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Activists Sue California Attorney General To Block Use Of Gang Database

Activist Tasha Williamson speaks at a press conference announcing a lawsuit o...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Activist Tasha Williamson speaks at a press conference announcing a lawsuit over the California gang database, Sept. 24, 2020.

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San Diego activists argue the database, known as CalGang, includes many people who are not actually gang members and unfairly targets people of color who live in lower-income communities.

Aired: September 25, 2020 | Transcript

San Diego activists are suing Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanding he shut down the state's gang database until improvements are made.

They argue the database, known as CalGang, includes many people who are not actually gang members and unfairly targets people of color who live in lower-income communities.

"If this database had been shut down in 2016, then I wouldn't have a child right now documented into a database at 16 years old with no criminal record," said Jamie Wilson, an organizer with the local criminal justice reform nonprofit Pillars of the Community. "He was documented for wearing a color and being in a certain area, which is the area where we live."

RELATED: San Diego Activists Join Call To Stop Adding People To State’s Gang Database

CalGang was started in 1998 as a way to track suspected gang members across the state. When someone is entered into the database, it impacts his or her interactions with the justice system. Police can use the gang label to justify stopping and questioning someone in the database. And if the individual is arrested, prosecutors might increase charges against them.

Until 2017, a person could be in CalGang without knowing it. A law enacted that year required police to notify people they include in the database and allowed them to appeal that designation in court. But so far, few people have been able to get their names removed.

RELATED: Report: Few People Gain Removal From CalGang Database

A 2016 audit also found the database had serious errors. One particularly egregious example was that it included 42 children under the age of one.

The lawsuit asks the state to stop using the database until it is properly regulated. It was filed in California Superior Court by the Orange County community organization Chicanxs Unidxs, local community activist Francisco Romero and Pillars of the Community.

"The myth of the rule of law has fallen apart," said Khalid Alexander, the founder of Pillars of the Community. "America is coming to a reckoning and whether we are ready for this reckoning or not, we have to be sure we're a voice for justice."

Their attorney Sean Garcia-Leys said the lawsuit asks the courts to order an injunction stopping law enforcement agencies from accessing the database until it is better regulated, which includes regular audits. He said Becerra has not yet created a system for conducting audits.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General's office said they couldn’t comment because they haven't seen the lawsuit, so they couldn't comment.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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