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Why I Oppose the Gang Injunction

Expensive Yet Weak Court Order Would Fail to Address Root Causes of Gang Involvement


I oppose the City of Santa Barbara’s proposed gang injunction. If approved by the judge, it would be an expensive yet weak law enforcement tool and duplicate functions already provided by the probation and parole systems. Also, it may lower property values in the Westside, Downtown, and Eastside neighborhoods, as well as harm our vibrant tourism industry. Overall, and most important, it does not address the root causes of gang involvement and gang violence.

Cathy Murillo
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Cathy Murillo

Because the injunction is a civil rather than criminal proceeding, the penalties do not pack the same punch as the criminal justice system. If a person under the injunction violates the order (by engaging in misdemeanor gang activity), the penalty is a $1,000 fine and six months in County Jail or three years of supervised probation. This is not an effective deterrent.

As for controlling the behavior of a defendant, the probation and parole programs already severely restrict a person’s movements. Officers can search homes and cars. Conditions placed on the person forbid her or him from associating with other gang members, from breaking laws, and so on. Conditions mandate participation in classes and other rehabilitative activities. The control mechanisms are already in place.

I’m sorry to report to my constituents living in the gang injunction’s so-called “safety zones” that the judge is being asked to legally designate the Westside, Downtown, and Eastside areas as gang territory. If your property is located in these zones, you would have to disclose that fact when you sell your home or business. I live on the Westside. I have pride in my neighborhood, and I feel safe there. My neighbors are good people. We deserve to have the city value and nurture our neighborhood, not create a negative overlay on our community.

The proposed gang injunction is a “suppression” tool and does not focus energy and resources on prevention and intervention. Wouldn’t we all be better served by helping children do well in school and teaching them conflict resolution skills? Why not find ways to support our stressed low-income families? It makes so much more sense to keep kids out of gangs in the first place, and to help those who want to get out of gang life. Our money would be better spent on mentorship programs, tutoring, counseling, jobs for teens, sports and recreation, and health education.

Seeking alternatives to the gang injunction, I cofounded the Pro-Youth Movement. Joining me are professionals in youth development, educators, and members of the faith community. I am active with this effort because our community needs sustained, focused attention on addressing the root causes of youth-on-youth violence. These include poverty and bad parenting, as well as any unique personal challenges a child may be facing, such as a learning disability in school.

The Pro-Youth Movement leadership is committed to patiently combating the gang culture and other factors that drag young people into street life. Our group holds public meetings (offering resources, solution-oriented discussion, and lunch) the third Saturday of every month at Trinity Episcopal Church, starting at 12:30 p.m. Our next meeting is Saturday, March 15. Please join us if you want to be part of the solution.

This essay states my main objections to the gang injunction, but opponents criticize it on other grounds as well. For instance, gang injunctions violate the defendants’ constitutional rights, and no long-term studies prove their effectiveness. Also, a civil proceeding blocks the accused persons’ right to a public defender as they are being asked to defend themselves on criminal matters. Specific to Santa Barbara’s proposal: the opt-out provision is unreasonable and does not offer a realistic “out” for someone wanting to extricate himself or herself from a gang.

I am available to discuss these issues with people who oppose or support the proposed injunction. Please contact me at (805) 564-5322 or cmurillo@santabarbaraca.gov.

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