When a group of thugs terrorizes a Los Angeles neighborhood — intimidating outsiders, vandalizing property, assaulting innocent people — authorities have been quick to respond with gang injunctions that target the individual members and criminalize the very act of hanging out together.
Well, quick in some communities. Think Northeast Los Angeles and South L.A., Boyle Heights, Inglewood, Long Beach. In other words, working-class neighborhoods with majority black or Latino residents.
What happens when those gangsters are middle-class, middle-aged men from an overwhelmingly white, affluent community? Apparently nothing.
For decades, a group of territorial surfers in Palos Verdes — the so-called Bay Boys of Lunada Bay — has been operating very much like a street gang, authorities and locals say. They are accused of staking out turf on a public beach and in the waves, and intimidating and assaulting people who dare to try to access that turf. Tires have been reported slashed, rocks hurled at visitors, death threats leveled. Pretty nasty stuff.
The Bay Boys even have a sort-of clubhouse, an unpermitted structure built on the beach where gang members can hang out and survey the domain they maintain though fear and force.
Localism is nothing new to California's coast, particularly as it has become heavily developed and locals feel an entitlement to the choicest surf spots. I can recall tales of violent clashes among surfers in my hometown of San Diego going back for decades. There are only so many waves at each break, but the Lunada Bay Boys have taken the localism to an apparently criminal extreme.
Maybe that's because it has been allowed to go on for so long, with only perfunctory attempts by local law enforcement to crack down on reported crimes. It might still be ignored were not for videos posted by the Guardian last year of the Bay Boys intimidating a visitor and a police dispatcher essentially dismissing the thugs and the situation as "it is what it is."
What it is is criminal behavior that probably would not be tolerated in many other places. Since the videos raised the issue again, the police chief of Palos Verdes Estates vowed to crack down on the Bay Boys, and the Coastal Commission jumped in, saying the obstructions constituted development on the coast making it subject to commission regulation.
This is good, but perhaps a bit late. Now, a class-action suit has been filed by El Segundo police officer and surfer Cory Spencer and others tired of the lack of enforcement seeking a restriction on the Bay Boys from congregating with each other. In other words, a gang injunction.
And why not? These may not be the Echo Park Locos, but they sure sound like a bunch of gangsters as other law enforcement agencies define them. Here's how LAPD explains gang injunctions:
"A gang injunction is a restraining order against a group. It is a civil suit that seeks a court order declaring the gang's public behavior a nuisance and asking for special rules directed toward its activity. Injunctions can address the neighborhood's gang problem before it reaches the level of felony crime activity."
That sounds about right.
Author's note: An earlier version of this post inadvertently referred, unironically, to the Bay Boys as the Bad Boys.