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Threat, Racialization, and Mobilization: Lessons from Southern California’s Anti-Gang Injunction Movement


This study investigates how racialization and ethnic consciousness interact with threat to produce social movement outcomes. Using qualitative data collected through more than five years of ethnographic fieldwork, twenty semi-structured interviews with movement participants, community members, and attorneys, and archival analysis of media and news reports, this comparative study analyzes grassroots organizing campaigns against civil gang injunctions in Southern California. I profile three campaigns led by grassroots Chicanx organizations, then analyze and compare the views and experiences of movement participants and attorneys regarding the processes and outcomes of these campaigns. Challenging research highlighting the role of threat in stimulating popular mobilization, I argue that the presence of threats is insufficient for mobilizing communities against civil gang injunctions. Drawing upon Critical race and LatCrit theory, I portray how local racial, ethnic, and cultural dynamics, as well as crime and violence, and organizing strategies interact with threat to produce mobilization. Comparing outcomes across three campaigns, I observed that community mobilization occurred in low-income Chicanx and Latinx barrios within affluent white cities. In these contexts, organizers effectively used mobilization strategies that combined analyses of threat with local Chicanx and Latinx racial-ethnic consciousness and experiences with white racism to develop community solidarity and mobilization, while also pursuing a legal strategy to challenge gang injunctions in court. Conversely, community mobilization did not occur when organizers attempted to apply the same mobilization strategy to organizing a low-income Chicanx and Latinx barrio with a significant gang presence, located within a working class, Latinx city. Moreover, efforts to organize around Chicanx and Latinx racial-ethnic consciousness were impeded by the larger Latinx demographics of the city, greater rates of violence and crime, and the presence of local Chicanx and Latinx actors promoting the gang injunction. Failing to strategize around these dynamics and to commit adequate organizing time and resources to mobilizing residents, organizers were unable to build solidarity and mobilize the community.

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