Gang Injunctions Misunderstood

This Is Not a Remedy for Santa Barbara’s Problem

First, the right or wrong of the gang injunction is not about whether gangs are a problem. They are. How great a problem is a matter of debate. But even if they were as great a problem as some believe, that would not be sufficient reason for a gang injunction.

Second, the fact that Father Boyle thinks that gang injunctions in his crime-ridden neighborhood in East Los Angeles are beneficial says nothing at all about the benefit or harm of a gang injunction in Santa Barbara.

Third, a public nuisance injunction requires a public nuisance that affects an entire community or a substantial number of persons at the same time. That’s why the boilerplate language incorporated into the petition for an injunction in Santa Barbara makes claims that residents are afraid to leave their homes, afraid of being attacked, etc. Scattered crimes over many years do not meet the standard. If the claims (which seems ridiculous to objective observers) were true, then a public nuisance could be said to exist in the particular areas where that pervasive fear actually existed. But all of downtown Santa Barbara?

Fourth, even if a public nuisance, legally defined, did exist, an injunction is an extraordinary cure to be granted only when there is “no remedy at law.” But Detective Gary Siegal clearly states in his declaration that when law enforcement spends sufficient money, gang activity subsides. There is a remedy at law — it’s just expensive. But saying that gang suppression under the criminal code is expensive does not legally justify imposition of an injunction.

Fifth, the alleged remedies are to be granted only if they “abate” the nuisance; some nuisances are incapable of abatement, and accordingly remedies cannot be granted. A potential 10 percent improvement (widely disputed) is not “abatement,” which in legal terms means “ending.”

Sixth, many of the listed remedies infringe on constitutionally guaranteed liberties. The Acuna decision that approved gang injunctions makes clear that the limitations on association must be very narrowly drawn. A four-square-block residential area where none of the gang members live is very different from the entire Eastside and Westside and all of downtown Santa Barbara. No higher federal court has ever upheld a restriction on First Amendment rights in such a large area except in times of national danger.

Seventh, the injunction can only apply to active gang members. Past activity, no matter how serious, does not qualify a person as an active gang member. Not only does the city have to prove that anyone enjoined is an active gang member, but it cannot impose artificial barriers to leaving the injunction (such as exist in the opt-out clause) when an enjoined person ceases to be active. An enjoined person has to demonstrate to the court that he or she is no longer active, not satisfy the police or District Attorney.

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