By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And even if injunctions are, as Hahn says, useful tools for profoundly troubled communities, some in the Pico-Union neighborhood question his timing. By February of 1997, when Mayor Riordan asked Hahn's office to seek an injunction in Pico-Union, it was no longer a community in crisis. LAPD statistics show that crime had been dropping steadily in the neighborhood (as it had been in the city as a whole and, for that matter, nationally) since about 1994. While the city attorney claimed in his injunction filing, "The level and frequency of violent criminal gang-related activities is increasing," a report included in that same filing revealed that in fact gang-related crime in the area had dropped by 28 percent in 1996 compared to the previous five years. Less than half as many crimes were committed there in the first quarter of 1997 as had been committed over the same period four years before. Pico-Union was still desperately poor and miserably underserved; it still had -- and has -- far more than its share of troubles. But gang-related crime was already on the wane. Residents were actively taking back their streets and becoming involved in the life of their community.
Hahn admits that the call for an injunction against 18th Street did not come from the community, or even from the police, as is usually the case, but from Mayor Riordan, shortly after the publication of a rather hysterical three-part series on 18th Street in the L.A. Times. (One community activist, a supporter of the injunction, says she didn't recognize Pico-Union as portrayed in the series; after reading it, "I was getting worried about living in the neighborhood, and I live here and never worried about it before. It's not that bad.") That no one took the trouble to find out if such extreme measures were actually needed lends credence to Arturo's theory about the motivations behind the injunction: "It's politics -- the D.A. wants to be D.A. again, Riordan wants to stay mayor." Hahn disagrees. "Every time we've done [an injunction]," he says, "we've seen that the crime has gone down." Hahn's office was unable to provide comprehensive figures in support of this claim although they were able to point to isolated examples of dramatic drops in crime.
If some activists are bothered by the city's claim that its gang injunction was responsible for Pico-Union's hard-won turnaround, more troubling still are some of the unforeseen -- if not unforeseeable -- results of the injunction. According to some in Pico-Union, the injunction has already begun to increase tensions between 18th Street and rival gangs, which may bring about disastrous consequences, as anyone who witnessed the violence of the early '90s can attest. By keeping 18th Streeters off the streets, as one activist who works with gang members puts it, the injunction "leaves the community virgin" for other gangs. In the meantime, even as the city claims success for having reduced 18th Street's visibility, many say that the gang's strength has gone unaffected, that it has merely moved its activities indoors and out of sight, ready to re-emerge when the crackdown inevitably ends. Perhaps most alarming, some argue that the city's near-exclusive reliance on suppression tactics like the injunction only further alienates the area's most embattled young, and makes going straight, difficult enough before, an almost impossible task. But the vast majority of activists who oppose gang injunctions agree that by not confronting the complex problems in the community that breed gangs in the first place, police and city officials "are not dealing with the real problems."
JAMES HAHN DOES NOT TAKE CREDIT FOR HAVING PIONEERED the tactic of suing a gang as an unincorporated association and demanding a court order against them. Former District Attorney Ira Reiner, he points out, broke that ground by taking a gang named Dogtown to court to prevent them from writing graffiti. But it was Hahn who broadened the idea to encompass all of a gang's activities. He won his first gang injunction by a hair in 1987 against the Playboy Gangster Crips in the Cadillac-Corning section of West Los Angeles, the closest poor, black neighborhood to Beverly Hills and a convenient drug-buying spot for the Westside's affluent white youth. Hahn's proposed injunction was much more severe than any he's done since, including clauses forbidding the Playboy Gangsters from staying out in the streets for more than five minutes at a time or having visitors to their homes who stay for less than 10 minutes each. But a judge struck it down and harshly reprimanded Hahn, calling his proposal unconstitutional and "far, far too overreaching." Hahn eventually reached a compromise, in which only the clauses forbidding already illegal behavior, such as trespassing and vandalism, survived.
Since then, other judges -- including four of the seven California Supreme Court justices, who upheld a San Jose gang injunction in June of 1997 -- have been friendlier to the idea of injunctions, which have become a popular tool wherever there's a gang problem. D.A. Gil Garcetti has enthusiastically pursued injunctions throughout L.A. County, and his office has helped bring them to cities all over Southern California. Until the Pico-Union court order, most injunctions just named a dozen or so gang members in a relatively small area. Since Pico-Union, which covers more than a square mile, Hahn has sought three additional large-scale injunctions, the broadest of them, also against 18th Street, covering 92 named gang members in an area stretching from Normandie Avenue to the western edge of downtown.