Race card pulled in battle over gang injunctions

Against a racially charged backdrop, attorneys representing The City and a host of alleged gang members faced off in court Tuesday over controversial gang injunctions proposed in two San Francisco neighborhoods.

The City is seeking injunctions against alleged gang members in the Mission district and the Western Addition, similar to a court order already in place in a four-block section of the Bayview district targeting the notorious Oakdale Mob.

Injunctions are a measure that was first used in Los Angeles to dissuade gangs from nuisance activity. The civil court orders make gang activities, often including loitering, associating and being out after a curfew, a misdemeanor.

The City Attorney’s Office says the Bayview injunction, enacted one year ago, has led to a significant drop in crimes including homicides, robberies, assaults and narcotics violations.

In Superior Court on Tuesday, Public Defender Jeff Adachi argued that the Mission district injunction proposed should be thrown out because it identifies the Norteños gang as an “unincorporated association,” which he said it is not.

He also said his client — 22-year-old Antonio Buitrago, who was named in the injunction — should be excluded from the lawsuit because he is not a member of the gang but had been identified as one because of his race, nickname and the fact that he identifies himself as a rapper.

“I could stand next to Mick Jagger and it doesn’t make me a member of the Rolling Stones,” Adachi said.

As Adachi testified Tuesday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera distributed a letter he wrote to Adachi, calling on him to repudiate “race-baiting” tactics.

“Of particular concern is a widely distributed e-mail that has been brought to my attention, which describes the proposed orders under consideration by the court as ‘the criminalization of people of color,’” Herrera wrote. The e-mail did not come from Adachi’s account, but was circulated in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.

During the hearing, Robert Amparan, an attorney representing several other alleged Norteño members, called the proposed injunction “government-sponsored racial profiling.” Several of the individuals identified in the injunction work in gang-abatement services in the Mission, Adachi and Amparan said. They said that if orders against the men associating within the so-called “safety zone” were put in place, the men would not be able to continue with their work.

Herrera denied that charge. “They’re not mutually inconsistent,” he said of the injunction and the community groups. “We’re utilizing our nuisance power to help stem the tide of gang violence and we’re not doing anything to limit those individuals’ ability to continue to do the work that they have been doing,” he said.

Judge Peter Busch, who heard arguments regarding the Western Addition, and Patrick Mahoney, who heard arguments on the Mission injunction, took the cases under advisement and did not give a time when they would return a ruling.

amartin@examiner.com

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