Lancaster anti-gang ordinance passes
Community blasts council’s actions
LANCASTER, Calif.—Tuesday night, the City Council Chamber was filled with an ethnically diverse group of Lancaster residents and an unusual number of Sheriff’s deputies lined the back wall of the room.
City officials proposed Ordinance No. 953 two weeks ago in response to suspected gang-related shootings and supposed intimidation within the community.
The ordinance was created to restrict and dismantle the gang presence throughout the city. According to the new law, members of criminal street gangs are prohibited from attending city-sponsored events; appearing at public locations; or congregating on front porches with the intent to intimidate or commit a crime.
While the council passed the measure 4-0 (Council member Ron Smith was absent), many locals are not in support of the new law and voiced their opinions as a packed city council meeting.
Representatives from local motorcycle clubs, including the FBI-classified street gang—the Vagos—told the council during public comments, that they are against the ordinance, because it will give local law enforcement the excuse to harass people dressed in biker attire, or those who officers assume are gang affiliated.
But the council claims the ordinance is carefully worded so that anyone who is “flying colors” with no illegal intention will not be cited.
According to the city, a gang is an organization of three or more people with the primary goal or activity of committing crimes.
Gregory Fernandez, a motorcycle accident and biker’s rights attorney called the ordinance unconstitutional.
“This ordinance is going to give unfettered discretion to law enforcement to aim this at (any person),” he said from the podium. His comments drew enthusiastic audience applause. “This is unduly vague, its over broad, and it will give unfettered discretion to law enforcement.”
Mayor R. Rex Parris frequently interrupted speakers during their three-minute speech, and constantly challenged them with sarcastic-sounding questions, and unwarranted inquiries.
The mayor threatened to have audience members, who often cheered and jeered, removed by deputies if disruptions continued. At least two attendees were removed by a group of officers.
Paris tried to justify the ordinance as speakers began to challenge its validity.
“Everybody in this room knows that when certain motorcycle clubs with their colors come into a family event, people become frightened, and I don’t think that it’s appropriate—at least in our city—to allow that to continue. People have a right to go to community events without being so frightened they leave,” Paris said, admitting that he is frightened, when the Vagos go to a public event.
The crowd disagreed and demanded proof of intimidation. Many suggested the city council and Sheriff’s Department were gangs, instilling fear in the community.
Ansar “Stan” Muhammad, co-founder of The Community Action League (TCAL) and with the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation, presented his foundation and ideas as an alternative to the ordinance.
“Looking at what happened in Los Angeles with the gang injunction, there are a lot of young people (who are) not gang-related or gang-affiliated (who) may wear certain clothes; they may look a certain way,” Muhammad said Tuesday night. “The concern is this: Will those young people be targeted? The African American and Latino males and females in particular, will they be targeted?”
He further explained that with the gang injunction in Los Angeles, non-affiliated young people were harassed and arrested by law enforcement officers simply because of their appearance.
An emotional presentation from a young African American man native to the area related it has been his experience with the Sheriff’s Department that he has been targeted, not because he committed a crime, but because he is Black and dresses a certain way.
Parris’ response was simply, “When did this occur?” The mayor said he would “look into” the terrible encounters several speakers revealed they had with law enforcement. He also offered to work with a motorcycle club affiliate and a Lancaster resident to resolve their concerns. However, despite the mayor asking the audience to offer solutions and receiving suggestions from members of TCAL and other activists, Parris failed to acknowledge their solutions or make steps to contact any of them.
“You don’t need the ordinance, you’re already doing it,” said Emmitt Murrell, co-founder of TCAL. When asked his thoughts about the mayor failing to publicly invited TCAL to the table to present solutions, he responded that he was glad Parris didn’t invite them.
“I am really almost glad that he didn’t, because I would hate for the community to think that we sold out their interests just to sit at a table with him,” he added outside of the council chambers. He said TCAL would most likely obtain legal representation to fight the ordinance.
The ordinance takes effect immediately. This means, law enforcement officers will now issue written citations to anyone who is affiliated with a criminal street gang, if they are found loitering on public property or at an establishment open to the public wearing their colors or other symbols with the intention to commit a crime, intimidate, or claim territory. Intention is left to be determined by the deputy handling the incident. More information is available on the city’s website www.lancasterca.org.
The Lancaster City Council is expected to vote on Dec. 11 on whether to appoint Cassandra D. Harvey to the council to replace Ron Smith, who was elected to the California State Assembly.
If approved, Harvey would be sworn in and take the seat that day and finish out the remainder of Smith’s term until April 2014.
She would also be the first African American woman to sit on the city’s governing body.
Harvey was nominated by Mayor R. Rex Parris.
PALMDALE—An agreement reached in a discrimination lawsuit between city officials and representatives of Antelope Valley residents who are part of the Section 8 Choice Voucher program is now in the hands of the federal judge overseeing the suit.
The agreement was reached last week, a week after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a similar agreement.
The judge will now have an opportunity to vet the settlements, and when approved, they will go into effect immediately.
LANCASTER, Calif.—The Community Action League (TCAL) will host the Community Justice Forum on Saturday, May 14, at the Palmdale Moose Lodge from 12-4 p.m.
The forum and civil rights seminar will educate citizens about their Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights, as well as address police harassment and criminal records.
V. Jesse Smith, co-founder of the organization, says the AV is in need of this workshop, especially due to the high volume of complaints and issues individuals have shared with TCAL.
LANCASTER, Calif.—A few weeks ago Mayor R. Rex Parris said something at a Lancaster City Council meeting that rubbed some residents the wrong way. He asked a representative of the Department of Housing, if there is or could be a law instituted that would revoke Section 8 vouchers from parents whose minor children are not attending school. From there the backlash began.
LANCASTER, Calif.—At last week’s Lancaster City Council meeting, Mayor R. Rex Parris asked Dorian Jenkins, deputy executive director of housing programs with the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles, if there was a way to confiscate Section 8 vouchers from tenants who did not enroll their children in school. He asked Jenkins if he would look into federal enforcement of state laws requiring children to attend school. Parris said that it would be beneficial for the whole community.