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City Urged to End Gang Injunction

Some Oxnard residents want the council to scrap the crackdown on Colonia Chiques, saying it has divided the town. Prosecutors say it works.

August 07, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

With a Ventura County judge set next week to review Oxnard's recently imposed gang injunction, community activists are urging city leaders to scrap the court-ordered crackdown in favor of broader, more effective solutions to youth violence.

A long line of speakers this week called on the Oxnard City Council to renounce the injunction imposed June 1 on the Colonia Chiques, labeled by authorities as the county's largest and most violent street gang. The temporary injunction establishes a 6.6-square-mile "safety zone" in which members of the gang are banned from assembling, flashing gang signs and wearing Dallas Cowboy attire.

Those pleas were followed by a 30-minute presentation by two college instructors calling for an expansion of social programs, job opportunities and recreational activities to attack the root causes of juvenile crime.

"We want to help provide solutions to ending these tragic [gang] killings," said Oxnard native Frank Barajas, a history professor at Cal State Channel Islands. "We have to invest in our children and invest in our community."

The grass-roots push emerged days before Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Bysshe is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether the injunction has been fairly and effectively applied.

Tuesday's hearing is expected to last six hours as prosecutors and attorneys for injunction opponents address a range of issues, including the size of the safety zone and the constitutionality of its restrictions.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold said she would ask for a slight expansion of the safety zone to include two south Oxnard neighborhoods recently marred by gang killings.

Police so far have served 41 Chiques members with papers notifying them of the injunction, and only those people are subject to the court order, Wold said.

Wold said she intended to provide evidence Tuesday that crime has dropped dramatically since the injunction was imposed.

"I think the rules we've requested have substantially assisted in making the community safer, and we're hoping the court won't take any of those away," Wold said.

Torrance attorney John H. Hachmeister, who represents residents concerned they may be swept up in the injunction's dragnet, said he intended to ask Bysshe to dissolve the safety zone or at least shrink its borders.

Hachmeister said several residents would submit declarations outlining concerns about alleged police harassment since the injunction took effect. He said he also planned to seek modifications to the court order, including a time limit for serving suspected gang members.

"This issue has seriously divided the city of Oxnard, and particularly the Colonia neighborhood," Hachmeister said.

Several residents echoed those sentiments at Tuesday's City Council meeting, urging city leaders to hold town hall meetings to discuss the issue and explore alternatives.

"If we're serious about talking about issues of youth-on-youth violence, we need to begin about five steps back before we take these punitive measures," resident Francisco Romero told council members. "The most important tool we have is the community, and that tool was never utilized."

To prove the community is safe, injunction foes played a short video depicting life inside the safety zone. Residents in the area have been described as living in fear of gang members. The video showed youngsters climbing playground equipment, chasing soccer balls and generally running with reckless abandon. "We wanted to see this terror, we wanted to find a face for it," Oxnard resident Nicolas Crisosto said. "Not surprisingly, we had a difficult time finding it."

Residents assured council members that crime victims were not forgotten.

"We all have the same thing in mind," Barajas said. "We all want to stop the killings in Oxnard."

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