A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday gave the city permission to move forward with a gang injunction that would cover most of Echo Park and parts of Silver Lake, but will announce whether he approves the restrictions at an October hearing.
The gang injunction would impose restrictions against alleged gang members inside the so-called "safety zone," a 3.8-square-mile area of Echo Park that includes parts of Silver Lake and Elysian Valley. The injunction targets six rival gangs, 300 unnamed alleged gang members and 10 associates listed in the complaint as “JOHN DOES.”
Opponents of the gang injunction say it would push out residents, especially Hispanics and Latino residents — and in large swaths, because many of the gangs have generational ties to families that have lived in the Echo Park area for decades.
There were no seats left inside the courtroom Wednesday morning where L.A. city attorneys presented the court their proposal for the gang injunction.
“Perhaps we should call the case that has attracted all of this attention,” said Superior Court judge Abraham Khan.
At least 50 people, including Echo Park area residents and youth advocates, packed the courtroom. It was an unusual showing for these types of gang injunction hearings.
Some wore white matching T-shirts that said “United We Stand, Together We Stay.” Even a couple of gang members attended with family members. Those who couldn’t find room to stand in the courtroom waited outside to hear what would happen.
The hearing Wednesday focused on whether the city of Los Angeles can serve 19 individual alleged gang members they’ve identified to be representatives of the six rival gangs listed in the proposed injunction.
Most gang injunctions are approved by default because gangs don’t hire attorneys to represent them in court. But at the last minute Wednesday morning, some community members were able to convince an attorney they knew and recognized in the hallway to appear and ask the judge to postpone the hearing.
“You're making a very vague special appearance in this case,” Judge Abraham Kahn told attorney Don Hammond.
Hammond said he was unfamiliar with the case and asked for at least two weeks to review the injunction complaint filed by the L.A. City Attorney's Office before he would decide whether he would file something in opposition.
“I’m simply asking for a little bit of time,” he said.
But the deputy city attorney Jim McDougal argued the original complaint asking for a gang injunction has been filed since June. He said people had plenty of time and knew this proposal was due in court.
“Obviously you can tell by the crowd, people have had noticed,” McDougal said.
People sitting in the gallery raised their hands and gave thumbs up or down as ways to communicate with the judge, though he reminded them several times that he cannot recognize them because they are not legally involved in the case.
Because the “defendants" — the six gangs — had no representation in court, and therefore there was no legal opposition argued or filed, the judge gave the city permission to move forward with the process of imposing the gang injunction.
The judge scheduled an Oct. 30 hearing to give his ruling on whether he’ll approve the gang injunction restrictions or not. A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office said it would be meeting with Hammond soon to discuss the proposed gang injunction.
After the hearing, residents and community activists gathered in the hallway and outside the courthouse to strategize and plan what their next step will be.
“If they took this process out of court, they would never win on these issues,” said Kim McGill from the Youth Justice Coalition. “The reason they have it in court is because the community has no voice here.”
Sonia Orta has two sons, ages 21 and 22, who have both been put on notice about the proposed injunction because the city deemed them to be representatives of one of the gangs. Orta brought the summons paperwork to court Wednesday looking for answers, she said.
“I live in fear because I don’t want my son to walk around outside, because I don’t know if the police can just pick him up and take him away,” she said in Spanish.
Orta said one of her sons lives at home with her; the other is serving a year-and-a-half jail sentence and will be released soon, but she worries they won’t be able to live in Echo Park with her anymore.
Victoria Arellano, an Echo Park resident who has organized conferences with the six rival gangs since the proposed injunction was announced two months ago, said three of the gangs have come to a truce.
“They called a peace. They said there won’t be any activity and we’re going to keep it that way,” Arellano said.
Supporters of the gang injunctions and L.A. police that patrol the area say at least four of the gangs have been involved in an ongoing feud resulting in people’s homes, garages, garbage cans and city alleys being tagged. Though crime has fallen over the last few years in Echo Park and throughout L.A., city officials say the area is still unsafe.
A map of the proposed area is below, along with the gang injunction request filed with the court:
View Glendale Boulvard Corridor Gang Injunction Project in a larger map