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Students say Calif. city allows gang to target them

Group of African American students sue Union City and school district for failing to protect from “racial harassment”

By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle

UNION CITY, Calif. — Union City police and school officials have failed to protect African American students from a Latino gang, whose members killed a black youth in 2007 at a middle school and then shot at his friends last weekend in Hayward, according to attorneys who filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, accuses Union City police and officials with the New Haven Unified School District of doing nothing to prevent African American students from suffering “severe and pervasive racial harassment.” Gang members were responsible for many of the incidents on campus or near schools, according to the suit filed by 10 African American former students of the school district.

In a statement Wednesday, Union City police and city officials said they have a “long-standing record of being responsive to supporting and defending the rights of all members of our diverse community.” School officials declined to comment.

The most serious incident cited in the lawsuit happened in December 2007, when Vernon Eddins, 14, was shot and killed in front of Barnard-White Middle School on Whipple Road in Union City. No arrests have been made.

On Saturday, eight African American youths, one of whom was wearing a shirt with Eddins’ picture on it, were shot at while at the Southland Mall in Hayward, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Pamela Price. No one was injured.

No arrests have been made, said Hayward police Sgt. Steve Brown.

Although it happened in Hayward, the weekend shooting is the result of a “situation that bubbled out of Union City,” Price said at a news conference at the NAACP’s office in Hayward.

Hayward police responded quickly to the incident, while their counterparts in Union City have not moved fast enough to stem violence against black youths by Latino gang members, Price said.

In their statement, Union City officials said, “Youth violence is an area-wide issue not respecting municipal boundaries.”

Price said her clients are not gang members but are treated as such by Union City police. Officers often ask them, “What did you do to start this?” when “they did nothing,” Price said. “To me, that’s racial.”

Eddins’ mother, Angelique Paige, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year against police and the New Haven school district, accusing them of “failing to adequately discourage” racial violence. The suit is pending.

Paige cried at Wednesday’s news conference as Price said gang members based in Union City’s Decoto neighborhood had gloated about Eddins’ slaying on a MySpace page.

African American students and their families have been told by police that if they don’t like the situation, they should move, said attorney John Burris, who is also representing the plaintiffs.

Copyright 2010 San Francisco Chronicle