Like the city's other documented black gangs, Oakdale Mob has no initiation process, no hierarchy, no cohesive plans, no prison ties. Community members, as well as Adachi, assert that these groups should not be legally classified as gangs.

"They're not gangs at all," says Rudy Corpuz, a former gang member with the long-defunct Down Town Boys gang who now runs the local youth center United Playaz. "Gangs are when you get jumped in, you're organized, you're structured." Instead, Corpuz argues, for these kids the "gang" is just the neighborhood. Most black gangs in the city are exclusively associated with a block — Eddy Rock, Kirkwood, 25th Street — or a housing project — Towerside, Down Below Gangstas, Knock Out Posse.

"It's about reppin' where you're from," says a 21-year-old on one of the Visitacion Valley injunction lists. "We ain't got much to be proud of. Our schools suck, some people's mom's on drugs. All we got is our block, our building or whatever. It ain't the nicest in the world, but might as well be proud of it."

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.”

There is certainly much violence in the neighborhoods the police have classified as "gang territory." There are kids with guns in their waistbands and anger in their hearts. Some turn to stick-ups and slangin'. Some get caught up in personal beefs that escalate, with friends getting friends' backs, from fistfights to shootouts to retaliations. "But it ain't got shit to do with colors or sets," says the Visitacion Valley gang member.

The media help perpetuate the connection of this violence to gang activity. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr recently explained that a string of homicides in Visitacion Valley this summer was not caused by rival gangs: "They were all friends not long ago — now they have turned on each other," Suhr told the press. Even Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius mused, "It isn't really even gang violence." Police did tell reporters that the people involved were either documented gang members or on the injunction list, which was enough to set the headlines. "Gang Dispute Fueling Violence in the City," proclaimed the San Francisco Examiner. "It's gang warfare, and the enemies were once allies," read the Chronicle's front page.

Because the groups are geographically based and because there is no structure or initiation process, membership is vague, subjective, and in flux. Broberg testified that the difference between a gang member and a kid in the neighborhood is that a gang member consistently participates in the group's criminal activities — itself a subjective definition, given that he considered Bender, who had never been charged with drug dealing, robbery, or assault, a gang member.

The City Attorney's office maintains that the city's methods for identifying gang members are based precisely on the language of the STEP Act. "If activists and lawyers object to the classifications, they should go to the legislature," says City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey.

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.

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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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