I can think of 5,272 reasons to support Santa Barbara's civil gang injunction: That’s the number of children from fourth through eighth grades in our local public schools, children who are the most susceptible to forcible gang recruitment.
The injunction will curtail the actions of the worst gang members, which in turn will limit their ability to bully our school children to join them.
It will also make the city safer for everyone, especially those who live in neighborhoods where gangs loiter. People there live in fear of being targeted by these thugs whose actions include threats, intimidation, drug use and sales, and even murder.
Sixteen people have been killed since the early 1990s in gang-related killings. Some weren’t even gang members but innocent bystanders.
George Ied was a 37-year-old Syrian immigrant who came to America to escape the violence of his home country. He was beaten to death by four gang members as he walked home late at night from his job at Mi Fiesta Liquor Store on Milpas Street on Oct. 13, 2010.
In 2007, in plain view of tourists making their way by Saks Fifth Avenue downtown, a 15-year-old was knifed to death by a 14-year-old gang member.
A gang fight near Stearns Wharf on the Fourth of July in 2008 left one member dead.
And now almost weekly there are examples of yet another gang crime. Ignoring criminal gangs begs disaster.
Approval and enforcement of the civil injunction will send a clear message to the bad guys who think violence and crime are necessary and “cool.” It will go a long way to breaking a tradition among those who pass their criminal practices on from one generation to the next, complete with gang signs and “colors” (clothing), facial and body markings, and more.
It will free scores, hundreds, even thousands of young people now and in the future who, if they adopt that “gangsta” style, will be trapped for the rest of their lives in a narrow, dead-end fate including crime, drugs, jail, prison and failure.
People opposing the civil injunction claim it will cost too much. (In fact, the city hasn’t budgeted one extra dollar to this effort. Time and effort spent are part of the daily tasks of police and the city attorney.) What price do such people put on a single life, much less the many whose lives can be saved by this? How crass, how narrow-minded and short-sighted to hang the future of our young people on the red herring of money.
As for the claim that property values may be affected, nowhere in the state have home values declined because injunctions have been created.
As an official elected by people from across the city, my charge is to provide the best protection and service for everyone. I cannot abandon one part of our city to crime and violence because it costs too much. If we set that precedent, would we decide that when fires come to the foothills, to save our neighborhoods there, it costs too much? Of course not.
That’s why I — along with a City Council super-majority comprised of Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmen Bendy White, Randy Rowse and Dale Francisco — support the civil gang injunction to curb criminal gangs throughout our city.
— Frank Hotchkiss is a Santa Barbara city councilman.