San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi stands outside the courtroom at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Public defender urges SF to end gang injunctions against minorities

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is facing pressure to end gang injunctions in San Francisco that critics say have impinged on the freedoms of black and Latino men for more than a decade.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi penned a letter to Herrera on Jan. 18 urging him to withdraw seven “draconian” gang injunctions Herrera obtained in court against 139 black and Latino men between 2007 and 2011.

The injunctions restrict the suspected gang members from wearing certain clothing, loitering at night and engaging in range of other activities in four neighborhoods of The City. The activities can be as simple as walking down the street with another suspected gang member, or as serious as possessing a firearm.

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“These injunctions seem endless and overpowering,” Adachi said. “They cast a pall over the affected communities, perpetuating the idea that the Bayview, Western Addition, Visitacion Valley and Mission districts are the ‘crime-infested inner cities’ of Donald Trump’s imagination.”

The push to end gang injunctions in San Francisco is part of a recent trend on the West Coast. In December, Los Angeles removed thousands of names from its gang injunctions amid scrutiny from civil liberties groups. Portland also scrubbed its gang database in September, and Oakland ended its gang injunction in 2015.

The City Attorney’s Office has argued the injunctions help reduce gang-related violence in San Francisco. John Cote, a spokesperson for Herrera, said the office is reviewing the letter and will be responding shortly.

“We appreciate the public defender’s perspective on this topic, and we take his concerns seriously,” Cote said.

On Thursday, the San Francisco Reentry Council sent a letter to Herrera requesting a meeting to discuss ending the injunctions. The council also requested data on the enforcement of the injunctions since their inception.

In his letter, Adachi criticized gang injunctions as an outdated “vestige of the crack cocaine era” that target only men of color who may no longer live in San Francisco. He said the injunction lists can be used to restrict access to housing and jobs, as well as to profile younger relatives as potential gang members.

“People named in the injunctions, and their families and acquaintances, eventually are inclined to leave The City to escape this curtailment of their civil liberties,” Adachi said. “This has directly contributed to the gentrification of these predominantly African-American and Latino communities over the past decade.”

Proponents say the injunctions help keep communities safe and prevent crime by preventing suspected gang members from loitering.

“That’s the justification but it’s a pretty threadbare justification because these injunctions tend to be very overbroad,” said Lara Bazelon, a professor at University of San Francisco and expert in criminal defense. “They scoop up people who aren’t gang members and penalize them.”

Bazelon said the injunctions also characterize men based on their actions at a young age and force them to face harsher penalties, or gang enhancements, if they are ever charged with another crime.

“You can’t escape your past because you’re stuck on this list,” Bazelon said. “It doesn’t allow for the idea that people change and grow over time.”

Herrera obtained injunctions against the Oakdale Mob in Bayview-Hunters Point and Nortenos in the Mission. The injunctions are also against Towerside gang and Down Below Gangsters in Visitacion Valley, as well as Chopper City gang, Eddy Rock gang and Knock Out Posse Gang in the Western Addition.

Adachi said there is no evidence that the gangs named in the injunctions even exist a decade since their implementation.

On Tuesday, Supervisors Sandra Fewer and Hillary Ronen called for a hearing at the Board of Supervisors on the matter.

Fewer said she has questions about whether gang injunctions should still exist in a “different San Francisco.”

“There are questions about the efficacy of these gang injunctions and real concerns about the ongoing negative impact on communities of color and how the injunctions contribute to racial profiling,” Fewer said.

A date for the Board of Supervisors hearing has yet to be set, but Fewer’s office is aiming to schedule the hearing for late February or early March.

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