Opponents of San Francisco's gang injunctions raised their hands in approval of supervisors' criticisms of the program. Photo by Charlotte Silver.

There are 53 people still covered by San Francisco’s four gang injunctions — down from 139 when the City Attorney began reviewing the program this year in response to mounting pressure. But, in an appearance yesterday before skeptical members of a Board of Supervisors committee, Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere firmly opposed scrapping the program altogether. She said the controversial injunctions have brought the city out of a time when gang violence ravaged neighborhoods, families didn’t feel safe, stray bullets whizzed about the streets, and people didn’t leave their homes out of fear.

“We used this as a tool to reduce crime,” Mere told Supervisors Sandra Fewer, Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin of the Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services.

But as Ronen and Fewer, cosponsors of the hearing, pressed Mere to provide evidence that the controversial measure was still justified, she struggled to deliver clear answers.

The room at City Hall was packed with critics of the measure, who had held a rally outside prior to the hearing. As the supervisors raised concern after concern about the gang injunctions, the audience raised their hands, shaking them in the air in agreement (a noiseless version of clapping, encouraged at public meetings).

They, along with Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the ACLU of Northern California, want San Francisco to follow the lead of other cities in California, including Oakland, which have eliminated the the use of gang injunctions.

In March, a federal judge barred the city of Los Angeles from enforcing nearly all of its remaining gang injunctions, ruling that they violated people’s right to due process by not giving them the chance to challenge the designation.

Mere said people in this city can petition to opt out of the injunctions, but only nine men have tried to since 2007. Two of them were released from the injunction through this process.

Gang injunctions are civil restraining orders applied in designated areas — so-called “safety zones.” Those named in the injunction are prohibited from wearing or flashing gang symbols or associating with alleged gang members in those areas.

By using civil law, law enforcement circumvents a lot of protections that people suspected of criminal activity have: They can’t be searched without probable cause, [and they have] the right to a jury trial and public defender,” says Alan Schlosser, senior counsel with the ACLU of Northern California.

“All those rights don’t exist for all those people swept up by a gang injunction.”  

At 60 blocks, the injunction in the Mission targeting the Norteño gang is the largest safety zone in the city.

The “safety zone” in the Mission is the largest in the city. Image from the City Attorney’s office

Adachi told the supervisors that he could name “half a dozen motorcycle gangs” that he has represented, and members of Chinese gangs that he knows, and none of them have been subjected to a gang injunction.

“These were used as a tool of racial profiling,” says Adachi. Fewer said she did not wish to debate whether the city attorney should have implemented the program in 2007, but said she struggled to see why injunctions were necessary today.

The city’s first gang injunctions were granted in 2007, the year homicides in the city peaked at 100. That number dramatically dropped two years later by more than half, and has remained at steady since.

The City Attorney office credits the gang injunctions with the precipitous drop, but critics of the program assail that correlation (the murder rate is down, nationally, in the last decade).

As evidence gang injunctions help reduce violence, Mere noted that the roughly 150 people on the list were convicted of 104 felonies before the gang injunctions and only 58 after.

But Ronen countered that seven of the 22 people removed from injunction had died, including Mario Woods, who was fatally shot by police in 2015.

Adachi scoffed at that figure. “In the last 10 years, we have had 40 percent reduction in crime in all of San Francisco,” he said. 

“That’s all the evidence they have?”

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