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
Last Thursday, about 20 young men, most with shaved heads, an occasional tattoo peeking out from under a collar or a sleeve, sat listlessly in a Santa Monica courtroom awaiting the scheduled 3 p.m. start of The People of California vs. the Culver City Boys. They were there to take part in what turned out to be a rather one-sided hearing on an injunction that would prohibit them from, among other things, gathering in public, going out after 10 p.m., or possessing a pager or Magic Marker in an area demarcated as a "safety zone" (a cutesy recasting of the more martial rhetoric of past injunctions, which ominously laid out "target areas").
These civil injunctions, despite their questionable effectiveness, have become a favorite toy of District Attorney Gil Garcetti and City Attorney James Hahn. Targeting nests of gang activity — thus far exclusively in black and Latino neighborhoods — the suits have outraged civil libertarians, who claim they place young men and women under martial law because of little more than the company they keep.
Four TV cameramen loitered expectantly outside for the Garcetti-sponsored gala, but it wasn’t much of a show. Over the next half-hour, another 20 or so bald-pated young men trickled in, politely excusing themselves as they shuffled down the rows of benches. Except for some small talk between reporters, and cop banter, no one said a word. The alleged gangsters sat tensely, their faces frozen with macho stoicism. (According to Deputy City Attorney Brooke White, 30 to 35 of the 75 men named in the suit were spotted in court by police officers.)
As the minutes clicked by, whispered jokes began to travel the benches. But by 3:50, when the court was at last called to order and nine incarcerated young men (also injunctees) in shackles and county jump suits were escorted in, the easy laughter had long been replaced with heavy silence.
Within 15 minutes it was over. Before signing the preliminary injunction, Judge Patricia Collins asked all those present who were named in the lawsuit to stand and identify themselves. About 20 guys looked nervously around, but only two stood. (A trial of sorts will follow for a permanent injunction, but little opposition and only a cursory presentation of evidence are expected. A similar court order will be unleashed June 24 against the Culver City Boys’ Venice-based rivals, the Shoreline Crips.)
"Does anyone want to be heard at all?" Collins asked. One of the nine prisoners sheepishly raised a chained hand, but when, after a couple seconds, no one had noticed it, he returned it to his lap. "It is hereby ordered," the judge announced, "that the defendants, the Culver City Boys, are enjoined from engaging in any of the following activities in the safety zone . . ."
A scarcely audible snicker followed the judge’s admonishment against "standing, sitting, walking, driving or otherwise appearing anywhere in public view." Another snort escaped when the defendants heard that they were allowed to be together while inside the LAPD’s Pacific Division station — presumably so they can’t be rearrested for getting thrown into the same cell. Otherwise, silence reigned. As soon as the Sheriff’s deputies began to escort the prisoners out of the courtroom, the rest of the audience spilled out, grinning like kids who’ve heard the recess bell. "So that’s it?" one defendant exclaimed. "We’re guilty just like that?"—Ben Ehrenreich
WHAT MEDICAL MARIJUANA INITIATIVE?
When two cop cars from the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department showed up at Tim Weltz’s house in Alta Loma on Wednesday, June 2, the 38-year-old terminal-lymphoma cancer patient was hooked up to an intravenous morphine drip. Weltz showed the officers a letter from his oncologist approving his use of medical pot. But agents of the Marijuana Eradication Task Force of San Bernardino County were unimpressed. They uprooted 23 ready-to-harvest plants.
After a similar raid last year, drug-possession charges against Weltz were dismissed "in the interest of justice." Then why the repeat visit? "San Bernardino has a reputation for being a cowboy county," says Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They’ve tried to pretend that Prop. 215 doesn’t apply to them." Activist and ordained minister Gene Weeks (spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease) was arrested last year in Adelanto despite having a pot recommendation from his Veterans Administration doctor. Greg Richey (rheumatoid arthritis) and his wife, Kellie (epilepsy), have been busted for marijuana in the high desert five times. Their doctors’ letters were ignored by law enforcement.
While cities from West Hollywood to Oakland to Arcata have developed protocols to help law enforcement discern medical tokers from recreational ones, no municipality in San Berdoo has bothered. Detective Michael Wirz, who oversees the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department anti-reefer task force, says, "These cases are forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office, and the district attorney determines whether they fall under the exemption of 215. We’re not able to interpret or allow release of a person that violates a law based on him giving us a note saying it’s okay." (OffBeat might point out to Detective Wirz that California law reads that pot puffers "upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.")