In an extremely brief hearing this morning, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard approved City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s injunction against two feuding gangs in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. Deputy City Attorneys Yvonne Mere and Michael Weiss stood in front of Judge Woolard, who granted the order with a minor stipulation about gun possession.
Under the injunction, 25 members of the Towerside set and 16 members of the Down Below Gangsters will be prevented from associating each other, loitering, flashing gang signs, congregating and a range of other conduct within an area of Visitacion Valley that encompasses the Britton Courts, Heritage Homes and Sunnydale housing projects.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera has maintained the injunction is necessary because of the violence that has marked the Towerside-DBG feud – according to Herrera’s office and the San Francisco Police Department, the dispute has resulted in 10 gang-related murders over past three years.
One major criticism of the gang injunction process is the defendant’s absence of a right to a court-appointed attorney in civil trials – and gang injunctions are civil nuisance lawsuits intended to counter criminal activity.
Another problematic aspect of gang injunctions is the manner in which people are identified as gang members. Many of the people named on the Visitacion Valley injunction have been charged with violent offenses, including murder. However, there are four individuals named on the injunction who have faced no criminal charges whatsoever – and have now been identified by the court as gang members.
The San Francisco City Attorney maintains that people who believe they have been wrongly identified can get their names removed from the injunction via an “opt-out” procedure that was implemented in 2008 as a result of challenges to the Mission injunction.
On the evidence of today’s hearings, the lack of representation was a major issue. More than a dozen people from Visitacion Valley, mostly young men, showed up five minutes after the hearing ended. “We should have someone representing ourselves at least,” said Edgar Floyd, who is identified by court documents as a member of the Towerside gang.
Though the City Attorney’s Office said it has served 29 of the listed individuals with copies of the proposed subpoena, the men gathered in the corridor outside today’s hearing were visibly confused about the injunction’s implications on their lives.
District 10 Board of Supervisors candidate Nyese Joshua, who was at the hearing, considers the use of a civil suit for criminal matters a “trick.” In remarks after the hearing, Joshua linked the Visitacion Valley injunction to the marked decrease in San Francisco’s African-American population, and criticized the City Attorney for not addressing the “entrenched” causes of crime. “People are lulled into thinking that if you remove the people in public, the problems will be resolved,” Joshua said.
Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said this is the first time a gang injunction has been unopposed in court. “Justice is better served when everyone has lawyers,” said Dorsey. “I was surprised that no one challenged, either with a lawyer or [in person].
Sharen Hewitt, the director of the CLAER Project community organization based in the heart of Britton Courts, was livid about the order and the lack of legal and political opposition to the injunction. “This is paramount to an all-out declaration of war on low-income African-Americans in San Francisco,” Hewitt said. Hewitt said me there was been plenty of grandstanding around the injunction issue when it was in the media spotlight about a month ago, but results have not followed promises by a number of District 10 candidates to fight the order.
The injunction will not be enforced until the 41 people identified as Towerside or DBG members are served with a copy of the approved court order.
An older version of the court order is below. For more documents on the Visitacion Valley injunction, including expert declarations, visit the City Attorney’s website.