Are Gang Injunctions the New Guantanamo?
A demonstration opposing gang injunction related civil rights violations
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about the gang injunctions in Oakland. The impending Fruitvale Gang Injunction is set to cover a 2 sq. mile area bringing 15,000 residents or 10% of the City of Oakland under this extralegal jurisdiction (Oakland Local). All to target merely 40 individuals. My friend compared the gang injunction with the extralegal practices of American run prisons such as Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. I wondered if this was the right comparison.
With a closer look, it does seem that the practices used to imprison and interrogate [torture] suspected terrorists [insurgents] is incredibly similar if not the same to the gang injunction legislation. Here there is an overlap of foreign and domestic policy. In both cases, the law has been abused and contradicted to preserve a way of life by denying the very precepts that make that way of life possible.
Few, if any, Guantanamo prisoners have received due process or habeas corpus since their imprisonment. Insurgents were locked up based on their perceived threat to U.S. citizens without proof of that threat. In a similar way Oakland gang injunctions manipulate U.S. law in the name of the safety of Oakland citizens from gang violence.
In both situations, certain individuals can be arrested on whim, and prosecuted with absolute impunity. In both cases those detained and imprisoned are most often people of color that fit predetermined societal criteria of what a terrorist or gang member looks like. Both in Guantanamo, as well as in gang injunctions, it is far too likely that individuals can be targeted due to the color of their skin, their country of origin, or other guilt-by-association types of practices. Practices, which according to the U.S. Constitution are illegal.
Another similarity between Guantanamo and gang injunction maneuvering is the use of Annual Review Boards. ARBs were supposed to function like a parole board to release innocent detainees. However attorneys were denied access to pertinent information and rarely brought justice. According to Barbara Olshanksy, CCR Deputy Legal Director, “These proceedings provide no due process, which reveals they are sham trials designed to prevent people from proving their innocence”( CCR). With gang injunctions, the Civil Courts system functions much like the ARBs, denying the accused from obtaining legal defense, and violating their constitutional right to due process.
I understand that Gang Violence is a legitimate issue in our communities and needs to be addressed. But gang injunctions are not a solution.
As Deputy Public Defender William Pernik stated “This is a piece of paper that gives law enforcement absolute control, the power to stop any Hispanic kid standing with his friends in Cutler-Orosi” (Visalia Times). In my perspective this form of discriminatory power is not anywhere near the solution to stopping gang violence. If anything, all it does is move gang activities outside of safety zones as the communities inside them are subjected to rampant police harassment.
According to a Bay Citizen article “In the six months since the injunction was put in place, shootings and killings within the 100-block ‘safety zone’ have doubled over the corresponding period a year ago [wherein] between June and October 2009, the safety zone was the site of one killing and 11 shootings. This year, the area has had two killings and 22 shootings (…) shootings this year increased about 13 percent” (Bay Citizen).
Colonel Wilkinson, a top aide to the Bush administration claimed that the government knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them.” Given the real problem of gang violence in Oakland, it seems the injunction is more of a political move to try and make residents feel like something is being done, even if many of those targeted are, in fact, innocent.
We have to protect our communities, or else we will lose them. But we need to do it in ways that uphold, rather than violate, our own Constitutional Rights.
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