil law that are gang injunctions.

A gang injunction is like a normal injunction: an order from a civil court for someone to stop doing something. In these cases, the complainants are “People of the State of California,” arguing that a gang constitutes a public nuisance for the neighborhood in which the gang operates. (Yes, the gang is the other party being sued.) If the judge decides in the People’s favor, an injunction is issued, prohibiting named suspected gang members from doing various legal and illegal activities within the proscribed area (“turf” normally measured in square blocks).

I couldn’t find gang injunction specifics on LAPD’s webpage, but San Francisco was on it. Reading further, I discovered that I live in a gang enjoined area (or, as the state puts it, the “Norteño Safety Zone”):

Norteño Safety Zone

I’m speculating as to the specifics of LA’s gang injunctions, but if they’re phrased similar to San Francisco’s, here are a few reasons the police could have stopped production of the music video (bold indicates otherwise legal behavior):

  • Using marijuana without a prescription
  • Knowingly remaining in the presence of someone using marijuana
  • Flashing gang signs
  • Wearing red clothing, hats, or accessories
  • Standing, sitting, walking, driving, gathering, or appearing anywhere in public view with any known gang member
  • Loitering with intent to commit a narcotics-related offense as proscribed in Health and Safety Code §11352
  • Blocking the passage of people or vehicles

Reading the filings tears me. Photographs of gang members at neighborhood landmarks are entered as evidence. Expert testimony from local cops detail incidents at familiar intersections. Of course I want my neighborhood to be safe, but not at the cost of fundamental rights violations. Yet, the court has spoken: the nuisance we incur from these affiliated individuals outweighs their freedoms. Actions legal for me to do in front of my house, they are prevented from doing next door. They get hit with contempt of court—I stroll past in my red Adidas.

I’m wary of civil remedies for criminal behavior, and I’m not alone. The ACLU of Northern California, working with the state, created the essential process by which a named gang member can petition to dissociate. Other jurisdictions (notably, New York) have simply found gang injunctions legally unworkable.

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Are you really concerned about gang members' ability to wear red shoes? You know if they weren't committing crimes these poor dudes could wear whatever color shoes their hearts desired.

One major problem is that there is little oversight into what constitutes a "gang member." It's basically whoever the state choses to name. (One example was written up by the New York Times.) That's why I call the process the ACLU helped create "essential."

Obviously, gang members aren't friends of mine, but the state can't just start punishing people for associating with their friends at home. What if the state decided to enjoin association among other members of society it deemed a public nuisance? It's important to have a robust process in place to prevent discrimination based on who the current administration doesn't like.

Something just does not feel right about shimmying this into a civil suit. Criminal courts are great places to deal with crimes. I'm not opposed at all to standard police work (e.g., using surveillance instead of heavy-handed methods that ban association to abate crime).