Burnout Family is a group centered in East Oakland. The FBI recently handed down several indictments against them recent. But the ability to gather and organize communally and politically is one of the most important conditions for a people to determine their own lives. Organization allows for the distribution of resources, the gathering of minds, the support of specific community needs, and the ability to collectively make decisions about how a community is to survive. In this light, the gang injunction is a potent legal weapon for the white supremacist establishment to suppress and ultimately destroy communities of color.
“But…” advocates of public security might say, “gangs are violent and destructive. We should have some sort of legal tool that can help us make our neighborhoods safe.” It is true that a fair amount of gang activity leads to violence. But a fair amount of police activity leads to violence as well. Where is all of this violence coming from? Why does it have to be the case? Here we have to go back a bit further and look at some larger issues.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the demand for slaves was ramping up in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean, it took the steady disintegration of African communities through kidnapping and warfare to produce the slaves. Slaves functioned as tools for white supremacist powers to serve as labor. Labor that would produce the enormous amounts of material wealth that white elites wanted but didn’t want to work for themselves.
White supremacy was the necessary ideology for such conditions. If white people are a superior and more civilized “race,” then other races, people of color, were lower and thus could be used as economic tools, like horses and mules.
To reduce human beings to slaves and tools for someone else’s agenda, they have to be made vulnerable and separated from their communities. Slaves were carefully controlled socially by their masters. They weren’t allowed to organize on their own, or form the communities that they wanted. They weren’t allowed access to resources that weren’t under control by their white masters, including education.
Eventually the dominant ideologies in Western society changed, and people generally decided that human slavery was not acceptable, and that all human beings should be treated equal under law. But how exactly did this work out in practice?
If you are to be treated equally under law, then certainly you have to have the resources and the communities required for standing on equal footing with everyone else right? How did this work out for people of color, especially in the United States?
After the Civil War and the Reconstruction period, southern white elites – who after having their wealth and political power destroyed during the war were eventually returned to power – required the continued subjugation of black bodies, and refused to share economic power with them. To do this, they helped organize and benefit from white terror from organizations from the KKK, which targeted sites of black organization like churches and homes. The Black codes developed out of this climate, which were highly variable from state to state and did things like forbid black people from congregating or hunting or fishing, all activities that nurtured communal and individual autonomy.
Eventually the Jim Crow system in the South systematized the power of white elites, which kept communities of color separate from white communities, which had access to a majority of social resources.
After the Civil Rights era, it was much more difficult to oppress and exploit people on the basis of race. But did this mean that communities of color were paid reparations and given the necessary social resources to establish their own communities’ self-determination? It is an old story in the United States: this requirement was eventually ignored and people of color were declared equal yet again before the law, but they were denied the resources to stand on equal footing with their white peers.
Corporate power grew once again after the New Deal area and new monopolies formed, destroying black businesses, which were serving as vital sites of political organization. The prison system was expanded and the naked language of racism morphed into that of criminal justice. Black people were essentially criminalized and put into prison. Through red-lining, black communities were pushed into impoverished neighborhoods with no resources.
With black businesses destroyed, black communal resources in tatters, and black families shattered and distributed into prisons, how would black youth organize themselves and protect themselves from daily poverty and police brutality? They would associate in gangs, and through various “criminal” activities, attempt to reclaim some of the economic resources that have long been denied to previous generations. Does this involve violence? Is it disruptive to communities of all classes and races? Well yes, but how else would a people resisting their steady destruction attempt to survive?
Gang injunctions are just another way to atomize, control, and even destroy communities of color. By pointing to a scary bogeyman, the vicious “gang member,” authorities can use police powers that polite society would otherwise balk at. Not to achieve justice of course, but to lazily and sloppily address a problem by force, a problem which has long been ignored by Western societies, and especially in the United States.
This is apparent in how gang injunctions are carried out. They are often deployed without clear ideas about the nature of gang activity. People can be put on gang lists and viciously targeted without warning, often according to racist policing attitudes and policies like racial profiling, traffic stops, minor drug charges, and stop and frisk. When gangs are targeted, the classic white supremacist methods of social control are deployed: “gang” members are often not allowed to carry various everyday items, associate and talk in groups, or even engage in leisurely activities together.
Further, gang injunctions tend to depress property values, oftentimes in places where there isn’t even serious gang activity. This oftentimes fuels gentrification, in which more privileged – and white – people move in and take advantage of low prices, and then begin to assert political and economic influence by living, working, and opening businesses there. People of color are yet again displaced, usually somewhere with less resources than before.
So ask yourself by looking at the history. What really has changed?