Oakland youth rally for rights

March 9, 2011

OAKLAND, Calif.--A multiracial crowd of about 500 people, most of them high school students, rallied in front of Oakland City Hall on March 4 against a proposed gang injunction that could go into effect in the city's Fruitvale district.

The police and other proponents of such injunctions maintain they would keep the streets safe from gang violence, but the reality is they give cops a blank check for criminalizing youth in the "safety zones."

One temporary injunction currently in place in North Oakland has been completely ineffective in reducing crime in that area. Proponents now want to create a new injunction in a 200-block area, naming 40 individuals allegedly part of the Norteño gang.

The people named on the injunction would be subject to a curfew and could be picked up by police for such things as appearing in public with someone the cops could label as a gang member, loitering or wearing colors associated with the gang in the injunction area.

The injunctions are considered a civil violation, and as such, detainees would not be entitled to legal defense. Once listed, it is also on a person's public records and may be visible on a background check, making it difficult for individuals to obtain employment.

Those not listed could be harassed for associating with people who are listed, or for fitting the description of a person listed. Essentially, this allows the police to detain any African American or Latino youth simply for wearing what the cops suspect as "gang colors."

Oakland youth have been making sure their voices will be heard. The rally on Friday topped off a week of action that featured daily activities to protest the injunctions. The highlight of Friday's action was a walkout by students of area high schools.

After walking out of classes, they converged first in the Fruitvale neighborhood and marched, without a permit, to downtown. Many more students would have joined the rally if the Oakland Police Department hadn't locked the gates of Fremont High School, which is located in the neighborhood. When students then tried to exit the school through non-official exits, they were threatened with pepper-spray, and had to resign themselves to joining the rally after classes ended. It is exactly this kind of behavior by the police that the youth were protesting.

The City Hall rally was lively. On stage were empty chairs labeled with the names of Mayor Jean Quan and the city council members, all of whom had been invited to the rally, but declined to show. Picket signs demanded an end to racial profiling and justice for those murdered by police in Oakland, including Oscar Grant.

One prominent banner was held by members of the Oakland Education Association, declaring "No Police Violence." The teachers' union has been a valuable ally in the fight against gang injunctions.

Among the speakers was activist Angela Davis, who summed up the message of the day when she said, "Gang violence is linked to the failure of schools and violence of the police." She went on to praise the movement for the links that it has made with other movements, including those for immigrants and LGBT rights.

Local hip-hop artist, Boots Riley, also took the stage for a moving performance. Perhaps the most inspiring speeches were by youth activists speaking on their own behalf. Students put forth their solutions for the end of gang violence, which include after-school programs and job training for the unemployed.

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