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Panelists, Public Challenge Santa Barbara’s Proposed Gang Injunction

Police Department and school district policies come under fire at community forum

Before Angel Linares was stabbed to death on State Street by gang members in 2007, community activist Babatunde Foleyemi said he had people from both sides of town coming to him, warning of the violence to come.

“They said, ‘It’s getting ready to blow up. You’ve got to do something,’” he told the crowd gathered Thursday night at Franklin School on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside. “I went to the police. They did nothing.”

A scathing indictment of the Police Department, as well as failing education policies, were part of the impassioned, sometimes raw, meeting.

The three panelists, including Foleyemi, a longtime advocate for youth, spoke in front of about 150 people. The forum, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Coalition for Social Justice and PUEBLO, touched on the city’s proposed gang injunction as well as education policies that affect young people in Santa Barbara.

In March, Police Chief Cam Sanchez announced his support for a gang injunction that would restrict the activities of 30 people, allegedly Eastside and Westside gang members. If approved by a judge, those individuals would be prohibited from being on school grounds and in parks, acting as lookouts, using gang signs, speaking with minors going to and from school, and wearing gang-related clothing in public.

That move garnered outcry from many in the Latino community. On Thursday night, Foleyemi was especially critical, calling the injunction “a modern-day apartheid.”

He recalled some of the successful peace talks he has brokered with local gangs, as well as with gangs in larger cities, such as in South-Central Los Angeles. But injunctions only spread the problem, he said, slamming Sanchez’s decision to initiate the injunction.

According to Foleyemi, many children who are arrested in Santa Barbara are not even aware of their Miranda rights, and he said he spends much of his time in court with them.

“If I seem emotional it’s because I’m tired of seeing children’s lives ruined,” he said.

That point was illustrated in a video produced by Youth CineMedia, played for the audience before the speakers began. It showed a troubling segment about a young Latino man who said he was beaten by Santa Barbara police officers after being stopped in the middle of the day.

“Open your eyes and see what is happening with your police department,” his voiceover said, as pictures of his bruised face and body were shown. “Because they don’t treat everyone equally.”

City officials were noticeably absent from Thursday’s meeting. Although several City Council candidates in the Nov. 8 election were present, Councilman Grant House was the only current representative of the city in attendance.

Perhaps the most moving part of the night was hearing from the public, many of whom have been personally implicated by the injunction.

Ivan Romero, who is listed on the gang injunction, said he’s studying underwater welding at SBCC, and if the injunction goes through, it would inhibit his studies.

“This is affecting us in a lot of ways,” he said.

Another speaker, Angel Sanchez, said he feels the injunction is creating rifts in the youth community.

“It’s causing a lot of stress among kids,” he said, adding that his younger brother is often hassled by police officers asking where he’s from and what he’s doing. “Do you really have to ask those questions if he’s walking to school?”

Schools and their shortcomings were another topic of debate.

Panelist Tomas Carrasco, a Ph.D. candidate in Chicano studies at UCSB, said the Santa Barbara Unified School District desperately needs teachers and administrators who are culturally sensitive. He also took issue with the gang injunction, saying the concept was created for communities with 1 million or more residents.

“Santa Barbara has no business even proposing a gang injunction,” he said.

Gang policy is often made in moments of perceived crisis, Carrasco said, and giving young people jobs and opportunities for counseling would help solve the problem long term.

Dave Cash, who was appointed SBUSD superintendent in July, was candid about the district’s struggles. He said the discipline model in place doesn’t work for many students, and that frequent suspensions indicate there’s a clear need for training of both teachers and administrators. The district is looking closely at its student disciplinary policies and considering moving toward a restorative justice approach.

“We’re not doing enough, and if we were we wouldn’t be sitting here,” Cash said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to restore trust.”

One parent, who said she had children in the district, said administrators are too quick to call police and probation when incidents happen on campus.

“We need more help with our kids in the schools,” she told Cash during public comment period.

“You’re absolutely right,” Cash acknowledged, adding that if he doesn’t have teachers who roll out of bed every day ready to help kids, “they need to go right back to bed. It’s too important a job.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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