Dr. Ana Muñiz and Her Research on Immigration and Gang Injunctions


Photo courtesy of UCLA Newsroom

Dr. Ana Muñiz is an Associate Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine.  She describes herself as an inductive ethnographer and her research specialties include gang profiling, youth justice, gang injunctions and databases, immigration enforcement, policy, race, and state violence. She has given speeches on topics such as race, policy and racialized state violence on both the UCLA and UCI campuses.  She released her research in the book: Police, Power, and the Production of Racial Boundaries in 2015.  In 2014, she released an academic research article, that started as her doctoral dissertation.  The article, “Maintaining Racial Boundaries: Criminalization, Neighborhood Context, and the Origins of Gang Injunctions”, addressed the gang injunction of 1987 against the Cadillac-Corning Crips gang in Los Angeles.  This was the first use of a gang injunction in Los Angeles and was connected to racial profiling of African Americans. On Monday, October 23, Dr. Muñiz sat down with journalism student, Emma Andres to discuss her past research on the 1987 injunction and its relation to her current research:

INTERVIEWER: I was able to look you up on the UCI Faculty page and I saw your two publications, and I was really interested in the one from 2014 about the 1987 injunction, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about that injunction and why you chose to do your research on it?

MUÑIZ: Yeah, so I’m an inductive ethnographer, which means that I go into a field site and I don’t necessarily have a preset question or hypothesis.  I take field notes and I do interviews and then I see what emerges from the data; so what themes are emerging. That project started as my dissertation and I was doing field work in this neighborhood [Cadillac-Corning]. This neighborhood was very distinct from the areas around it.  It’s in LA and it borders these very wealthy areas, but it’s an area that is more mixed income-wise, from middle class to working class, so it takes Section 8 which is like public housing and vouchers, and it’s demographically distinct. So there are many areas around it that are predominately white, and this was predominately black in the 90s and then became increasingly Latino sort of later on, but it was a mix of black and Latino people.  So I became interested in why that area was different than every other area around it, both in terms of the housing was different, the demographics were different, and most importantly the policing was different. West LA the division is about 64 square miles but this neighborhood that was about 26 square blocks was where all their firepower went. So I was just interested in over time how this came to be. What I found when I started looking historically at this neighborhood is that very important policies, particular on policing, had become this lab, almost, for different kinds of policing initiatives.  One instance I found was this gang injunction; that it was LA City’s first gang injunction, so the first time the city had placed an injunction anywhere. So I became interested from that about injunctions in general. Part of my research is, one of the arguments is that policies are started in very specific circumstances and then they get sort of taken and spread widely. Some of the specific circumstances stick in the policy, even if not explicitly, it continues to live. So was very interested because now we do gang injunctions all over, I mean we do them in Orange County, and Los Angeles does them all over the city.  It started in LA city in this very specific neighborhood. So I thought that studying that specific injunction, since it was a landmark injunction that created the model for future ones, would tell us something bigger about the way we use injunctions. So that was LA city’s first one and what was interesting to me was that it’s not necessarily a very intuitive place to have your first injunction. That injunction was placed in the 80s when some divisions had hundreds of homicides, and that police division had, I think, twelve. You don’t want twelve homicides but it was a very low homicide rate compared to the rest of the division.  So, sort of counterintuitive things like that are always interesting; why a policy happens when you don’t expect it.

INTERVIEWER: For the sake of readers who might not know a lot about what injunctions are, could you give a little more detailed definition about what an injunction is?

MUÑIZ: An injunction is kind of a bigger legal concept, but a gang injunction, in particular, is a civil process, essentially a restraining order.  The way you normally get a restraining order on an individual person, and say that this person can’t come within a certain amount of feet from you and their behavior is restricted in certain ways.  A gang injunction essentially does that to a group. So it says that a group and in this case, if they are considered part of the gang, and they meet certain criteria, that they are enjoined, meaning that their behavior is restricted in certain ways and in certain areas in a way that other people aren’t. So when they're in that, what’s called a “safety zone”, which in the instance you’re talking about was in that neighborhood.  When they are in that neighborhood, if they are subject to the injunction, they are restricted from doing a host of things that other people could normally do. So from carrying certain objects, but mainly from associating with one another. They can’t be near anyone else on that injunction. The idea being that harm from gangs is caused because they’re in groups. It’s a method to prosecute people before they commit crimes when they get in the group initially.  They are not allowed to associate with one another. If they are caught doing those things, they can be prosecuted, so they can be fined or put in jail. The interesting thing about a gang injunction is that we have, in our society, there are two main branches of law: civil law and criminal law. And criminal law is what people think of as “the law”. It’s generally punitive and regulates things (if someone prosecutes someone assault, burglary or murder). Civil law is more about restitution, so it is generally what happens with divorce, child support issues, corporate issues.  We are not talking necessarily about prosecution and incarceration, it is restitution, so generally, people have to pay at the end of a civil lawsuit or come to some sort of agreement or justification. The interesting thing about a gang injunction is it’s looking to attack, explicitly anyway, criminal behavior but it’s actually civil process. Why that is important is because civil law is not supposed to deprive you of liberty at the end, it’s not supposed to lock you up or result in some other sort of punitive damage, the threshold is lower to prove something against someone and therefore you’re rights are not as hefty as they would be in the criminal system.  So for example if you are arrested for assault, you get a public defender; if someone sues you in a civil court, you have no right to counsel, so you have to hire your own lawyer with your own money, you don’t have the right to cancel, or you have to do it yourself. One of the big issues in gang injunctions is that when people are served with them, they don’t have a right to a public defender or things like that, those normal processes.

INTERVIEWER: So you said that an injunction is put onto a whole group, can it be individuals within that group?  So not the entire gang or does it have to be the entire gang that gets the injunction?

MUÑIZ: It’s exactly the same as the Sriracha Factory in California had an injunction put on it.  Which meant that it was enjoined because it was causing too much pollution. So they said this factory has to shut down.  Workers who showed up to that factory were shut down. This is a little difficult to answer because injunctions have changed over time.  So when they [the injunctions] first started out, they were very individually focused. So they would name people and serve individual people and over time they have turned in what’s called a “gang only” injunctions, where they just serve the gang as a whole and then individual officers have the discretion to say whether you were acting on behalf of the gang or not.  

INTERVIEWER:  As you said before, [in the past] individuals would get an injunction, but that still doesn’t happen at all today? You can’t necessarily be individually…

MUÑIZ: Well you are individually served.  The reason you are being enjoined is because you are part of the gang, cause otherwise it would just be a normal criminal prosecution where you are doing something and they are prosecuting you for it.  But the point of an injunction is that they don’t necessarily have to build this individual case and prosecute you individually. You are being prosecuted because you’re advancing the goals of this larger group.

INTERVIEWER:  You said that the rules are still the same as back then [in regards to injunctions(1987)], but the politics have changed or disappeared.  Would you say that they have disappeared or that they have just molded into something else that you can’t define as what it used to be?

MUÑIZ: The specific circumstances have obviously changed.  For example, that gang injunction in 1987 was developed with great attention to the layout of that neighborhood.  One example I use is they prohibited any use of milk crates, like that was an object that people couldn’t be caught with because in that neighborhood, police said that gang members who were fleeing were putting milk crates up to fences and jumping over them.   So that was something very specific that was put in that policy.  And that might survive in subsequent injunctions but it might not make sense in another neighborhood, right.  So you are using a template that was developed in another circumstance, and it might not make sense in a neighborhood across town where they are not doing that.  But it is still in there [in the injunction policy]. So even though the context changes, the policy lives on in this specific way. There are some lawyers making arguments, which I think are really interesting, that because the injunction was developed to address a very specific context, that it is actually not constitutional to use it in different contexts.  So there is some legal struggle over that.

INTERVIEWER: Could you give some examples?

MUÑIZ: One example is that safety zones, so the area in which the injunction applies, are getting increasingly bigger.  So that safety zone [1987] was like 26 square blocks. So that is a relatively small area that’s like one square mile or something.  I mean there is a safety zone in San Fernando that I think was about 26 square miles, I mean it was huge. They are getting 20 miles bigger than they were before. And so there are some legal theorists who are arguing that it’s unconstitutional to develop a policy for this specific context and use it in an erratically different context.  Like something that so much bigger geographically effects so many more people, and is some much more broad than is legally problematic.

INTERVIEWER: Is there a specific reason why the safety zones are enlarging?  

MUÑIZ: I think in my research I discuss the different players involved and try to disentangle what other people want.  And I think it makes sense from a law enforcement perspective that you are trying to get the tool to be as useful for you as possible.  I remember I was interviewing one of the attorney working on it [1987 injunction] who said, sometimes if we think a gang might spread into a certain area, this other area will just throw that safety zone right in as a kind of a buffer.  Just so we know we have extra reassurance that if they do move into that area that we can use this tool there. So I think it’s just sort of ease. It’s easier to get a court order approved then amend it later, so I think right up front they are like, if we can just get the biggest area we can use out of this tool the better.  I think it is more just to be practical; for practical purposes. A practical tool they can use more often.

INTERVIEWER: [In your article] you talked about a big court order case fell into play because of this 1987 injunction and I was wondering what exactly that court order entailed and why it was such a big deal?

MUÑIZ: Yeah, so why there was a very high profile, quarter order case around it?  


MUÑIZ: So why it became so high profile or... ?

INTERVIEWER: I think what the case entailed and why it became so high profile.

MUÑIZ: Anything that is new when you are setting a legal president… this wasn’t something that people had necessarily… it wasn’t a tool people had implemented before, so there is going to be a court struggle whenever that happens. It was a very contentious idea, in a lot of ways it still is, that you can designate people as different and then treat them differently.  And essentially take away some of their constitutional rights. A lot of people compared it to, sometimes in war time a president would issue an emergency order to take away certain constitutional rights, because it is an emergency. So we’re under terrorist threat and there is a curfew or something. The idea was very contentious that you could do that but not have it be a temporary emergency situation.  Now they have five year time limits generally, but especially when it was implemented [injunctions], it never expired. So the idea was that you were sort of forever putting these pretty severe restrictions on people. These are adults with curfews now, they can’t walk next to one another, I mean this is a very restricted way of life. And you are permanently putting this restriction on someone’s rights. And for non-criminal behavior was the key.  So a lot of the things listed in the injunction, like I said, we're having pretty innocuous objects or being thirty-year-old out after 10 pm at night in your neighborhood, or like standing next to someone who also might be in your family. That was a pretty contentious idea.

INTERVIEWER: So many of the things were very restricting to the point where it was almost unlivable?

MUÑIZ: Yeah, yeah exactly. And so I think that at the time people were very disturbed by this and have since sort of picked this back up and have become concerned about it again.  So I think people in general were concerned by it and then of course you had a judge who was hesitant about the policy. And obviously lawyers on two sides; one that really endorsed it and many legal organizations that thought it was unconstitutional.  I think that it was just such a contentious policy that it was sort of bound to cause this uproar. And so went through this protracted, legal battle.

INTERVIEWER: Have there been any injunctions farther in the future that have had such a blowout?

MUÑIZ: Yeah, so the one that happened in Echo Park, which was called the ‘Glendale Corridor Gang Injunction’, and that was in 2013 or 14, relatively recently.  That was definitely very high profile. I write about this in a book; I think you read the article?

INTERVIEWER: I was able to read the abstract, I was not able to get a hold of the entire article.

MUÑIZ: Oh, okay.  Yeah, so I wrote about the Echo Park one in a book too because it was sort of contentious for similar reasons.  (Asked about where interviewer was from, trying to describe the surrounding area.)  You know, it was, people were sort of confused.  Again, so I mentioned that neighborhood where there was the first injunction, in ‘87, was sort of an odd place to have an injunction because there were other areas that had much higher rates of violence and so it was sort of odd.  Similarly in Echo Park, in 2013-2014, was not a high-crime area. It had been gentrified and had the lowest crime rate it had ever had. And so again it was just so odd to people. There is a very severe tool that severely restricts people's’ rights.  That’s being put in an area that isn’t having some crazy, skyrocketing homicide rate. Generally, people feel pretty safe. And so a lot of people found this really odd, and again problematic. And this time not necessarily the judge [found this problematic], who was actually I think fine with it.  But sort of the same organizations that opposed it in 1987, so the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) came out again and a lot of public contention around it.

INTERVIEWER: You said that there are a lot of racial connections to the injunction about African Americans and their relationship to their families.  Could you explain a little more about that?

MUÑIZ: One sort of theory that I was engaging in both those injunctions but in the ‘87 one in particular is that, I mean one thing that was significant when you look at that neighborhood is sort of the court documents, the primary documents, and the media coverage of it, I mean it is very clear that there is a lot of what we call ‘racial coding’.  So not explicitly saying that there is this fear of black men in particular, but using gang membership as this coded way to talk about it. For example, in a lot of even the declarations, which is what law enforcement would send into a court to argue for why the injunction was needed, you have officers saying pretty explicit things in those declarations about: ‘when I walk around the neighborhood, I would think only black men live there’.  Just a lot of concern about the presence of black men. A lot of claims that this neighborhood was sort of a drug source for wealthy people coming from Beverly Hills and Hollywood. And a lot of concern over white people coming into the neighborhood to buy drugs and then being subject to violence. So again this sort of concern about black on white violence and this perception that it is a very imminent threat. You see this very explicitly in arguing for the injunction.  There are these very explicit racial reasons and there was officers and declarations talking about, interestingly, that some of these latino gangs were less threatening than black gangs because these stereotypes about Latinos have family values and do things like have picnics with their families and play in parks where as the black gangs are just ruthless and don’t have family values and are just sort of violent and animalistic…

INTERVIEWER: Do you know what led to that kind of belief that latino gangs were less violent than black gangs?

MUÑIZ: Yeah, I don’t know.  It is just what the officers at the time thought.

INTERVIEWER: So that definitely heavily influenced their placing of the injunction?

MUÑIZ: It seemed like it.  It would definitely influence their arguments as why they needed to have it.  So my point is that when you go back and look at these primary documents and what people were saying at the time, and sort of why they were arguing for this injunction, it’s very explicitly racial.  But when the policy is produced, there is no mention of race in it. It doesn’t say that black men can’t do these things, but it’s all being coded, so it is all subtly being put in there.  So the argument is again and again that black men are dangerous and need to be controlled in these specific ways.  And the policy doesn’t say that but that policy was pretty much only served on black men in that area. So it’s this way in which something comes out as race neutral but it has these very racially disproportionate effects, which again makes sense if you see that that’s what it was intended to do.  That was sort of the racialization of it and I think later injunctions have reflected that too, those racial components.

INTERVIEWER: I’m sure you said it before, but what would you say is the focus of your research with this injunction of 1987?  I just want to make it clear for readers.

MUÑIZ: The focus was to look at how a policy is created and all these implicit assumptions that are put into policies.  So specifically the way race is encoded into policy, even though policy reads as race neutral. And that then from there we can trace to why it makes sense that policies can have racially disproportionate effects.

INTERVIEWER: And then I think my last question for you is, what have been the most interesting findings this far or important and unique findings to this research?

MUÑIZ: I mean I would say that, that one recovering from that racial components of race neutral policy, I think that is very important.  I also think, I mean I did a lot of research looking at the way housing development, the way neighborhoods are built. The injunction pretty much perfectly overlays a housing map, so in the injunction area it is pretty much all apartments and right, literally, right outside of it is where single family homes start.  So I think there is an importance to looking at how physical layouts affect the policies.

INTERVIEWER: Was it because of the financial situations of all the neighborhoods that it was mostly apartments?

MUÑIZ: There is this very long interesting process where a couple people essentially build add-ons to their houses in like the 30s and 40s.  So they changed from like a single family house to like two units. And maybe in the 70s they turned from two to four units and eventually a developer came and bought the plot and turned it into twenty units.  (Talked a little about changing housing codes).  Certain streets are only allowed to have single family houses, like municipal coding.  And if you want to have more than one unit, you have to change the actual code on that street that allows for multiple units.  Like one or two families did that and it sort of spread and at a certain point stopped for whatever reason.

INTERVIEWER: So is there no significance to why it [apartments] was specifically in Cadillac-Corning and not other neighborhoods?

MUÑIZ: I think initially in the 30s and 40s, it was just people who lived there who happened to want to build.  And then it was sort of a domino effect after that where certain streets after that changed. You know, then at a certain point the streets said ‘no we don’t want to change the housing code’.  But I mean that led to more affordable housing, which led to demographic shifts and who could afford to live there. Even when I did interviews, officers feel differently in those neighborhoods, they feel more threatened in denser areas and so they police them differently.

INTERVIEWER: Is it all because of the demographic of the gangs that they feel more threatened?

MUÑIZ: I think it is a lot of things.  I think it’s that, I think it’s the physical layout, even just that they feel more in control in sort of a neighborhood that is very sparsely populated in single family houses.  They can get a handle on it a little better rather than if they’re running through spaces where there are high apartments and fences to jump over and things like that.

INTERVIEWER: So do you believe the tension between the gang and the police that makes these injunctions have such high court cases?

MUÑIZ: No, like I said I think the ‘87 one and the one recently, I mean there hasn’t been really any other injunctions that have gotten this much attention in the media.  But I think for those, like I said, that it was just such a startling new policy in ‘87 and then 2013 and 2014. It just didn’t really make sense.