LA authorities for first time remove person from gang injunction

Authorities in Los Angeles say for the first time ever, they've removed a man's name from a gang injunction. Officials hailed it as an important step toward fairness. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports not everybody agrees.

Frank Stoltze: In Los Angeles, 37 injunctions cover more than 11,000 gang members. For more than a decade, no one's ever been removed from an injunction list. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn:

Janice Hahn: What we began hearing were from family members, mothers, who said, you know, once you got your name on the list, it was near to impossible to ever get your name removed from that list. And what happened was there was just a cycle, the feeling of hopelessness, helplessness.

Stoltze: Gang injunctions typically prohibit gang members from associating with each other in specific areas, and ban other normally legal activities like using a cell phone in public. L.A. Police Commissioner John Mack says removing someone from a gang injunction list for the first time is an important milestone.

John Mack: We can send a message loud and clear to the African-American community, to the Latino community, to others, that you are no longer going to be profiled, you're no longer going to be held hostage for life if you legitimately, legitimately want to turn your life around.

Stoltze: Under a process set up a year ago, people named in gang injunctions can petition the city attorney to be removed. According to the city attorney, they must provide "sufficient, reliable, and verifiable information" that he or she is no longer, or never was, a member of the gang, or acting to promote it. Kim McGill is with the Youth Justice Coalition. She had mixed reaction to news someone had finally made it off an injunction's list.

Kim McGill: Well, we fought very hard for there to be an exit process from the gang injunctions. We've been fighting for it for five years. So we feel like, as one small step forward, it is important. We think it's still very, next to impossible to actually get removed.

We have a number of people that maybe their only contact with law enforcement has been for misdemeanor, you know, possession of weed, or drinking in public, whose applications to get off of gang injunction aren't even going to be considered.

Stoltze: McGill also says people who live in some neighborhoods have a hard time avoiding gang members, who may be classmates, family members, or friends. Such associations could lead to someone being placed under a gang injunction, and never getting off.

Officials with the City Attorney's Office refused to talk about the man who was the first removed from a gang injunction, other than to say he moved completely out of his old neighborhood.

Debate continues over whether police and city prosecutors are too aggressive in placing people on gang injunction lists, and in the state's gang database. City Councilman Tony Cardenas chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development.

Tony Cardenas: Do I believe that there's at least one person, or at least a small handful of people, that shouldn't be on the list who are put on the list? Yes, I believe that. But I'm not saying that there's carelessness going on. I think there's just human error, and that's just a fact of life.

Stoltze: Some civil rights activists say that error too often involves young black and Latino men. Police and city prosecutors maintain they target only known gang members, and that now those gang members have a chance to clear their names if they want to.