Decontextualized Analysis That Drives Gang Legislation in Fresno 

In the spring of 2016, an ordinance to “protect” Fresno’s youth from the insidious encroachment of gangs was proposed by a Fresno City Council member. Triggered by a complaint, or maybe several complaints, from the community, this Council member created a plan to dissuade a group, believed to be a gang, from harassing nearby children on their way to school.

The newly imagined law would impose potential jail time of up to six months and a $1,000 fine for any suspected gang member found within 1,000 feet of a school. The ordinance died amid debates around potentiality for racial profiling and whether it would be an effective use of time for law enforcement officers.

The measure was defeated but the commotion surrounding the immediate issue was perplexing. Out of all the solutions proposed to “solve the problem,” no one ever suggested just simply going and talking to the group that was allegedly causing the problem.

We revisit this proposal because it provides a clear example of the disengaged, shallow and decontextualized analysis that drives legislation in our city. In a seemingly automated response, this proposal erases several internal assets and opportunities already present within these communities, while imbuing a subgroup of the community with a grossly exaggerated power and reach.

Under this rationale, the only viable response is law enforcement, therefore a new law must be created so that it can be enforced. The cyclical nature of this legislative pattern that centers law enforcement as the solution to every social ill has created a gridlock that keeps residents trapped in a state of social and untimely death.

Systemic racism, classism and overall negligence live at the core of Fresno’s perpetual decay, and a limited political imagination to render social progress cultivates the very environments that have been deemed unsafe.

A proper analysis is needed regarding alleged gang activity factors in social, economic and political factors that operate as community stressors. It is inaccurate to designate areas with high rates of gang activity or criminal activity as areas “unfortunately overpopulated with wrongdoers.”

A more accurate perspective understands that higher levels of crime and gang activity in a community indicate that the socioeconomic conditions of that area have become too devastating for relationships to endure. From a relational vantage point, policy that supports, reinforces and resources communal relationships yields the best results for public safety.

Every day, community members, leaders and the occasional grassroots laborer naturally operate as our community’s largest apparatus for public safety and crime prevention. This communal network, sustained through relational capital, is what should have been leveraged, invested in and integrated into a political strategy that seriously intends to meet the needs of concerned residents.

The daily provision of essential spiritual, emotional and physical needs, through a caring and concerned support system, is and has always been the best pathway for safety.

Reimagining our justice system is critical in the process of liberating Fresno’s communities from economic despair.

One of the impediments of economic prosperity for many communities in Fresno is the longstanding presence of weak legislation with political resolve that operates under a misinformed moral framework. Under this framework, millions of taxpayer dollars are allocated to the detention and displacement of alleged wrongdoers, while the government’s role in engineering the very social ills that create antisocial behavior is ignored.

What is needed is a migration from the ethos of blame and punishment that hypes focus on wrongdoers and/or wrongdoing to a more diverse array of investments into community well-being, which centers on right relationships. Under this model, incidents within the community do not have to result in multimillion-dollar taxpayer expenditures.

A $5 pizza and conversation between people who love one another will suffice.


  • Marcel Woodruff

    Marcel Woodruff is the director of the Community Justice Network and a volunteer with Advance Peace Fresno and Faith in the Valley.

    View all posts
5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Powerful! Well wrote!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x