“These are not fringe people,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis told NBC San Diego on Thursday. “These are people that are intimately involved in gang activity.”

She was talking about Aaron Harvey and Brandon Duncan, two men she has been trying to prosecute for a series of gang shootings using an obscure legal statute.

Sara Libby on News

Her assertion isn’t surprising on its own – Dumanis’ office has been talking about the Lincoln Park gang for months, in court and to the media. But her insistence that Harvey and Duncan are active gang members was curious because of the other admission Dumanis made on air: She wouldn’t be re-filing charges against them, after a judge tossed them out this week over lack of evidence.

And yet Dumanis is still desperate to make the case that Harvey, Duncan and the other men charged are hardcore gangsters, and that journalists covering the case are a bunch of gullible dummies who believe them to be innocent and misunderstood.

She offered the “Harvey and Duncan are bad, media is dumb” defense of her office earlier this week too, just after the judge’s decision:

“It’s unfortunate that in spite of the evidence transparently available in the court record and court’s rulings that clearly establish their active gang membership during the time of the shootings, the media and community has allowed itself to be manipulated by individuals who are misrepresenting their true level of gang involvement. “

This, folks, is a master class in willfully missing the point.

Here’s why: Harvey and Duncan could very well be gang members. All of the evidence the DA has presented against the men – Facebook posts, tattoos, nicknames, clothing, hand gestures, rap lyrics – could be exactly what prosecutors say they are: proof of their membership in the Lincoln Park gang.

The problem, though, is that gang membership in and of itself isn’t a crime.

The DA knows this. Here’s what she wrote in the Voice & Viewpoint last month, trying to drum up support for this very case:

We know that arresting young men just because they’re in a gang doesn’t work. …  Law enforcement doesn’t prosecute people simply for making music, posting on Facebook, being a documented gang member, or rapping.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman reiterated, unequivocally, in a forum on police-community relations Friday that being in a gang is not a crime.

The U-T’s editorial board had Dumanis‘ back on this “difficult issue”:

She expressed incredulity at depictions of Harvey as an upstanding young man who was being persecuted for growing up in the wrong part of town. For one example, her office cited a 2009 case in which police raided Harvey’s family home in Lincoln Park to rescue a girl being forced to work as a prostitute, finding a handgun and four rifles; his brother pleaded guilty to pimping charges.

The DA’s office brought this 2009 case to my attention, too.

What it didn’t mention: Aaron Harvey was tried in connection with this case. He was found not guilty – it took the jury only an hour to decide. Think about this for a minute: A man was found not guilty of a crime, and yet the county’s top prosecutor is continuing to wield facts from the case against him. Her badmouthing is being repeated, unchecked, on television and in major newspapers.

Harvey might really be part of a gang. He could be a bad guy. The DA’s job, though, involves more than merely identifying who’s a bad person. A judge helpfully reminded her of that fact last week.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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