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Regarding Innocence
updated: Feb 10, 2014, 12:48 PM

By Gail Jean Padilla

This little girl shows up at a youth community garden on the lower Westside of Santa Barbara, on a regular basis, to assist her older siblings in its renovation. Unbeknownst it to her, her older siblings are at risk of being subjected to a gang injunction the City of Santa Barbara is proposing. The amount of money necessary to pursue this injunction through the courts, is in the millions; which the city is willing to pay - with out tax dollars.

The injunction's legal declaration names thirty individuals, primarily from past incidents, whose behavior they believe indicate an upward trend in crime. Even without adequate statistical validation to back it up, and prevailing evidence from other cities exposing the failing nature of gang injunctions, Santa Barbara continues to push for the court's approval, with an enormous amount of support from uninformed citizens.

The injunction purports the ability to curtail the crime trend by designating where and when and with whom the thirty named can affiliate with. The initial rhetoric in the injunction's first proposal designated 300 additional spots, for the Jane and John Does, to-be-named, who might subsequently meet the gang injunction criteria.

Public protest forced the plaintiffs to delete the language specifying 300, however, the new wording need not specify an allotted number in order to be regarded as the placeholders that they are. Any person, who proclaims, or, is accused by authorities, to be affiliated with an Eastside or Westside gang, remains at the mercy of this injunction. Informal interviews have already uncovered the fact that a significant number of the thirty named on the injunction, neither professed, nor in actuality, affiliated with gangs. Some merely opted for plea bargains to escape inflated sentences for their infractions. Not in a million years did they think their names would show up on a gang injunction.

Conceivably, by the time this little girl is of an age when youth of her population fall prey to gang enticement, racial profiling, or are of the developmental stage when their playfulness or shenanigans, matched with a low socio-economic status, become synonymous with gang affiliation - she could very well find herself on that injunction as well.

If you were to look deep in her eyes, or watch the intent of her work, paired with an undeniable innocence that every child her age possesses, it's impossible to imagine the odds being against her. Yet they are.

It's astronomical how much the city is willing to invest in pursuit of this injunction; equally devastating and discouraging are the millions upon millions already earmarked for the success of her future. Let me expand. Santa Barbra takes the lead in the amount of nonprofits in operation, per capita. It's unnerving to think these organizations, proclaiming knowledge and resources capable of offering her a brighter future, have done little in the way of ensuring her success.

I am curious to know why very few organizations, established to work with at-risk-youth - a term I do not subscribe to - have not: a) self-surveyed to assess accountability in the supposed demise of our Latino youth, and, b) are not presently at the table, offering alternatives to the injunction. Lord knows they've already been granted enough money to not only properly serve the 30 named, but also another 300, and more.

Year after year grants are written and money received in order to help Santa Barbara's ‘at-risk youth'. Where is all the money going? Am I the only one unable to connect the dots here?

It's convenient to point the finger at these youth and their families, but what about the other four pointing back at you? Santa Barbara, the ever busy and ambitions, philanthropic city, continues to miss the mark. In case you aren't following me, let me put it one more way. Santa Barbara has historically invested millions of dollars to assist underrepresented, impoverished youth; yet, they are now investing millions of dollars to stifle them. It's not much different than spending millions on cancer research, as the incidents in cancer rises, leaving the families to foot the bill. All the while permitting and condoning environmental conditions known to cause cancer.

Colonization, concentration camps, and gang injunctions ring similar to the sensitive ear, an ear willing to scrutinize what it's being asked to swallow, without chewing. The gang injunction is racially regressive. If this issue were to be viewed and analyzed by non- minorities, who thought their own precious children risked being subjected to it, I'm sure there would be a change of heart, and perception. A sense of urgency demanding ratification and abomination would override issues normally passed off as mere phenomena. So I say to you, the reader, is it reasonable to subject different standards or injunctions on children based on the color of their skin? If you knew your child could be added to the Santa Barbara Injunction, would you still be giving your ten-bullet argument about how justifiable it is? How would you parent your child, knowing a simple act of misbehaving could land them on an injunction, possibly even pipelining them into a lifetime of institutionalization and prison?

Misbehaving, committed by a white child, is often understood as acceptable in light of developmental norms. For the non-white child, specifically our local Latino youth, the same behavior is first filtered through a stereotyping lens, in order to eliminate, or establish, gang affiliation, before it is approved as developmentally appropriate, youth behavior. A double standard that is unfair and oppressive.

See, oppressive laws, policies, and injunctions on youth are oppressive for many reasons, one being the way in which they affect just about every relationship the child has. The child is affected because he now has to question everything about himself in light of the fact he is treated differently. How they perceive an authority figure becomes unclear and opaque, causing them to question motives behind how they're being treated - is it a nuance, derogatory, or oppressive? If it is, in fact, positive and supportive, how can the child be sure, and allow the positive to sink in and boost his self esteem, so that he is inspired to perform esteem-able acts?

If you or your children have never had to experience this, then you just might be part of the problem. If you are not part of the problem, then perhaps you should be part of the solution. If you think this article and topic have gotten out of hand, there's a good chance you're pointing a finger. If you are pointing a finger, then there's a good chance four more are pointing back at you. Here's my advise - leave the fingers out of it for a day, come down to our local garden, and get your hands in the dirt with this little girl. Look her in the eyes, watch her work with intent and complete abandon, and dare to tell me the demise of her future, particularly with a gang injunction in tact, is justifiable. Dare to tell me it is humane. I don't think you will be able to.



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