General Crime

* Injunction Issued Against The Down Below and Towerside Gangs in San Francisco

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A San Francisco judge today granted a preliminary injunction against two gangs in the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood.City Attorney Dennis Herrera had sought the injunction, claiming the Down Below and Towerside gangs were terrorizing the area, which includes three public housing developments. “We think this is another step forward in doing what we can to minimize the threat of gang violence in our neighborhoods,” Herrera said after Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard’s decision. The two gangs are believed to be responsible for at least 10 murders in the past three years, according to Herrera. The civil injunctions prohibit “public nuisance” behavior such as intimidation, drug dealing, graffiti vandalism, openly carrying a gun, loitering, trespassing and other gang-related activities. The Visitacion Valley injunction applies to a 0.18-square-mile “safety zone.” Violations are a misdemeanor and could result in up to six months in jail. Forty-one men are named as gang members in the Visitacion Valley injunction. Four of the men — three alleged Down Below gang members, and one alleged Towerside member — were previously charged in connection with three separate murders, but all were later acquitted.The gang injunction received no formal opposition today in court, and Woolard approved it without argument. Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey said his office could move to seek a permanent injunction against the gangs at a later date. Nyese Joshua, a candidate for supervisor in District 10, which includes Visitacion Valley, attended the hearing and said afterward she was opposed to gang injunctions. Joshua argued there is a correlation between these types of legal actions and the relocation of San Francisco’s poor black population out of the city. “The problems are entrenched in political moves that do not have the heart of the people,” she said. Joshua said the focus needed to be on removing guns and drugs, not people, from the community. Herrera has previously secured injunctions against seven other
gangs in the city’s Bayview and Mission districts and the Western Addition. Herrera cited statistics today showing a decrease in arrests and contacts by police of known gang members subject to the injunctions as evidence of a decrease in gang activity. He said gang-related crime and nuisance activity has not only decreased in the safety zones, but it has not
migrated to other neighborhoods in San Francisco. “We have both statistical and anecdotal evidence” that affected
neighborhoods are getting safer, he said. According to Herrera, the majority of those named in the injunctions do not live in the neighborhoods in which they conduct gang business, or even in the city. Herrera called gang injunctions “a tool and not a panacea.” He said additional efforts were needed from police, prosecutors and others. Public Defender Jeff Adachi questioned the usefulness of the injunctions. “I’ve yet to see an objective evaluation of whether gang injunctions have been effective in reducing gang-related conduct,” Adachi said.The public defender’s office has opposed gang injunctions in the
past, but Adachi said his office did not receive a formal request this time. In civil suits, defendants are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, so the public defender’s office provided representation to individuals named in the injunctions free of charge. “And that’s one of the problems with these cases,” Adachi said. “They’re very expensive to defend. Most people can’t afford to contest the gang injunction.” Whether or not the gang injunctions work, Adachi said they are not
addressing the core issues youth face in poor neighborhoods. “The bigger question that I have is, are you able to change the
behavior of people that are in gangs?” he said. “Are you able to get them off  the streets and into jobs? That to me would be a mark of success.”

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