By Chris Frost
OXNARD—Part 2 of the civil gang injunction conversation picks up with a presentation from C.O.R.E. (Chiques Organizing for Rights and Equality), which provided the attendees at the Aug. 20, Community Relations Commission meeting an update about how the injunctions have evolved.
“C.O.R.E. will present historical and legal facts that will question and challenge the unconstitutional elements of the civil gang injunctions, and how they deprive youth of color in Oxnard their due process rights,” Commissioner Tiffany Lopez said.
C.O.R.E. representative Armando Vasquez appreciated the opportunity to speak at the meeting and said the group had been together since 2004.
“In 2004, the police, city council and district attorney began their very secretive covert operation together and put together this injunction which would morph into two injunctions," he said. "We, as a group, came together because we were working with the community closely, because we didn’t have information and this kind of dialogue.”
He said the group reacted emotionally and from the gut.
“Today’s presentation has nothing to do with emotion; it’s going to be about The Constitution," he said. "It’s going to be about unlawful behavior on the part of the police department for 14 years.”
Vasquez said what the police department is doing is unconstitutional, and that point is irrefutable.
“If we don’t change quickly, the consequences are going to be lawsuits, court reversals, and a lot of money the City of Oxnard is going to have to pull out of the taxpayers’ pockets to pay for this adventure we’ve now looked at for 14 years,” Vasquez said.
He wants to give the city the opportunity to look at the facts in 2018, instead of what happened in 2004, when the gang injunctions began.
Early Education Lead Organizer Francisco Romero said gang injunctions are a tough and complex conversation, and sometimes they get emotional and driven by their own experiences and encounters with law enforcement.
"Let’s look at the data and break up those injunction-related arrests and see what happened,” he said. “The curfew provision that was amended didn’t come out of thin air; it came out of a lot of sacrifice and commitment from community members. Some community members who were later enjoined (in the gang injunction) sacrificed themselves and put themselves on the line to voice a lot of their opinion on questions around the injunction.”
He noted that during a previous city council meeting, Assistant Chief Eric Sonstegard said the gang injunction is a model.
“We had a lot to do with that,” Romero said about the gang injunctions. “It was adjusted because we advocated, just as we are today, and that curfew provision led to a lawsuit in South Central (Los Angeles) where a young Mexican man fought and won damages in the millions. The money was $24 million, and it was deferred to a youth program.”
He said one misconception the public has is that since they question the elements of the injunction, they advocate the defense of a violent crime.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” Romero said. “We do not want anything to happen to our children. We guard our families with our lives. As a new father, we are looking for safety. It’s a Mexican town for all intensive purposes, 90-plus percent.”
He said 11 of the original 14 provisions are rated criminal statutes.
“The ones we had a serious complaint with was the curfew, the association, and the clothing,” he said.
During the appellate court battle about the curfew provision and the opt-out, Romero said Public Defender Neil Quinn likened to “catching fireflies and putting them into a jar."
"What you do is take data across 10 years and dot map it on a map, so when you see it, there is a crisis,” Romero said. "If you extrapolate the data and go yearly, the data looks different."
He said most studies related to gang injunctions are not conclusive.
“It’s very difficult to pinpoint if an injunction has been effective,” he said. “One of the things we found out early on in 2004, was if you lock down an entire community, violent crime is going to go down because nobody is outside. That’s an extreme example, but sometimes it gets to a point in society where if we allow the reigns of this type of power loose and not contain it, that’s why we are here.”
Attorney Barbara Macri-Ortiz spoke on behalf of C.O.R.E. and reminded the commission they need to remember how they got to this point.
“We got here because there was a police chief who wanted to make a name, about injunctions,” she said. “That was Chief Lopez, that was his mark, and he went out on his injunction way.”
Macri-Ortiz said the town was a guinea pig.
“I was watching when there were a lot of shootings during a period," he said. "One thing I want you to remember was there were a fair amount of those shootings that were police shootings. We had a kid who had mental issues who was shot in a closet by an Oxnard Policeman. Not every shooting counted were gangs against gangs.”
She said they were difficult times.
“We’re lucky now,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for Chief Whitney and his staff. We have a police department now that does work for the community and works with the community.”
Macri-Ortiz said to use that to the city’s advantage.
“It’s a time not to go back to the old ways, because the old ways didn’t work,” she said. “For everything that you’ve heard, I could give you a story that was a little bit different.”
She said the injunction was for a time and that time passed.
“If you look at what’s going on in the state and the nation, we’re starting to look at criminal justice reform, we’re talking about restorative justice and more preventive,” she said.
C.O.R.E. is working with people to raise the level of its citizens, she commented.
“I was an education lawyer and represented a lot of kids who got expelled,” Macri-Ortiz said. “The worst evidence they had against the kid was that he admitted he had done something wrong. I’m thinking as a parent, that’s what you're trying to teach your kids, but because they admitted they did something wrong, they were punished by getting kicked out of school.
She said that they’re teaching people to lie and noted the president lies 10 times a day.
“We have to show what our city is about,” she said. “We have to take our youth where they’re at and help them.”
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