Legislation Made Law by Governor Wednesday Designed to Make CA Leader in Addressing Racial Injustice
By Jose Medina
SACRAMENTO – As the U.S. continues to grapple with its deep systemic racism, California took steps in the right direction, said Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday as he signed into law five racial justice bills designed to make California the leader in the nation in addressing systemic racial injustices.
Two bills signed Wednesday were authored by Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber – Assembly Bill (AB) 3121 and Assembly Bill (AB) 3070 – who said they were made law “at an extremely important time for all of us because California always tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights.”
AB 3121 establishes a task force to study reparation proposals for African Americans in California. Assemblymember Weber states that with this bill “we can demonstrate that we can talk about reparations and try to repair people’s lives that were negatively impacted by slavery.”
The issue of reparations is very personal to Assemblymember Weber since it’s been a topic of discussion throughout her career. She states that “after spending 40 years as a professor and a founder of African Studies in San Diego State, I know the importance of reparations. I know the importance of history and getting our information correct to move California forward.”
As a scholar, Assemblymember Weber finds it important to “educate all Californians about the impact of slavery, but after 400 years we still have that impact and there’s still a need for all of us to begin to address that issue.”
Assemblymember Weber’s goal throughout her career is to “bring the kind of justice and fairness that is necessary” and these bills aim to do just that.
On the subject of bringing fairness and justice, AB 3070 aims to address peremptory strikes within the legal system.
AB 3070 would prohibit peremptory challenges from removing a prospective juror on the basis of the prospective juror’s race. There have been instances where prospective jurors have been struck out of the jury just because they are the same race as the defendant.
Peremptory challenges excuse these strikes by saying the prospective jurors could have shown bias during trials. This bill will prohibit these peremptory challenges to provide a fair and just due process for racially discriminated defendants.
Defendants are not the only ones susceptible to racial discrimination within the legal system—imprisoned people have faced it as well.
Assemblymember Ash Kalra tackled the plight of racially discriminated imprisoned people with the Racial Justice Act or Assembly Bill (AB) 2542. The bill prohibits the state from seeking a criminal conviction on the basis of race and allows a writ of habeas corpus to be prosecuted on the basis of that prohibition.
The bill would also allow a formerly imprisoned person to file a motion to vacate a conviction that was based on their race.
Supporters of the measure charge the criminal justice system has disproportionately targeted the Black community and this bill will serve as a tool for them to get the justice that they need.
Assemblymember Kalra realizes the importance of this by stating that his bill “will help put into place critical and meaningful tools to combat and root out institutional racism.”
Assemblymember Kalra is no stranger to institutional racism, noting that “as a deputy public defender I saw first-hand thousands of Black and Latino lives that were subjected to the worst of this systemic racism, which oftentimes did not see their humanity.”
He added that “in California we don’t simply hold a sign that says Black Lives Matter or symbolically call for a national movement for justice, without first looking at ourselves in the mirror and actually transforming those righteous calls for change into action.”
Zachary Norris, the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California, spoke as a co-sponsor on AB 2542. He states that “as the grandson of grandparents who fled racialized terror from Osyka, Mississippi, and came here to CA and experienced discrimination, I am just incredibly appreciative of your leadership.”
Norris admittedly did not believe AB 2542 would be signed.
“I’m going to be honest with you all. I didn’t think we were going to make it this far with this bill,” he said, explaining he has been jaded by the disparities and years of discrimination he’s witnessed from this country. So much so that he had little faith that the Racial Justice Act would ever be signed by Gov. Newsom.
Norris expressed his hopes for the bill to be able to bring justice to victims of institutionalized racism, adding “I never say criminal justice system, we always say criminal court system, but this bill gives me hope one day that we will have a justice system that deserves to have ‘justice’ in its title.”
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s goal is to address victims of police shootings through his Police Reform Bill or Assembly Bill (AB) 1506. Senator Bill Dodd co-authored the bill, which requires state-led investigations in police shootings of unarmed people and allows local governments to request investigation into other killings.
In reflection of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, Sen. Dodd states that “across our nation and state today there are far too many fatal police shootings, especially those involving people of color, and they each must receive a fair and impartial review.”
To ensure that these investigations are executed without bias, Sen. Dodd adds that “an independent investigation by the Attorney General is the best way to ensure justice in these cases.”
Other measures targeted—as California deals with its deep systemic racism—other sectors of California society, like the job market, for their active participation in systemic racism.
Assemblymember Chris Holden addresses California corporations and their hiring process through Assembly Bill (AB) 979. The bill would require corporations to hire members of underrepresented communities to work on their board of directors.
Assemblymember Holden states that “for a state to have over 600 corporation headquarters it’s time that we see people of color serve at the corporate board level,” adding there are plenty of well-qualified people of color who would make excellent executives at these corporations. They just need to be given the opportunity to show their skills as decision-makers.
Assemblymember Holden iterates that “this bill will cause corporations to move quickly and to get people of color an opportunity to have a seat at the table.”
Despite these bills seeming opportune, Assemblymember Weber makes it clear that “we are not responding to the moment, we are responding to the history of CA and the life of Black people in California.”
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