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Menace to Society: Why Many Young Black Men are Accused of Being in Gangs 

Wednesday, Aug 8 2012

Page 5 of 5

In a sense, whether Oakdale Mob is a "gang" comes down to semantics: Is the group's "primary activity" committing crimes? But the distinction is important, considering semantics determine the testimony allowed into a criminal trial and the length of a prison sentence, establishing an official label that follows a defendant out of jail and back into the community.

"Once you say they're a gang member, it's over for them," says Floyd Andrews, a defense attorney who used to work in the DA's office. "They're never gonna get a shot at a real life. You've created a gangsta."

Broberg thinks the reverse is true. The debate over gang enhancements, he says, misses the point.

"I find it ironic that people fight for a 14-year-old kid's right to be hanging around the street corners," he says. "They always want to find excuses for the bad behavior. And then if he gets shot and killed, everybody starts wringing their arms."

He doesn't think Bender is necessarily a bad kid. But, he is quick to add, any teenager who idles around guns is headed for a tragic ending. A felony conviction, a gang validation, and a prison stay, he reasons, might be the last chance to knock a kid into a more positive lifestyle, by forcing him off the streets and away from his old friends.

"I'm never happy when anyone goes to prison," he says. "Because everybody loses. But at what point do you have to stop making excuses for him and say, 'Jacori, what are you doing?'"

The informal, block-based nature of groups like Oakdale Mob makes it difficult for someone like Bender to prove he is definitively not a gang member. Even though the city has a removal process for gang injunctions, nobody has ever been taken off the list. The courts have ruled Oakdale Mob a gang, and when it comes to enhancement charges, the standard seems to be: gang member until proven otherwise.

City law enforcement's decision that Jacori Bender was a gang member colored the way police and prosecutors viewed his actions and associations. This mindset was most apparent during three stretches of gang expert testimony, when Broberg used evidence that appeared to suggest Bender is not a gang member to reach the opposite conclusion.

When questioned about Bender not having any gang tattoos, Broberg explained that "the fact that he made a conscious decision not to get one — he understands what tattoos mean. So the lack of the tattoo actually, with that knowledge, strengthens" the case against him.

In other words, a lack of evidence is evidence. And there's more: Citing a Field Information Card showing that Bender was walking on Oakdale Avenue by himself at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, Broberg said, "If he's by himself, the safest place for him to be would be in the Oakdale Mob territory, which is where he is at, and he is by himself."

On the day Bender was arrested for criminal threats, the inspector also testified, he was wearing red, the color associated with the Oakdale Mob: red boxers under his blue jeans and a red mohawk. It was the only time he was documented "wearing gang clothing." Bender shaved the mohawk soon after the arrest, though, telling an officer that he was concerned the hair color would link him to the gang. "When we are talking about him removing the red mohawk," Broberg stated, "he's saying others are trying to classify him or identify him as Oakdale."

For prosecutors, proving a crime was "for the benefit of" a gang is a small hop from proving gang membership. Many crimes can be tied to gang motives. In a 2010 murder trial against alleged Central Divis Playas member Charles Heard, Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart argued that Heard killed a man to keep from "losing face" with the gang after the victim resisted Heard's robbery attempt. In a pending murder case against William Jones, prosecutors are claiming that Jones' robbery of his victim benefitted the 2Rock gang because he split his profits with several co-conspirators who were also suspected gang members.

In his closing arguments, Mark Guillory, the assistant district attorney who tried the case, told the jury that Bender had a gun "for the benefit of" the gang because "when a gang member has a gun, not only is he individually carrying that gun, but he's carrying the gun for the gang. Meaning if one gang member is with five and rivals come about to do a drive-by, someone like Jacori Bender can fire back and protect not only himself, but can protect the territory and the gang."

The jury agreed, convicting Bender on the gun possession and enhancement charges (he was acquitted of the theft charge). That's two strikes. The judge sentenced him to four years in state pen, two for the weapon, plus two more for the gang. When Bender leaves prison, anyone seen with him will be seen associating with a validated Oakdale Mob gang member.

About The Author

Albert Samaha


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