Watts: Under the Gun
How the so-called war-on-gangs is stripping the rights of a whole community
Revolutionary Worker #1217, October 26, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org
We received the following from the L.A. branch of the RCP,USA.
Robocops patrol deserted, quiet streets. Young people walking to school are tense--they never know if they might be arrested for whistling, shouting, or talking to each other. Houses and apartments may be raided at any time, and unauthorized people arrested for being there. No one is hanging out. This is not U.S.-occupied Iraq. This is LAPD-occupied Watts. This is the reality Chief Bratton, Mayor Hahn, and the city authorities are bringing down on Nickerson Gardens.
Nickerson Gardens is the largest public housing project in Los Angeles, and the poorest. It is home to thousands of Black and Latino proletarians, one of those areas described in the RCP's Draft Programme where people are:
"...locked down together, living in a `community within a community.' Many are forced to move between dead-end jobs, hustles, and semi-legal activities, often ending up in prison. Many are youth, filled with daring and defiance and a nothing-to-lose spirit. The bourgeoisie fears these proletarians as a powderkeg of social dynamite, and it does everything to keep this section living under the gun and suppressed."
Out of the unbroken spirit of Watts there is growing a movement of people from the bottom who resist "the way things are" and the way their oppressors say things will always be. Who lift their sights to the goal of revolution, and fight to bring into being a different future and a better world. People have come together in many ways--to stand against police brutality, to fight one-strike evictions, to uphold and celebrate the '92 L.A. Rebellion, to fight for new standards based on the principle of "Serve the People."
In the pattern of gang territories that covers Los Angeles, Nickerson Gardens is claimed by the Bounty Hunter Bloods. On October 1 Judge Dzintra Janavs of the Los Angeles Superior Court granted a preliminary injunction against the Bounty Hunters in Watts. This kind of injunction, called a civil gang injunction, is a court order that targets certain people and strips them of their constitutional right to freedom of association and bans other specified activities within a certain area. The preliminary injunction covers the half-mile-square area of Nickerson Gardens and its surrounding streets.
This is a very serious attack on the people. The injunction gives the police a free hand to arrest any two people for just being together . It outlaws normal daily activities like kicking it on the porch, hanging out in the parking lot, or playing cards with friends. It gives the police a green light to search people's homes and apartments and arrest anyone not on the home's lease who doesn't have written permission to be there. It is an attempt to turn the community into a virtual prison, with the police enforcing a legal isolation of the people.
A civil gang injunction makes it much easier for the police to imprison people. A person arrested for violating an injunction may be charged with either civil or criminal contempt of court, at the discretion of the authorities. Civil contempt is punishable by up to five days in jail or other penalties--like stricter terms of the injunction. Criminal contempt is a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in jail.
Gang injunctions bar people from associating with each other and also list specific banned activities, like having a pager or a cell phone. If the cops find someone who is named in an injunction with another banned person, or carrying a pager, that's all they need to take them in. Such an arrest can send someone on parole or probation back to prison for years. And as long as an injunction is in force, people can be picked up again and again for violating it.
Injunctions were widely used against gangs in L.A. in the '90s. One of the most notorious was brought against 60 alleged members of 18th Street in Pico Union, the area policed by Rampart and the Rampart CRASH anti-gang unit. At the hearing where this injunction was granted, the star witness was Rafael Perez. Perez told the story of how Javier Ovando had tried to kill him and his partner, as an example of how gang members are supposedly inhuman monsters who should not be entitled to constitutional rights. Later, a whole Rampart scandal broke out, and it came to light that Perez and his partner had shot and nearly killed a handcuffed, unarmed Ovando in cold blood and then planted a gun on him! After the crimes, cover-ups and frame-ups of the Rampart CRASH unit and other Rampart officers were exposed, the police were put on the defensive. The authorities couldn't justify giving cops even more arbitrary power to send youth to jail on their word alone, and injunctions went out of style as a police tactic.
But since William Bratton became chief of the LAPD in 2002, the "war on gangs" has been back with a vengeance. From the time he took office Bratton has linked the "war on gangs" to the "war on terrorism," describing gang members as "homeland terrorists" who are "a threat to national security."
In relation to the "war on terrorism" and the accompanying agenda of domestic repression, the Chairman of the RCP, Bob Avakian, has pointed out how since 9/11, the imperialists have seized on September 11 to push this full throttle, to clamp down on any forces or sections of society they think might already be in opposition and to prepare the basis to clamp down much more forcefully and broadly on society as a whole and to create a whole repressive and intimidating atmosphere where even to raise questions or dissent has been called traitorous or "giving aid and comfort" to the terrorists.
Looking ahead, the imperialists see the potential for unrest and resistance from the people on the bottom of society. L.A. is not only a key financial, political, and cultural cornerstone of the U.S. empire but it's also home to millions of proletarians who have no interest in that empire. The rulers of the U.S. remember the fires of their second-largest city burning and the inspiration and hope that the L.A. Rebellion brought to people all over this country and all over the world. They don't want anything like this to happen again.
Bratton was chosen and brought to L.A. to develop and implement methods of repression that the people in power hope will be more effective than the methods the LAPD is famous for. In the 1980s, the LAPD brutalized and antagonized the entire population of South Central. Bratton has vowed to "take back the streets," but he says he doesn't want to go into South L.A. like an "occupying army." Instead, Bratton wants to carry out "surgical strikes" against gangs and "win over the community" to support this in the name of stopping crime and stopping the killing.
Bratton is targeting with the "war on gangs" the kind of youth who were the driving force in the L.A. Rebellion. His campaign to "take back the streets" is a pre-emptive strike to gain control of L.A.'s poverty-stricken proletarian communities before the "powderkeg of social dynamite" can explode again. This is like waging counter-insurgency without the insurgency, bringing the clampdown before the rebellion.
The injunction against the Bounty Hunters in Nickerson Gardens is part of this overall plan. It's a leap in bringing down the hammer of repression. It's much more severe than previous injunctions, because it's aimed at the whole community. As D.A. Steve Cooley explains, "In prior lawsuits, the court has been asked to enjoin named members of a gang from various activities. In this lawsuit, although 16 gang members are named as targets, the gang itself was sued..." The 1997 injunction against 18th Street in Pico Union named 60 alleged gang members as defendants. This injunction is brought against "Bounty Hunters.... Does 1 through 200, inclusive." It's up to the cops to identify people as members of the Bounty Hunters--they have a free hand to name anyone as one of the "200 John Does."
There's more. In addition to the "200 John Does" the injunction also targets " all persons acting under, in concert with, for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with them or any of them." This potentially includes mothers, friends, family members...even anyone who comes to someone's door, or hands them a leaflet, could be acting "in association with" an alleged gang member. Clearly the "200 John Does," plus anyone acting "in concert with or for the benefit of any of them," can grow to thousands, potentially including anyone and everyone in the area.
Under the heading of "Do Not Associate" the injunction bans any of the 200 John Does and anyone acting "in concert with...them" from " standing, sitting, walking, driving, gathering or appearing anywhere in public view, in a public place or in any place accessible to the public, with any other known BH gang member. " Again, this allows the cops to arrest anyone they say is a gang member or "acting in concert with" a gang member, for being with anyone else who they say is a gang member or "acting in concert with" a gang member. In other words, any two people can be arrested. The only places people are allowed to be publicly together are in school and church.
Besides "associating," the proposed injunction also bars possessing or being around guns or drugs, intimidating or threatening people, acting as a lookout, obstructing traffic, blocking parking, drinking in public, having a magic marker or a paint can, loitering, gambling, and trespassing.
In reality, many people have extended family members who are not on the lease living with them. That's what the injunction calls "trespassing." Many people in the projects are unemployed and "loiter" in their own neighborhood because they have nothing else to do. Playing cards or dominoes with friends is "gambling." The proposed injunction criminalizes normal things that people do every day. Everything could be illegal: youth kicking it on the front porch, mothers talking to their sons, childhood friends barbecuing or drinking a beer together, just walking to the store. Just living in the projects violates the injunction!
Under the one-strike law, families can be evicted if a family member or a visitor is arrested or accused of a crime. At least one family has already been evicted because their son was arrested and ac- cused of being a gang member. Many more families could face one-strike evictions under the injunction.
Stripping a whole community of the legal right to associate, giving the police arbitrary power to decide who may and may not talk together, is unprecedented. It takes you back to slave quarters in the South...or into a future of Watts Supermax.
Everybody's Talking About Crime, Crime, Crime....Tell me, who are the criminals??? --Peter Tosh
In papers filed with the court, the City Attorney's office says that the injunction will create a "Safety Zone." They argue that Nickerson Gardens is an "economically depressed area," where people "suffer fear, futility and despair because they can't break the Bounty Hunters stranglehold on their neighborhood." The authorities say they are coming in to free people from this stranglehold. And they offer a deal--cooperation for safety. The commander of South Bureau described Bratton's overall approach a little more honestly: "The same old stuff with a different twist," he said.
Let's look at how they're turning reality upside-down.
Where does crime come from? Why does California build more prisons than schools?
A recent report by the U.S. Justice Department says that one third of Black men born after 2001 will end up in prison. These are people who haven't committed any crimes, but the system is already saying they will end up in prison. Why? According to this report Black men had 32.2 percent chance of going to prison in 2001 compared to 5.9 percent of whites. Why?
For 30 years jobs have been taken out of communities like Watts. The jobs that were available years ago for unskilled youth in the inner cities have been moved or eliminated. When the class of people who run things look at their economy and see where they have to go with it, they make the cold-blooded calculation that they have no real employable use for inner-city youth. One economist put it this way: "crime is a rational choice" for many of the youth. In other words, he says it makes "common sense" for this section of people to "choose" crime to support themselves and try to get ahead because the system has no other use for them.
The capitalist system brings people together--and pits them against each other. It pits Black against Black, and Black people against Latinos. Nickerson Gardens, like other communities, brings together immigrants from Mexico, forced to leave their homes to survive, and Black proletarians. The immigrants work in the garment sweatshops and small factories of L.A. The Black proletarians have a higher unemployment rate. Many of them work as teacher's aides, security guards, or other jobs right at the poverty line--if they can find work at all. Employed or unemployed, their household income is about the same. All of them, Blacks and Latinos, live on the edge. At the end of the month families have to choose between diapers or milk, food or rent, light bill or phone bill. How they ended up side by side in the projects in Watts, Black and Latino, is hidden from them. What they have in common is kept hidden from them.
The youth growing up in these families are the ones the system has no use for. They go to schools with no books. They don't get trained in computers, or the high-tech skills of today's economy, or even learn to read and write! They learn to get searched. For many of them there are no jobs even if they graduate.
As a flyer from young revolutionaries in Nickerson Gardens put it:
"In a million ways this system tells people to do whatever you have to do to get ahead. Hell, everybody around the world knows the motto of the USA is `look out for number one.' They just showed their dog-eat-dog nature in Iraq--bombing and murdering innocent people so the U.S. can try to control the region through the oil flow. More money, more power, smash anything in the way. And that's what they have taught the youth who have no choices and no future: struggle your whole life just to end up with nothing or try to be a big dog, overpower the little dogs, take advantage of people who might seem weaker, get what you can and look out for yourself. So who's really to blame? And who's really the criminal? The kid who sees no future and gets caught up in robbing people and selling drugs? Or the system that gives these kids no other choice??"
When our people rob each other or our young people shoot each other it hurts us and makes us angry. People say there's too much jacking and killing going on. There is. The authorities have one answer and one solution: prison. They blame the youth. But the capitalist system, not the youth, is the fundamental cause of the crimes people commit against each other. The youth didn't take the jobs out of the communities or cut every social service people need to live. They didn't create the drug business that the police, international capitalists, and the CIA have been involved in for years. The youth were born into this world, they didn't make it. The capitalist system causes crime. To end crime the proletariat has to overthrow this system and organize society in a new way to meet the needs of the people.
As part of getting ready for that TIME it's possible and necessary to bring something much better and higher into being. New revolutionary relations amongst the people. We can unite instead of being pitted against each other. Help each other and share, instead of jacking or being jacked. We can find collective ways to solve our problems, and built relationships based on `Serve the People,' instead of the dog-eat-dog outlook of this system. We can strengthen our ability to look out for each other at the end of the month when people run out of diapers, milk and food. We can build our strength and unity by fighting for our common interests. This is a dream worth working and fighting for!
Our Oppressors Are Not Our Protectors
The pain people feel at seeing the youth kill each other runs deep. But the cops, the District and City Attorney and the city council have no right to speak on this. They cannot bring a solution to it.
These are the authorities who refused to prosecute more than 70 cops at Rampart implicated in cold- blooded murders, assaults, robberies, framing people and lying. Who allowed cops to call the INS on immigrants who stood up to them. These are the authorities who decided that the murder of a tiny homeless woman, Margaret Mitchell, for holding a screwdriver was justifiable homicide.
These are the cops who put guns to kids' heads at Markham Middle School next to the projects. These are the cops who shot Chubb Dotson through the head and then left his body in the street in Nickerson Gardens for hours while they stood around drinking coffee and laughing.
These are the cops who attacked celebrations of the gang truce in 1992, who routinely drop kids off in rival neighborhoods, and for years have made use of gangs to control the youth.
If Bratton can lure people into going along with the injunction and becoming partners with the police, how will the people stand up for their own interests against the system? The injunction will be used first to go after some of the alleged gang members the cops have targeted. Then it will be used against the revolutionaries. Then they will be free to go after everyone else.
Revolution Is the Hope of the Hopeless
What is the way out of this madness?
Flyers and posters have appeared in Watts, calling on people to fight the injunction. As one activist put it, "We need to take matters into our own hands to resist this injunction! We need our youth out there, taking a bold stand for the people, defying the clampdown. We need to build unity between Blacks and Latinos, and bring the experience of both into the fight. We need to take the sleep out of our eyes and not allow ourselves to be tricked and played by Bratton, the LAPD, and the politicians talking about a `Safety Zone.'
"We need to stop doing the work of the system by jacking and killing each other.
"Everyone who hates the dog-eat-dog trap that the system puts us in--and wants a different future for the youth and the people--has to step out to build the resistance and the revolutionary movement. We have a better world to fight for."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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