A federal judge in California rendered a recent ruling that should give communities of color some relief. U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips decided to halt the city of Los Angeles’ enforcement of most of its remaining gang injunctions, which primarily target Black and Brown people. In her preliminary holding, Judge Phillips said, “that Los Angeles gang injunctions ‘impose significant restrictions on plaintiffs’ liberty’ and implicate interests that are ‘truly weighty.”

As the ACLU of Southern California noted, gang injunctions often subject Black and Brown men to probation-adjacent conditions for several years without court hearings. The injunctions work as civil restraints that can limit everything from a person’s freedom to carry a cell phone or writing utensils to their right to associate with friends and family members who police believe are gang members. If violated, these injunctions could lead to the arrest of those so restrained.

Judge Phillips reasoned that the city of Los Angeles likely violated the constitutional rights of the people subject to these injunctions because they were not afforded a chance to challenge the restraints in court.

“This ruling sends the city a clear message: it cannot take away the basic liberties of Angelenos on a whim,” Melanie Ochoa, ACLU SoCal staff attorney, said. “The city’s use of gang injunctions has violated due process for nearly two decades, with no record of making communities safer. That ends today.” 

The ruling prevents Los Angeles from enforcing injunctions granted prior to January 19, 2018. Officials can, however, pursue fresh injunctions if people suspected of gang activity are provided the opportunity to challenge the restraint in court.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League called gang injunctions “a valuable law enforcement tool” to combat “the tide of drug dealing, assaults, and other violent crimes associated with gangs.”

About 1,500 Los Angeles residents are expected to live freer in the city because of this decision.

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