What is a Gang Injunction?

Police all over California and the nation are using “gang” injunctions as a rationale for racial profiling and to criminalize young people of color. We oppose these injunctions, which create a police state for whole neighborhoods and violate the civil rights of individuals and communities.

Gang injunctions are civil court orders allow police to arrest a person using a lower legal standard than required by the criminal justice system. Police target individuals to be named in an injunction, using criteria like past convictions, tattoos, clothing, signs, photos with family members or friends who may also have past convictions. Many times, “John Does,” are included in the injunction, which allows police to arrest anyone they target as a gang member. A gang injunction is obtained by the City Attorney or District Attorney, who asks a judge to declare a particular group of people (considered a “gang”) to be a “public nuisance” and impose permanent restrictions on their lives and mobility. Because these injunctions are filed in civil court, defendants do not have the right to a state-appointed attorney. Virtually none of them have the resources to hire private lawyers.

Law enforcement uses gang injunctions as a tool to label people gang members and restrict their activities in a defined area. Gang injunctions make otherwise legal, everyday activities —like riding the bus with a friend or picking a spouse up from work late at night—illegal for people they target.  Under these civil injunctions, young men of color are subjected to a curfew, and forbidden from seeing friends and family members, anyone police accuse of being a gang member. These young men lose their freedom of association without being convicted of any crime. Unfortunately this obvious civil rights violation has been upheld in the courts.

All of Us or None worked with other community organizations to stop the injunctions in Oakland, in the Stop the Injunctions Coalition.  In 2010, politically-ambitious Oakland City Attorney John Russo spent hundreds of thousands of City dollars in filing injunctions against 19 mostly Black men in a 100-block North Oakland zone, and against 40 Latino men in a 400-block zone, virtually the entire Fruitvale neighborhood. These injunctions violate the civil rights of the young men named, and the rights of our whole community to freedom of association and movement. Community mobilization by the Stop the Injunctions Coalition succeeded in gaining a moratorium on more injunctions, and the resignation of the City Attorney and Police Chief.

Opposition to the Oakland injunctions by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, LSPC and a community coalition (Stop the Injunctions Coalition) forced important legal modifications of the injunctions. These include a way for people to remove themselves from the injunction (after several years), and a prohibition against including “John Does,” or unnamed individuals. In other places in the state, the inclusion of large numbers of unnamed individuals has meant intensified police harassment and attacks on whole neighborhoods, focusing on young people. 

Being labeled as a “gang” member and included in CalGang (the California statewide gang database, from which there is no exit) transfers into the state prison system as well. Being validated as “gang-affiliated” means any small infraction of prison rules will lead to indefinite and long-term isolation conditions of solitary confinement.