Crime & Justice

Echo Park residents file motion to block LA's latest gang injunction

Protesters voice their opposition to an Echo Park gang injunction on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
Protesters voice their opposition to an Echo Park gang injunction on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Residents and youth activist have filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to stop the enforcement of a recently approved gang injunction for a 3.8 square mile area of Echo Park.

Last week, the city of Los Angeles got the okay for a permanent injunction against six gangs in the neighborhood. The court order will restrict what members of these gangs can do, such as being seen in public with each other.

On Monday, a judge will hear motions filed by five individuals acting as interveners in the case. They will be asking the judge to stay the order, arguing that the injunction would negatively affect people who are not gang members.

In order to intervene, individuals must show they will be directly impacted by the injunction.

Kurt Bier, an attorney with the Working People’s Law Center, is representing the teenage sons of some men and women that the Los Angeles police allege are documented gang members.

“The police for various reasons believe they are gang members,” Bier said. “Either because their parents were gang members or because they live in the neighborhood and know kids that are gang members.”

MAP: Judge allows next step in proposed Echo Park gang injunction (updated)

L.A. Superior Court Judge Abraham Khan ruled in September that there was convincing evidence presented by the city – via police declarations – that the six gangs are a public nuisance. He specifically cited their conduct and activities in the approximately four square mile “safety zone” outlined by the city.

Police declarations showed photographs of homes and neighborhoods with the graffiti of gang names, mug shots and pictures of tattooed individuals, and written synopsis of past gang-related shootings and crimes.

Debate over whether a gang injunction is needed in Echo Park has focused on the declining crime rate and what some call the unjust targeting of Latino families. Some say the neighborhood was rife with gang activity decades ago, but not anymore.

But some other residents still claim gang members in the area intimidate residents and vandalize private property.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer is confident the injunction will remain in place.

“Gang injunctions have long been held to be constitutional, and we are confident that this injunction will withstand any legal challenge,” Feuer said.

He reiterated his previous comments that “while a gang injunction is an important step, it is only one ingredient in an overall comprehensive strategy to keep our communities safe,” like working with school representatives and community leaders.

The city hasn’t officially served anyone with the injunction. But Bier said if enforcement goes through, husbands and wives or parents and children wouldn’t be able to associate outside the home.

“As much as these kids claim that they are not members of the gang, they have no tattoos, they have no arrests, they still end up being designated as gang members,” Bier said.

Though some residents and youth justice activists voiced loud opposition to the injunction, no legal challenge in court was filed until this week.

But it may be a long shot.

No one has successfully fought a gang injunction and won before the injunction was implemented, Bier said. There has been some success in temporarily blocking parts of a gang injunction, like the curfew restriction.

On a federal level, the ACLU won a case in Orange County that declared police and prosecutors can’t enforce civil injunction restrictions without giving each suspected person an opportunity to fight the gang allegation in court.

“The Achilles heel in all these injunctions is who designates gang membership,” Bier said. “As it is, it’s the police.”

In all injunctions, there is an opt-out clause for individuals already served who claim they are no longer or never have been a gang member. The person must prove that for three continuous years before being served with the injunction that he or she:

Another option is that a person served with the injunction could apply for a hardship exemption with the city attorney’s office, which asks permission to associate with specific individuals at a specific time, place and for a specific legitimate purpose.