Less than one year ago, Oakland began trying out a new strategy against gang violence, Operation Ceasefire. Law enforcement and politicians alike seem to believe that placing injunctions on gang members will solve the ever-present problem of gang-related crime. The problem is that there is very little evidence to support the claim that these injunctions have actually served to prevent violence of this kind. Recently, however, a state appeals court upheld the 2013 injunction against alleged members of a specific gang, the Norteños. About 40 persons with long criminal records are named in the injunction that effectively prevents them from coming within 2 miles (a ‘safety zone’) of the Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. What remains to be seen is whether keeping these 40 people out of the neighborhood will stem the violence attributed to them.
The state of California already has a Gang Sentencing Enhancement Law (CA Penal Code 186.22), which is part and parcel of the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act ( “STEP” Act). It not only makes being part of a gang a crime in the state, but also carries with it sentencing enhancements. In other words, if prosecutors can prove that you committed a crime and were also a member of a gang, then your sentence could be significantly longer than if you had committed the same crime, but not been a member of a gang.
If you simply belong to a gang, then you could face anywhere from 1 year in county jail to 3 years in state prison, depending on your level of involvement. Additionally, if it can be proven that a felony crime you were a party to was done for the sake of the gang you belong to, then you could face up to 25-years-to-life with current gang enhancement penalties, even if you did not directly commit the crime, but were simply involved. Most Californians, especially those living in Oakland, understand the dangers of gang-related violence. However, law enforcement officials, city officials, politicians, and judges are resting their hopes on a series of laws that may not actually be effective. Sending 40 alleged gang members into a different part of the state doesn’t really seem like a solution to the problem.