The policemen were on high alert as they marched through the housing trails, informally known as "the cuts." Quickly approaching the basketball courts, they still couldn't see Bender and his friends. It was 10:15 p.m.

"Police in the cuts!" somebody shouted.

Sneakers pitter-pattered. Bender and two friends ran, weaving around trees and slicing into an alley. They popped out onto Palou Avenue and cut south toward Griffith Street.

Jacori Bender was 17 years old when police first affiliated him with Oakdale Mob. He was in state prison by the time he turned 20.
Courtesy of SF Police Department
Jacori Bender was 17 years old when police first affiliated him with Oakdale Mob. He was in state prison by the time he turned 20.
“If you’re charged with a gang-related offense,” says Public Defender Jeff Adachi, “you’re gonna get more time, you’re gonna be treated differently, and most importantly you’re gonna be subject to this second-class justice.”
“If you’re charged with a gang-related offense,” says Public Defender Jeff Adachi, “you’re gonna get more time, you’re gonna be treated differently, and most importantly you’re gonna be subject to this second-class justice.”

A flashlight beam landed on Bender. Gonzalez later reported that he saw Bender throw a pistol into the street. Gonzalez drew his own gun and arrested the teens. In Bender's pocket, he found "a small amount" of weed and an ecstasy pill.

"Bender is a known Oakdale mob criminal street gang member," Gonzalez's report stated. "He does not live or work in the area. There is no reason for him to be in this area other than to hang out with other known Oakdale Mob criminal street gang members and to conspire with them to possess handguns, drugs, and commit violent crimes."

The District Attorney's office charged Bender with illegally carrying a loaded firearm, drug possession, and receiving stolen property (the gun). Prosecutors tacked on what is known as a "gang enhancement," which adds extra prison time to a conviction if the perp is — according to the state penal code — "an active participant in a criminal street gang" who committed a felony "for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with a criminal street gang with the specific intent to promote, further and assist in criminal conduct by gang members."

Bender says he wasn't a gang member. So do youth counselors and community members who knew him. He'd never been convicted of a gang-related crime before, he has no gang tattoos, and no police officer had seen him flash a gang sign. Nor is there any evidence he'd ever sold drugs, committed a robbery, or fired a gun.

A common tool for city prosecutors, these gang enhancements open the door to testimony typically not admitted into criminal trials — hearsay, criminal histories of the defendant's friends, descriptions of crimes for which the defendant was not charged — all channelled through an "expert witness" police officer. In addition to hearing evidence on the principal charges, juries contemplate the defendant's social life, his wardrobe, his past misdeeds, and anything else a prosecutor thinks will show that the defendant could have been an extra in an N.W.A. music video.

"It's like being charged with being the devil," says Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

City prosecutors apply laws originally established to target organized criminal enterprises — like MS-13 or the Norteños — against groups that, community activists and defense lawyers argue, shouldn't even be considered gangs.

The DA's office counters that gang enhancement charges are naturally vetted — the accusation must pass through the police department, then the DA's office, then a judge, then, ultimately, a San Francisco jury.

"We look at each case individually and support efforts to get young people out of the gang life," District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement to SF Weekly. "If someone chooses to engage in violent gang activity, however, we will prosecute those gang members aggressively in order to prevent them from victimizing the community."

To be sure, there is institutional incentive to maintain the status quo. By calling kids like Bender gang members and their crimes gang-related, the police department gets more money and the DA's office racks up easier convictions.

So when Jacori Bender took his seat in court, he was charged not as a first-time felony offender, but as a menace to society.


On Sept. 4, 1977, a pack of Joe Boys gangsters stormed into Chinatown's Golden Dragon restaurant and opened fire, seeking to assassinate rival gang Wah Ching's shot-caller. The Joe Boys didn't hit their enemies, instead killing five bystanders, two of them tourists. In response, the San Francisco Police Department created the Gang Task Force, a team of inspectors and officers dedicated to investigating gang-related crimes.

Throughout the next decade, gang violence, fueled by the crack epidemic, spread across California, led by the Crips, Bloods, Mexican Mafia, and others. Jolted into action, the state Legislature passed in 1988 the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP), which noted that "California is in a state of crisis."

STEP introduced gang enhancements, which can add two to four years of extra prison time for less serious felonies and up to 15 extra years for violent felonies. The state recognized that a gang's power stems from its structure, so the new policy focused "upon patterns of criminal gang activity and upon the organized nature of street gangs, which together are the chief source of terror created by street gangs." Twelve years later, California voters passed Proposition 21, strengthening the penalties for juveniles who commit gang felonies and requiring that gang offenders register in a database. "Gang-related crimes pose a unique threat to the public because of gang members' organization and solidarity," the legislation explained

In the years since, San Francisco authorities have sharpened their anti-gang strategy. Starting in 2007, City Attorney Dennis Herrera leveled gang injunctions against seven groups — three in Western Addition (Eddy Rock, Chopper City, Knock Out Posse), two in Visitacion Valley (Towerside, Down Below Gangsters), one in Bayview (Oakdale Mob), and one in the Mission (Norteños). With help from the Gang Task Force, Herrera identified nearly a hundred "validated gang members" and barred them from publicly congregating in their respective gangs' territories, which were marked as "injunction zones."

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10 comments
patfan34
patfan34

"But at what point do you have to stop making excuses for him and say, 'Jacori, what are you doing?"

 

So the solution for a wake-up call is to send him to state prison to mingle with actual criminals for four years? Seems like a fine system that we have going here.

SuperWittySmitty
SuperWittySmitty

I guess things here in NYC are very different and also very familiar, in the end. What gets me as the most powerful and the most dangerous: this wanna-be attitude. A huge portion of our urban youth will have to continuously struggle to find success and chances are they will never be part of the "real" gangster lifestyle  and enjoy all the of the perks that come with the status. Yet this desire to at least acquire the trappings of gang life and then flaunt your "achievements" to your neighbors seems to be enough for many, but it also comes with a lifetime of growing resentment when they realize was it and there's no more coming. 

Hodor
Hodor

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck.... well, it may NOT be a duck because ducks don't have gang tattoos....nice argument, you boob!

JIPB
JIPB

I think the author forgot to mention that when Bender was arrested in the Cuts, officer Gonzales must have found a loaded gun that someone in Bender's group of friends threw away given the charges.   Tough to arrest someone on those charges without an actual gun.  Oops.

DOOLEY
DOOLEY

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL HELLS ANGELS MC FRISCO AND OAKLAND.

Antonio J. Solano
Antonio J. Solano

Just because they're not organized and don't have jump ins doesn't mean they aren't a gang. He isn't some kid hanging out. He knows who he's with where he's at and what thats all about. He's not innocent at all.

SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Marlon, thanks for letting us know. The link should now be working correctly.

Marlon Crump
Marlon Crump

Actually it might just be something with the computer terminal Im at. Great article!

Marlon Crump
Marlon Crump

I tried to read this story online, but it appears that your site might have be under attack by some virus.

hplovecraft
hplovecraft

"...and enjoy all the perks that come with the status." ??!!

You most assuredly are liberal...

 
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