Photo by Robert Yager
Deputy City Attorney Brooke White began a recently filed court motion with the words “There is something terribly wrong in Oakwood.” That is about the only thing widely agreed upon in what’s become, with the arrival of the Nation of Islam, a highly politicized battle over a gang injunction the city is seeking to impose on the Venice Shoreline Crips.
Gang injunctions have thus far faced little organized political resistance, but the Nation of Islam’s recent effort to aid the defense of the alleged gangsters promises to change that. The group is seeking to rally rival gangs and local residents by denouncing the injunctions as racist, views it pushed at a community meeting in Venice last week. More concretely, two lawyers hired with the help of Venice 2000, a new community group closely associated with the Nation, will represent more than half of the alleged gang members named in the city’s suit.
The injunction, which, if approved, would be City Attorney James Hahn’s 10th, would forbid 38 alleged gang members from engaging in a variety of activities, many already illegal, within either of two demarcated “safety zones,” one in Oakwood and the other in rival gang Culver City Boys’ turf in Mar Vista. The named gang members could face prosecution if, among other things, they violated a 10 p.m. curfew, or were caught “standing, sitting or walking” in each other’s company or “approaching or signaling as a pedestrian any moving vehicle.”
The Shoreline Crips gained notoriety after a 1993-94 war with rival Latino gangs left 22 people dead. A flare-up in 1997 was responsible for several more murders, prompting City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to ask Hahn and county District Attorney Gil Garcetti to seek court orders against the gangs involved. According to the City Attorney’s Office, the Shorelines still control Venice’s rock-cocaine trade. Last month, a Santa Monica Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against 75 members of the Culver City Boys. The city is expected to announce another injunction, against the Shoreline Crips’ other Latino rivals, Venice 13, in upcoming weeks.
Consternation over the proposed injunction dominated a “Unity in the Community” meeting sponsored by Venice 2000 last Thursday night. More than 100 people turned out at the gymnasium of the Oakwood Recreation Center — only a handful of them in the Nation’s trademark bow ties and suits — to hear Minister Tony Muhammad, the West Coast representative of the Nation of Islam, explain that 200 Shoreline Crips had renounced their gang ties and agreed “to put down the negative lifestyle.”
The meeting was billed as an information session on Venice 2000’s programs, but speakers focused almost entirely on the gang injunction. “We’re being bound in chains through the injunction and carried away,” declared Mohammad, the keynote speaker. “Where’s the gang injunction against the skinheads?” he asked. “Where’s the gang injunction against the Klan? Where’s the gang injunction against the police officers in Riverside who shaved their heads and shot another brother the other night?”
In a speech laced with the conspiracy theories (the malt liquor hawked in inner-city groceries is laced with LSD — “It’s a mind-control drug”) and racially charged rhetoric (referring to Korean merchants in black neighborhoods: “You got a place called Koreatown — go there!”) that have made the Nation infamous, Mohammad announced plans to unite L.A. gang members this summer in a fight against injunctions and the three-strikes law, and for economic self-sufficiency in black neighborhoods. “We got to become an organized army, homies,” he said, “but we got to do it positive.”
Mohammad said the Nation of Islam has received calls from gang sets all over Los Angeles, and another speaker, London Carter, said Crips and Bloods alike had contacted him to find out how they could help fund the Shorelines’ legal defense. Many in attendance Thursday hailed from other L.A. gangs and had heard about the event on the radio, organizers said — so many that Pearl White, a neighborhood activist who fought to bring the injunction to Oakwood, exclaimed, “Most of those people don’t even live here.”
Oakwood residents, she said, “stayed away in droves,” turned off by the Nation of Islam agenda. Separately, Mike Bonin, community-affairs director for Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, said his boss had received numerous calls from residents concerned that the Nation might derail the injunction effort.
Other community members were more open to the Nation and more suspicious of the injunction. Melvyn Hayward, director of the nearby Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Services Center, is a Venice 2000 participant. He was not at the Thursday-night meeting, but in an interview tied the court order to the nearby Playa Vista development and encroaching gentrification. Pointing out that violence in Oakwood has been minimal for months, Hayward said, “They’re just now finding the problem because they got white folks moving into the neighborhood.”
The injunction’s champions rejected such charges. “Creating safe neighborhoods is not part of a gentrification agenda,” said Bonin. “It’s just basic human rights.” As to the Nation of Islam, Bonin said, “I certainly welcome their efforts to help people turn their lives around, but the charges that the injunction is racially motivated are ludicrous,” pointing out that most victims of gang violence are black and Latino.
Few of the gang injunctions issued thus far have been contested in court. Since the orders are sought in civil suits rather than in criminal proceedings, alleged gang members who can’t afford legal representation are not assigned court-appointed lawyers. It was therefore extremely unusual that, at a hearing held in a packed Santa Monica courtroom on June 24, six alleged Shoreline Crips showed up accompanied by four lawyers. At the end of that brief hearing, two of those lawyers — James Simmons and La’chelle Woodert, who were hired through Venice 2000 — were retained by more than 20 of the 38 defendants.
The legal battle will be joined in earnest next week. On July 15, attorneys Naren Hunter and Trane Hunter, who represent just two of the defendants, will argue against the injunction on legal and constitutional grounds. The next morning, the arguments originally scheduled for June 24 will be heard. If the city attorney prevails, the judge will issue a preliminary injunction; lawyers for the Shoreline Crips could still seek to fight off a permanent order at trial.