The battle over a gang crackdown in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood is being fought on two fronts – in court and at City Hall.
That was clear Tuesday night as more than 250 people packed Oakland’s council chambers. For hours, several dozen people spoke emotionally about their support or opposition to City Attorney John Russo’s proposed civil gang injunction, which would restrict the movements of 40 alleged Norteños in a 2-square-mile “safety zone.”
They spoke as attorneys on both sides prepared for the case to return to court today, when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman could make a ruling.
Tuesday’s meeting was in front of the City Council’s four-member Public Safety Committee and was informational only. But as people called the injunction either a boon to safety or an attack on civil rights, the stakes were clear.
Both sides know the full council, if it takes on the issue, has the authority to jettison the Fruitvale action – as well as a second injunction a judge approved last year in the northern part of the city.
Hoping to pressure the council, injunction opponents – including some of the accused men – said it was a waste of money that would be better spent helping at-risk kids.
“The answer is getting to kids before they make the same mistakes I made,” said David Hernandez, 21, a college student who is named in the injunction but says he is not a Norteño.
On the other side was Christine Ralls, 59, who held up a photo of a 14-year-old boy, Ricardo Cortes Jr., who was shot dead near her Fruitvale home in 2009. Police said gang members mistook him for a rival.
“Something is terribly wrong with this picture,” Ralls said. “We say, ‘Basta.’ Enough.”
The injunction would bar Hernandez and the others from associating with alleged gang members in an area that is roughly bordered by 21st Avenue to the west, Brookdale Avenue to the north, High Street to the east and the Oakland Estuary to the south. They would also face a 10 p.m. curfew, among other restrictions.
The committee meeting was called so that the council members could receive a written report on the injunctions from Russo and Police Chief Anthony Batts. It said the existing injunction, targeting 15 men in the northern part of the city, had shown positive results.
Drug-related arrests, they said, were down nearly 70 percent in the safety zone in the first six months under the injunction when compared to the same time a year earlier. Just one of the men has been arrested in the zone, the officials said.
However, opponents pointed out that some violent crimes had slightly increased in the safety zone. They criticized the city for spending more than $750,000 to implement the gang injunctions, a figure that includes salaries of city attorneys and cops as well as fees paid to an outside law firm.