United States

Connecting the Dots: Developers and Gang Injunctions

By Alicia Schwartz

At a court hearing, a young family man spoke for many others who are similarly situated—he’s listed on a gang injunction and badly wants and needs to get off the list. He’s working and breaking no laws, yet it’s hard for him even to go home for fear the SFPD will accuse him of “associating with known gang members.” Shortly after the first gang injunction, against Oakdale, was issued, two of the young men listed had just been hired at a jobsite in the neighborhood. As they were about to start work, police arrested them for being in the same place at the same time, even though the injunction exempts those who are working or applying for work. From their jail cells, they were unable to feed their families.

—Alicia Schwartz

On Thanksgiving Day, while many families were enjoying each other’s company, one family was being terrorized at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department. Longtime Hunters Point resident and People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) member Joanne Abernathy, who had been taking a shower, was held, naked, by one male SFPD officer while her nephew—who is named on the Oakdale gang injunction list—was being beaten and arrested downstairs.

Joanne’s children—the youngest is only 7 years old—watched the entire scenario take place. When one of them ventured to ask what was happening, she was told, “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” To add insult to injury, when the whole horrifying incident was over, the officers wished the family, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

These incidents are all too common in working class communities of color throughout San Francisco, as well as across the country. A new report from the University of Chicago entitled “The Use of Statistical Evidence to Address Police Supervisory and Disciplinary Practices: The Chicago Police Department’s Broken System” details how rogue police officers are often placed in and assigned to low-income communities of color, and that these police officers engage in aggressive stops, street interrogations and searches of homes at any given time. The report also states that rogue officers connected with other like-minded officers and got away with their abusive behavior because of perceived lawlessness in San Francisco.

Even the typically conservative San Francisco Chronicle published an investigative series entitled “Use of Force,” which documented startling statistics related to police brutality and abuse right here in San Francisco. So, if this information is so well documented, then why does it continue to happen? Why are the SFPD allowed to run wild in Bayview Hunters Point and other communities of color in San Francisco?

The answer is that the police are often used to protect the property and material interests of corporations and elites in any locality—at the expense of working class communities of color. This is why we hear the common complaint that “the police never come when you call them, but they’re there in a heartbeat when you wish they weren’t.”

Police in Bayview Hunters Point can often be seen cruising the neighborhood, stopping people at random, usually young men, mugging kids hanging out on the corner or raiding homes in the projects. What you see less and less of are police helping old ladies across the street with their groceries or playing basketball with young people or even handing out those stickers they used to hand out that identified them as your “pal.”

Slapping gang injunctions on the two neighborhoods where most Blacks live and the main Latino neighborhood is bringing a surge in Black-Brown unity to San Francisco.

When the City Attorney issued the gang injunction covering the Oakdale development, which lies adjacent to Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard, where the City’s “master developer,” Lennar Corp., has been poisoning the neighborhood with toxic dust, local mainstream media justified the injunction by saying that people in the community were asking for—in fact, begging for—extra police protection. What the City Attorney didn’t tell you was that the gang injunction was enacted in order to clear the way for this multi-billion dollar corporate developer to take over the most “underutilized parcel of land in San Francisco”—the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

What that means is that the City of San Francisco is willing to do absolutely whatever it takes to begin to “utilize” that land. It doesn’t matter if there are people living in that neighborhood; it doesn’t matter if people have nowhere else to go or simply don’t want to go. The reality is that the City is looking to locate one out of every four new residents coming into San Francisco in Bayview Hunters Point—and the mostly poor Black people who live there now are supposed to get out of the way.

The three gang injunctions that are criminalizing young people in Bayview Hunters Point, the Mission and the Fillmore—despite strong opposition in those communities—are yet another example of developer-driven policy in San Francisco. They protect corporate interests, not community and family interests.

In exchange for 1,600 luxury condominiums that Lennar wants to build at the Shipyard and the severe nosebleeds, skin rashes, asthma attacks and eventual cancer and asbestosis deaths its toxic dust is causing, San Francisco has sent a clear message to communities of color that the City will do whatever it takes—including hog-tying and beating a 20-year-old young Black man, calling an 18-year-old young Black woman a bitch, holding the lifelong resident, community activist and mother naked in front of her three children, other family members, and a male officer she did not know on Thanksgiving Day.

The SFPD and the Gang Task Force have been allowed to run wild in Bayview Hunters Point for far too long. Until now.

At last Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, more than 60 young people from Bayview Hunters Point and the Mission, backed by their elders, ACORN, the African American Community Police Relations Board, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Idriss Stelley Foundation and many others took a stand and demanded justice and accountability from SFPD and the Police Commission.

On Monday, more than 80 people from HOMEY (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth), La Raza Centro Legal, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), SLAM (the Stop Lennar Action Movement) and Bayview Hunters Point packed the City Hall hearing room to testify before the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee as the City Attorney’s office and the Gang Task Force attempted to defend the brutalization of mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, fathers, uncles and brothers from communities of color in San Francisco.

The widely despised gang injunctions need to be stopped and so does the SFPD when it runs wild in Bayview Hunters Point and other communities to protect developers rather than families. Community-based organizations and the people of San Francisco are connecting the dots.

SanFranciscoBayView, Wednesday , 12 December 2007