A New Way Forward: Benjamin’s Removal from the CalGang Database
“I was tired of being tired. I kept repeating the same actions over and over,” Benjamin describes of his past gang involvement. After repeated contact with law enforcement and losing touch with his family, he knew there had to be a different way to move forward. In 2013, Benjamin began attending sobriety meetings at Homeboy Industries, and entered their employment program. Today, he proudly holds a maintenance position at Homegirl Café.
It is an understatement to say that a lot has changed in Benjamin’s life. While working at Homeboy Industries, he met his wife Laura Elizabeth, and they are now proud parents of a toddler. Benjamin has traded in his past to concentrate on his life as a husband and father. “I don’t go to my old neighborhood and I try not to keep in contact with anyone who I used to know there,” he reflects.
Despite his transformation, Benjamin’s life and movements continued to be tracked through California’s gang database. The CalGang database includes information on over 100,000 residents, and has labeled children as young as two years old as gang members. This information is available across law enforcement agencies and has the potential to be shared with federal immigration officials.
Life on the database is challenging. “Seven years later, I still get stereotyped and pulled over. If the cops came in right now, I don’t know how to protect my rights. Even if I tell police I am no longer gang involved, their computer will tell them I am still a gang member,” said Benjamin.
Recently, the Urban Peace Institute stepped in and provided Benjamin with legal assistance to apply for an appeal to be removed from the database. At first, our staff attorney’s efforts to remove individuals like Benjamin were slow going, as no one had ever been granted a removal from the gang database. However, after years of navigating this complex system, Benjamin became the Urban Peace Institute’s first client to receive notification of their removal.
No longer living with a label as a gang member brings more than a sense of relief to Benjamin. It also allows him a better chance to be considered for citizenship. With the potential for Latino fathers to be labeled as ‘criminals’ based on their inclusion on the database, the Urban Peace Institute’s work has never been more important to ensure families stay intact and secure. Benjamin is including his official removal letter in his visa application, and both he and Laura Elizabeth are optimistic for their family’s future.