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San Diego County's Gang Injunctions Are Gone, But Neighborhood Scars Remain

 May 12, 2021 at 10:20 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Late last month, San Diego da summer Stephan announced that her office was dissolving the last remaining gang injunctions in San Diego County. Those were restraining orders issued by a court that limited the movement of alleged gang members, race and equity reporter. Christina Kim tells us what happens now that the injunctions are gone. Travis Smith. Hasn't been to his grandmother's house on J street in Southeast San Diego in over a decade. As we walked towards the newly painted blue house, he stops Speaker 2: 00:32 When I first walked up, it was just like, boom. You know, I got hit with so many memories. This is my daddy's house when he was a kid, you know what I mean? So definitely, you know, through the generations, you know, it's his home. It's always going to be home, Speaker 1: 00:45 But for 13 years, the now 37 year old Smith couldn't go home. His name was put on a gang injunction, a court order that determined where he could and couldn't be his grandmother's house was right in the middle of a restricted area. In 2006, when his name was added to the gang, injunction Smith was a member of the West coast, Crips years before Smith had been convicted of gun possession, as well as drug possession and sales. But he says the crimes weren't gang related and he'd already finished his probation. Smith's still remembers what went through his head. When two gang officers knocked on his mother's door and told him that he was on a gang injunction, Speaker 2: 01:21 How is this going to work? How am I not going to go to this store that I've been going to for 20 something years? How am I not going to go to this park that I've been hanging out at? You know how Speaker 1: 01:34 The main idea behind gang injunctions is if you make it extremely difficult for gay members to congregate or live in a community, they'll eventually go away and the community will be better off Smith's as he understands the need to end gang violence. And he doesn't make excuses about his choices, but he is among many who say the injunctions have harmed far more people than they've helped people like his grandmother who passed away in 2010, Speaker 2: 01:59 They did a number. I mean, not being able to see your grandsons. You used to seeing your grandsons out front barbecuing, and then next thing you know, you don't see him and you're older. I mean, that's the American dream, right? To get you a house and have your grandsons and your kids dwelling around. Right? Well, they took that from us. Speaker 1: 02:21 Many law enforcement leaders have come around to Smith's way of thinking. In recent years, San Diego County, da summer Stephan began removing names from gang injunction list two years ago. And in April, she announced that her office was ending all of the county's remaining gang injunctions. The change in Stephen's approach, however has been slow in 2019. She was against a recommendation by the city's gang commission to immediately end all injunctions. I mean, not act as quickly as somebody might like me to act because I have a duty to take thoughtful, considered action, to make sure that I don't have collateral damage. She says the process of methodically reviewing cases for the past few years has changed her mind. Even though she's still not convinced the injunctions didn't reduce gang violence during their peak use. Well, what I've learned is that you always have to be open-minded to change. And that things that worked in law enforcement years ago may be cast too wide of a net for Smith. The scars from being caught up in that net run deep and they won't just go away because there's been a shift in policy during the visit to his old neighborhood. He heads to Mullins, market and liquor store on the busy corner of Imperial and 30th. As he looks at the building where his former church used to be two police cars drive by and one parks across the street. Speaker 2: 03:41 This is the w the worst part. I'm not on an injunction. I'm not a part of a gang. And just standing right here. I still feel like, you know what I'm saying? Even seeing this police officer, you know, that, that's what I, when I was talking about that trauma from being jacked up by the gang suppression, and this is it right here, I thought he was coming from me. Speaker 1: 04:10 UNESCO. Donna says she hears experiences like what happened to Smith all the time? She's the therapist at RiseUP industries, a nonprofit that works exclusively with former gang members who have been incarcerated. Speaker 3: 04:21 You've been conditioned when you have so many of these negative interactions, right? That are oftentimes violent, frightening. Um, you feel helpless in them. Speaker 1: 04:31 Cardona says it's important to address former gang members, mental health, and re-entry into society Speaker 3: 04:36 Because it's not an individual problem. It's a community problem. And it has a ripple effect and impacts all of us. Speaker 1: 04:42 Travis Smith wants to see programs like rise up industries in his old neighborhood. He can't help, but wonder what might've happened. If he'd been given therapy, instead of being placed on the injunction. Now, a minister who's been sober for 14 years and the father of four girls. He says institutions that upheld gang injunctions, how a part to play in rebuilding communities. Speaker 2: 05:04 You gotta come back and you have to bring healing, which Speaker 1: 05:10 After we part ways, Smithville drive 20 miles to get to his current house, he's still undoing years of conditioning that kept him away from these places that used to be home. Christina Kim KPBS news, joining me is Inez Corona, a therapist at rise up industries, and as welcome. Speaker 3: 05:30 Hi Maureen. Thank you. Speaker 1: 05:32 Can you tell us a little bit more about rise up? What's its mission Speaker 3: 05:36 Rise up is a reentry program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals and former gang involved individuals successfully reenter society. And they do that with a comprehensive system of support that not only includes job skills trainings, it's an 18 month CNC machining training program, but they also receive therapy services, case management, mentorship, and other sources of support to help them succeed. Speaker 1: 06:08 Okay. So do the former gang members contact you or does the therapy start while they are incarcerated? Speaker 3: 06:15 So the application process can start when members are incarcerated, um, and some actually reach out and apply even shortly after their release. Their first interaction with a therapist is actually during the application process in which they undergo a thorough psychosocial assessment, which is a comprehensive evaluation of their mental, physical, and emotional health. It's also an opportunity for us to determine their ability to function within a community. And it gives us a more detailed look into their needs. And so then we can tailor their treatment plans Speaker 1: 06:51 And he knows what kinds of trauma do you see in people who've been in gangs? Speaker 3: 06:57 Many, if not, most of them have been exposed to violence, death witnessing death, various forms of abuse, neglect, and not just in their home environments, right? Uh, within their communities, um, they witnessed or directly experienced police brutality. And then you add, you know, the punitive and abusive prison environment, which they're exposed to as well. Speaker 1: 07:24 And what kinds of problems do these sort of unresolved issues? Cause in people's efforts to move on to a different life. Speaker 3: 07:32 What we see mostly is PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. What do you mean Speaker 1: 07:39 Hear from people about the problems that they're encountering when they try to move on to a different life? What are the obstacles they face? Speaker 3: 07:48 Right. A lack of job skills, a lack of employment history, a lack of housing, food insecurity, transportation challenges, you know, social problems often again, addiction, which directly impacts their physical health, not just their mental and emotional health. Speaker 1: 08:07 And let me ask you this, in what ways did gang injunctions actually make it harder for former members to build a new life? Speaker 3: 08:14 Well, having your name on a list, you know, restricted a lot of their efforts in terms of their ability to obtain employment. You know, employers typically won't hire those with criminal convictions on their records. So it really limits their job prospects. Um, it also prevents them from receiving public housing assistance and social services assistances again, such as food resources and all of that is compounded right with, um, sometimes they face homelessness or addiction and mental health challenges. Speaker 1: 08:45 Now you say in the report that addressing former gang members, mental health issues is important, not just for the gang members, but for the whole community. Why is, I think Speaker 3: 08:57 Gangs are only a symptom of a larger issue, right? Um, so yes, there individual challenges that they face that absolutely need to be addressed. And then in terms of community and increasing safety, it's important for us to think about what happens when these individuals don't receive the necessary support and resources, how it perpetuates, right? The challenges that they face in terms of mental illness, addiction, and the maladaptive behavior, they engage in to sustain those, right? So we may see it in the form of violence or theft as well as the cost to taxpayers. They're a huge people who struggle with homelessness or drug addiction or mental health issues are a huge strain on public resources, um, emergency room services, law enforcement, first responders, um, or emergency responders. So it costs both literally and figuratively the community. Speaker 1: 09:54 I find that communities are open to accepting people back who maybe once terrorized that same community when they were in a gang. Speaker 3: 10:03 I believe some people are, and I believe the more information and awareness and context that people have would increase the number of people that would be more accepting and open to allowing people to have a second chance. Right. Speaker 1: 10:19 I've been speaking with Yunez Corona, a therapist at rise up industries, Inez. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for having me.

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Late last month San Diego DA Summer Stephan announced that her office was dissolving the last remaining gang injunctions in San Diego County. Those were restraining orders issued by a court limiting the movement of alleged gang members.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments