LOS ANGELES — A federal court today made a landmark ruling that halts the City of Los Angeles’s enforcement of gang injunctions, an arbitrary police practice that has subjected thousands of Los Angeles residents — mostly men of color — to probation-like conditions for years without hearings and solely based on the city’s assertion that they were gang members.
The court issued a preliminary holding that the city likely violated the Constitution by enforcing the injunctions without first giving accused individuals the chance to defend themselves.
"This ruling sends the city a clear message: it cannot take away the basic liberties of Angelenos on a whim," said Melanie Ochoa, ACLU SoCal staff attorney. "The city's use of gang injunctions has violated due process for nearly two decades, with no record of making communities safer. That ends today."
The preliminary injunction lifts highly restrictive sanctions from nearly 1,500 L.A. residents who were put on the gang injunction list by the Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. City Attorney's Office without due process. The injunctions strictly limited otherwise lawful conduct, including carrying a cell phone or pen and associating with friends and family members the LAPD contended were gang members.
In her order, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips cited case law in ruling, "the court finds that Los Angeles gang injunctions 'impose significant restrictions on plaintiffs’ liberty’ and implicate interests that are 'truly weighty.'"
A class action suit against the practice was filed in 2016 by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Urban Peace Institute and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP on behalf of all individuals unconstitutionally subjected to these injunctions and the Youth Justice Coalition, which has been advocating for residents unjustly accused of gang activity. The ruling strongly indicates that the court would find the practice unconstitutional if the lawsuit goes to trial.
In September of last year, the court suspended enforcement of the gang injunction against one of the plaintiffs, Peter Arellano, an Echo Park resident who said he had never been belonged to a gang and yet was restricted from even standing in his own front yard with family members. The court action today extends that ruling to all those represented in the class action.
The number of class members currently subject to the injunction dwindled from nearly 9,000 to 1,500 during the course of this lawsuit, because the city removed nearly 7,500 individuals from its enforcement list, admitting that it had no evidence that these individuals were active gang members.
"This decision is historic in confirming what communities of color have said for decades. Gang injunctions are prisons without walls. They are overly harsh, serve to cut people off from the opportunities and supports they need to succeed, serve as tools of gentrification and displacement, and criminalize thousands of people for non-criminal acts further enforcing racial and economic discrimination in the implementation of public safety," said Kim McGill with Youth Justice Coalition.
Read the court order here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_yjc_v_la_20180315_order_granting_mtn_expand_pi.pdf