As part of an ongoing crackdown on street violence, Inglewood officials want to follow the lead of the city of San Fernando and ban gang members from city parks.
The Inglewood proposal, pushed by Mayor Edward Vincent and backed by other City Council members, would apply to the city's three major parks--Centinela, Rogers and Darby. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, City Atty. Howard Rosten was directed to draft the proposal into an ordinance.
Vincent said the ban would join police sweeps, youth education programs and other activities as an element of Inglewood's increasingly aggressive efforts to fight gangs.
"If (gang members) are going to be (in city parks) with their red rags on their heads harassing kids, they should not be there," said Vincent, who is a county probation officer.
Vincent suggested the ordinance in the wake of gang-related skirmishes that broke out Friday night after a football game at El Camino College between the city's two rival high schools, Inglewood and Morningside. There were no arrests, but 50 Torrance police officers and sheriff's deputies were called in to quell the fights.
Also prompting the proposal was the passage Monday by the San Fernando City Council of an ordinance banning gang members from a park that long has been the site of a turf war. Authorities called the ordinance the first such ban in the nation.
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, immediately criticized San Fernando's ban and threatened to challenge it in court. Ripston said the ordinance could be used in a discriminatory fashion to harass any young person, lawbreaker or not.
In Inglewood, community activist Terry Coleman raised similar concerns.
"The citizens are becoming desperate," said Coleman, a former police officer. "We're firing out of both barrels and not considering the Constitution. If I was valedictorian of the high school and I had the wrong colors on, the police could harass me. I think we should look at other options."
But supporters said the gang problem requires drastic actions.
"We have an obligation to protect the welfare of our citizens when they are in our parks," said Councilman Anthony Scardenzan. "By not doing anything against the gangbangers we are depriving these (residents) of what is their right."
Added Joann Johnson, president of the Inglewood-South Bay branch of the NAACP: "If innocent people are being killed, it's fine to ban gang members from the park. There have to be some boundaries drawn. We have to decide to take the streets back and the parks back."
The Inglewood council members authorized Rosten, in writing an ordinance for Inglewood, to consult with San Fernando officials and the Los Angeles county district attorney's office, which drafted San Fernando's ban.
Police Capt. James Seymour said he would not have a problem with such an ordinance as long as it were researched and drafted to make it legally justifiable.
"I don't think it's a problem except that the identification of gang members is difficult," he said. "We'd have to work diligently to target only gang members. We couldn't stop a lot of kids that don't have anything with gangs."
The San Fernando ordinance, which carries a $250 fine, is aimed at those identified as criminal street gang members under a 1988 state law known as the State Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. The law allows authorities to designate individuals as gang members if they are members of a gang devoted to criminal acts and if they have committed two of the list of felonies included in the bill.
Inglewood police are currently notifying members of one gang that they fall under the act and therefore face an additional three years in prison if convicted of another felony.
Councilman Daniel Tabor said that, although he is not a "card-carrying member of the ACLU," he respects civil liberties and wants to ensure that the proposed ordinance would be used only to control gang activity.
"We're not going to say that anyone with red tennis shoes is a gang member," he said.