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What Would ‘Systemic Change’ Look Like? California’s Black Lawmakers Have Some Ideas

Screenshot/Facebook Live video
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

At a live-streamed press conference Tuesday, the California Black Legislative Caucus addressed days of protests, violence and peaceful demonstrations around the country.

Protesters are calling for police reform and systemic change in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minnesota police. But what would ‘systemic change’ look like? California’s black lawmakers have a list of bills they want to pass in 2020.

“We’re here because for 400 years, African American men and women in this country have been disrespected. This country has taught itself to hate African Americans and to deny the history that has brought us here,” said caucus chairwoman, Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, laid out a list of proposals his colleagues say could help increase equity for California’s black residents and communities. They include bills dealing with police oversight, parole and probation reforms, reparations and Affirmative Action.

Here are some of the main initiatives being proposed:

  • ACA 5, an affirmative action proposal, would repeal portions of 1996’s Proposition 209, a civil rights initiative that barred government from considering race, ethnicity and sex for public employment, education and contracts. Proponents say in the years since, diversity in public universities has dropped and minorities have received fewer economic opportunities. “This would restore equity and opportunity for black businesses and students across California, as well as women and other minorities,” McCarty said. “Twenty-five years later, it’s time for the voters to weigh in again.”
  • AB 3121 would create a reparations task force to educate Californians about slavery and recommend ways the state can “help remedy generations impacted with inequality and discrimination,” McCarty said.
  • AB 1460 would require California State University campuses to provide ethnic studies courses, which would also become a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2024-25. The classes would focus on four historically marginalized groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Latinx Americans and Asian Americans.
  • ACA 6 would put a measure to restore voting rights to parolees with felony convictions before voters. McCarty called felon disenfranchisement a “Jim Crow law” which disproportionately impacts African Americans. California already allows those who have completed their jail or prison sentence to re-register to vote. As a constitutional amendment, ACA 6 requires a two-thirds majority vote from lawmakers in both chambers and ratification from California voters to take effect.
  • AB 1950 would cap probation terms to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony.
  • AB 2342 would allow a parolee to earn credits by completing education, training or treatment programs in order to reduce parole time.
  • AB 2917 would require the California Department of Justice to review policies regarding use of deadly force at law enforcement agencies and make recommendations to requesting departments. McCarty, who introduced the bill, said it was inspired by the aftermath of the 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police. “The Attorney General’s office provided critical analysis to the Sacramento Police Department on best practices, which have improved public trust and reduced local incidents of unnecessary force,” he said.
  • AB 1185 would allow county governments to expand oversight of sheriff’s departments through civilian review boards and an inspector general.

McCarty said it’s a “partial list, but these certainly are critical issues that we need to get across the finish line. They’re in the hopper for 2020.” He called on lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom to back the measures.
On Monday, Newsom responded to protests by vowing to “to be better and to do better” for black communities in California.” He told protesters: “You’re right to feel the way you are feeling” and said institutions, not black Americans, were responsible for civil unrest.

Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said the caucus proposals are a start, but challenged non-black Californians to step up in their everyday lives.

“It’s not enough to say you’re no longer a racist,” he said. “It’s time to prove it. It’s time to challenge your family, your friends and your colleagues, and stopping their racist behavior. Then — and only then — will we have true reform.”

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